Charity Services launches investigation after damning allegations by Arise Church

Charities Services has launched an investigation into Arise Church after a damning external review found ‘gross and systemic’ failures by its leadership, with hundreds of current and former members alleging ‘cult-like behavior’, racism, sexual assault, abuse and conversion therapy.

Earlier, Charities Services, part of the Department of Internal Affairs, asked the church to confirm steps it had taken to address concerns about the treatment of interns and volunteers, and governance issues, after several months of investigation by journalist David Farrier. .

That action included commissioning the independent review, said Chief Internal Affairs Officer, Charities Services Natasha Wright.

The 34-page report laid bare the experiences of hundreds of people involved with the Pentecostal church, which received nearly $15 million in donations last year, concluding it was ‘undeniable’ that there are had had “significant injuries” to those involved in Arise and “gross and systemic failures” in governance for many years.

READ MORE:
* Arise Church’s leadership failures are ‘gross and systemic’, report says
* Temporary publication ban placed on Arise Church journal
* Arise pastors step down with over $6 million in real estate to their name
* The detail: David Farrier on Arise Church

Wright said on Thursday “in light of recent developments” that an investigation had been opened, but could not comment further as the matter was now “subject to our regulatory processes”.

In general, charities are independent and autonomous entities responsible for determining how they fulfill their charitable purposes and meet their obligations.

Over 300 current members participated in the external review on Arise Church.

Maarten Holl / Stuff

Over 300 current members participated in the external review on Arise Church.

When a charity fails to meet its obligations, commits a serious wrongdoing, or no longer qualifies as a charity, Charity Services can step in and deregister.

The Arise review, from consultancy Pathfinding, was leaked Tuesday night by Farrier on its Webworm platform.

At the time, a publication ban was in place, which was requested by church leaders John and Gillian Cameron last month, through the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

However, following the leak of the publication by Farrier and other media, ERA canceled the order on Wednesday.

Among the 92 recommendations was that all board members resign and announce their exit dates by the end of last month.

RNZ

The Detail: Journalist David Farrier talks about his reporting on serious allegations of emotional and physical abuse at one of the nation’s largest megachurches: Arise.

“The new appointments notwithstanding, the board as an entity has lost its moral mandate to govern Arise,” he said.

“We believe it is unacceptable that the board was unaware of the key issues within Arise and did not put in place the necessary mechanisms to ensure that it could exercise its governance responsibilities.”

A total of 545 people completed submissions for the review, including 325 current members, sharing experiences of racist behavior, homophobia and conversion therapy, ongoing targeted sexual harassment, sexual assault, abuse, unsafe working conditions and more.

The church is avoiding answering questions and posting the review on its website, although it has previously said it will do so as soon as a publication ban is lifted.

Arise Church Conference at TSB Arena, Wellington.  The church raised nearly $15 million in donations last year.

Provided

Arise Church Conference at TSB Arena, Wellington. The church raised nearly $15 million in donations last year.

He issued a statement on Wednesday, saying the report was “illegally obtained,” but he was “committed to securely sharing the stories of those who participated in the Pathfinding independent feedback channel, with a commitment to listen, learn, and to change”.

The statement also said that while the review was an important channel for gathering people’s stories and experiences, it was not a survey process, with no testing or verification of what was heard.

“Because this approach does not lead to substantiated conclusions, the board has sought additional guidance from experts in HR, governance and finance,” the church said.

Pastor Brent Cameron has resigned from his position with Arise Church.

Provided

Pastor Brent Cameron has resigned from his position with Arise Church.

The report concluded that the harmful practices have continued to the present day and that “a very significant number” of people have had experiences that have caused pain and injury.

When troubling behavior was experienced by members, they felt unable to speak up, due to the pressure to say yes and please senior leaders in an “honor culture” that placed a strong emphasis on leadership rather than Jesus, according to the report.

“Countless stories” of exhaustion, burnout and mental and physical breakdowns among students at the church’s School of Ministry have been reported. Meanwhile, some at the church’s “training center” reported living in conditions of poverty.

Senior Pastor John Cameron and his wife Gillian tried to stop the External Review from being published on Arise Church.

Maarten Holl / Stuff

Senior Pastor John Cameron and his wife Gillian tried to stop the External Review from being published on Arise Church.

Reviewers have heard reports that people in the church who are part of the LGBTQI+ community have undergone conversion therapy and been denied the opportunity to serve because of their “sin”.

There have been reports of sexual harassment, assault and rape – some from outside the church space – but others at the hands of other Arise staff members.

Reviewers also heard of senior executives and a former board member stripping naked in front of a staff member and “continued targeted sexual harassment”.

“We heard there was a lack of action by the board to prevent subsequent incidents,” the report said.

The perpetrators told stories of racist remarks, including from performing during Sunday church services, and some staff were told to focus on “white children”. Māori felt they were unable to succeed within the church and felt that efforts to engage with Māori were tokenistic and directed by Pākehā.

Some attendees felt “disillusioned and deeply disappointed” with how their monetary donations had been used and “great unease” from past and present members about “extravagant spending by senior management.”

The report recommended a full independent review of church finances, including how donations “tagged” for certain purposes are actually used and a review of policies regarding spending limits for senior leadership. He also recommended prohibiting tithing to children.

Following Farrier’s first investigation in April, involving bigoted behavior and widespread mistreatment of interns, church leaders John, Gillian and Brent Cameron resigned.

Since then, the church said it has commissioned the Pathfinding Review and other reports from Duncan Cotterill, Parry Fields Lawyers and BDO Accounting, which have not yet been completed.

Jerry B. Hatch