Temporary publication ban placed on review of Arise Church

An urgent publication ban has been placed on the independent culture review at Arise Church.

A Sunday service at Arise Church
Photo: Elle Hunt / The Wireless

It was meant to bring some form of closure to former members of the church, but lawyers are now trying to prevent the independent review from being made public.

The Labor Relations Authority has told RNZ there is a temporary publication ban on the Pathfinding report on Arise Church.

“This order will be reviewed later this month. As the matters are currently before the authority, no further comment will be made at this time.”

Earlier this year, US-based journalist David Farrier revealed allegations of serious mistreatment of Arise interns and employees.

This prompted an independent review which was carried out by Pathfinding with 545 people engaged in the process.

Senior Pastor John Cameron has resigned following the scandal.

Former members have described their frustration with the situation and question Arise’s commitment to change.

“It really shows why John may have presented himself as determined to change, but he certainly doesn’t want public accountability.”

The former member who spent a decade in Arise said: “I think the most important thing he tells them [the victims] it’s that they don’t matter and that’s bullshit.”

Becky* said Arise needs to understand that people’s pain is more important than their ego.

“People who had the courage to come forward are now being shut down by some lawyers because John doesn’t want his image ruined.”

In a statement sent to RNZ, the Arise Board said a further delay in publishing the Pathfinding report had caused frustration.

“There may be a perception that Arise is resisting the release of the report. Arise confirms that this is not the situation.

Arise said he still wanted to release the report as previously stated.

“Manipulation and Control”

RNZ spoke to a number of former trainees who had suffered abuse from pastors at Arise Church.

Bullying, volunteer overwork, over-involvement in personal life, and isolation of members from outside influences were also common practices in the Pentecostal church.

“I became quite isolated and pretty much lost all of my friends who weren’t part of Arise because they were a bad influence not being Christians.”

Becky, who joined when she was 10, said control was another tactic employed: being asked to wear makeup and certain clothes or to meddle in her love life.

“I found I got sucked in really, really easily and the longer you stay the more manipulative and controlling it becomes.”

Her time with the church took a toll on her mental health, but the support was non-existent, she said.

“There was a lot of negativity around mental health. If you had mental health issues, the advice would be ‘pray on it or see what the Bible says. You’re still struggling because God heals.”

The young woman also said she worked many hours of unpaid work.

She said she was manipulated at work by leaders who told her that everything was in the service of God.

George* said the problem of the exploitation of trainees dates back to the very first.

“When it was just one person, he brought his family and had a crisis meeting with the church to say it wasn’t promised, you take advantage of this impressionable young kid.”

“I couldn’t stay in church being gay”

Former Arise member William* is now a proud gay man, but he had to leave to come to terms with his sexuality.

William has had extensive exposure at the Wellington and Christchurch Arise campuses.

“I know I was gay for a long time and I spent a lot of time suppressing that in church.”

He said going to church as a gay man made him feel perpetually dirty and it hurt his mental health.

“There were a lot of comments like ‘this is so gay’ or ‘stop being such a gay’, it was a very masculine club.”

William ended up talking to his young pastor but received no support and said there were a lot of side conversations about conversion therapy.

He said homophobia was rampant and eventually got too much and he left after accepting he was as God made him.

“I just felt like I couldn’t stay in church and still be gay, there wasn’t really a culture to support that and that influenced my decision to leave and go to Australia for a while. 10 years.”

A panicked pastor

George thinks John is not well equipped to function outside of the church.

“When he doesn’t have control and he doesn’t have power, he can’t deal with it and I think he realizes he really can’t do anything else.”

The council released a statement describing the delay as “deeply regrettable”.

“The Board is unable to provide a timeframe for the release of the Pathfinding Report, and is committed to its confidentiality obligations and therefore cannot comment further on the matter at this time.”

George said the church showed they didn’t care about what they were doing to their own people and that the criticism was a smokescreen for Arise to control the narrative.

The Independent Investigator’s review was due to be published at the end of June.

The Labor Relations Authority told RNZ that a temporary publication ban would be reviewed later in July.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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Jacob L. Thornton