Journalist David Farrier talks to The Detail about his reporting on serious allegations of emotional and physical abuse at one of the country’s biggest megachurches
“This has nothing to do with Christianity as a religion,” says journalist David Farrier.
“It’s how that’s used, and how it’s packaged and sold back to people.”
He’s speaking about Arise – a megachurch, established in Wellington in 2002, with 12 centres around the country and a congregation numbering about 10,000.
Beginning in early April, Farrier has been detailing in his online newsletter Webworm allegations from ex-members – of emotional and physical abuse, and taking advantage of volunteer labour – on the part of the church and its leadership.
Farrier explains that in New Zealand, a megachurch is based around Pentecostal Christianity: “A type of belief where you’re meant to have a really visceral, clear relationship with God that shows itself.”
There’s an emphasis on healing and a relationship with God that people can see, Farrier says.
“There’s also a big emphasis on prosperity doctrine: if you give to God, if you give to the church, then God will give back to you, either in heaven or back here on earth.
“You can look at it cynically and go, ‘These churches just want to make a lot of money’. But I’m sure there’s a belief in there that this is really real, if you give a lot of money, then God will give back to you.”
Arise’s energetic, slick services – often replete with lights shows and polished music – have been reported on for years, but more as a curiosity, a cultural phenomenon, partly due to the large contingent of young people in the church’s ranks.
Farrier’s reporting is very different: detailing testimonies from former members, often in their teens or early 20s, of mistreatment in the church’s ministerial school; management prone to volatile outbursts; of serious allegations by church members being swept under the rug.
Arise has issued a statement acknowledging the experiences of the ex-members and encouraging people to come forward. Its lead pastor John Cameron ‘stepped away’ from the church and board pending an inquiry into the culture at Arise.
But Farrier remains skeptical as to whether the church wants to see real change, or is more preoccupied with weathering the media storm until it can carry on, business as usual.
“There needs to be accountability.
“If you are pastoring 10,000 people, that comes with responsibility. If you’re pastoring 10,000 young people, I’d argue that comes with more responsibility.”
The Detail asked Arise for a response to the allegations made in Farrier’s reporting and received a written statement:
“The Arise Board acknowledges the hurt and the pain that continues to be expressed. Due to sensitivity and privacy reasons we are unable to comment on specific allegations or individual employment circumstances.
“Our earlier statements outline the two independent reviews currently underway. One relates to an independent HR and organisational review, the second is the independent channel for handling of complaints and people who are hurting. We await these findings.
“We want to strongly encourage anyone who has a complaint or negative experience to engage with Pathfinding, the independent reviewer. It is important we hear and understand these stories in order to help bring relief and healing to those who are in pain, and put into place any corrective action that may be needed.”
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