Back From the Dead: Arise’s John Cameron Intends to “Return to Lead the Church”
An internal Arise Church communication shows John Cameron intends to pick up where he left off
I hope you’re wearing your Sunday best while reading this.
Webworm has received an email that was sent out by Arise Church to its small group leaders on Saturday night.
This is the first internal communication we’ve seen from Arise in awhile, and it shows how the church is engaging in internal damage control.
The main takeaway: John Cameron intends to return to his position and continue to lead Arise Church.
This is not surprising — early on in our reporting, it was pretty clear John Cameron would try to just weather the storm. We’ve been told stories of an incredibly narcissistic man, and that’s what a narcissistic man would do.
But seeing it written down as fact by Arise Church — after all the victims I’ve spoken to over the last month — is a huge letdown.
Here is the statement, with some commentary added from me along the way.
The Internal Arise Memo: “FAQs — 29 April 2022”
“Where and John & Gillian? What are they doing?
John Cameron has stepped aside from his pastoral duties and has resigned from the board of ARISE to ensure it's independence.
Gillian is taking special leave to support John at this time.
To ensure independence of the reviews taking place, they are choosing to remain silent so that people are able to safely share their stories and experiences at ARISE.
When the results of the review are provided, their intention is to return to lead the church through the learning and change process.”
Early on in this series I wrote that John Cameron’s plan would be to lay low and re-emerge as leader when the media attention dies down. This appears to be accurate: “Their [John and his wife Gillian] intention is to return to lead the church”.
Let’s remember some of what happened under John Cameron’s watch:
-He’d yell at interns and staff.
-He’d grab people by the collar while yelling in their face.
-Church members who’d told other leaders about their sexual assault and rape were told they’d misinterpreted events, or led the person who'd assaulted them on.
-Those from the LGBTQI+ community would have to engage in elements of “gay conversion therapy”, literally told to “pray the gay away”
-Interns would act as John’s chauffeurs, gardeners, house cleaners and babysitters
-His brother Brent (also a senior leader and board member at Arise Church) would show his genitals to at least one Arise staff member, bullying them to the point of a breakdown. He received a promotion after doing this.
-His brother Brent would give dead legs and fart on people.
The list goes on, as detailed in Webworm’s series — and now in other media like RNZ (“Arise interns allege bullying, hush money and '20-hour' days”) and The Herald (“Former Arise church member ‘shunned’ after her baby was assaulted by her then partner”)
I’d also like to clarify that very little of this is new information to John Cameron.
While my reporting has been new information for many, it was old news to him. He’s been living with some of these stories for over a decade. He either witnessed things first hand, or was told about them by others who’d made complaints (which were, it appears, ignored)
Through all of it, his MO has been to weather the storm.
Nothing has changed.
Earlier in my reporting I asked if John Cameron was on full pay whilst the investigation took place — the Board refused to answer. So yes, right now, it’s pretty safe to assume John Cameron on a little paid holiday.
“Where and Brent & Annie? What are they doing?
Brent and Annie are on special leave.
Brent has resigned from the board of ARISE to ensure its independence.
We will update you when we know more on this.”
Unsurprisingly there is zero mention here of Brent’s reported bullying to staff, and one in particular who he would show his genitals to without consent.
To be clear: Arise Church does not want its staff, volunteers, interns or members reading my reporting.
“What is happening with the Board?
The board currently consists of 4 people.
• Graeme Kirkwood - Board Chairperson
• Israel Cooper - Trustee
• Robert Reid - Trustee
• Kylie Fletcher - Trustee
The Board unanimously passed a resolution amending the Arise Trust Deed to further enhance its independence.
The amendment has removed the requirement for any new member to be appointed and/or approved by a single individual, and made the appointment of any new Trustee or Member of the Board subject instead to a two thirds majority of the Board only.
Further amendments to the Arise Trust Deed, the Board structure, and the operation of the Board are expected to be made once a full legal review is complete.
The board is also underway with a process to appoint additional non-executive trustees as members of the Board.
Further updates will be provided on the appointment of these Trustees as they are made.
Why don’t we say something online to address all the accusations?
To ensure independence of the reviews taking place, we are choosing to remain silent so that people are able to safely share their stories and experiences without anyone influencing the process.”
I’d just like to note here that all four press releases issued from Arise only appeared after an email from me with a list of allegations and questions.
By the time I would get an email back going “We can’t talk about this because there’s an investigation happening”, there would be a fresh new press release on the Arise website.
“Has ARISE signed Non-Disclosure Agreements?
ARISE has never signed non-disclosure agreements.
While we can't comment on any individual employment matter -in the rare instance where an employment dispute has been raised, Arise has always followed legal advice and kept to the very standard processes set out by MBIE and NZ law.
Arise has always aimed to meet the legal requirements for employers under the law, and
pay employees for what they are entitled to.
We're confident that the legal review from Duncan Cotterill that is underway will confirm this to be the case.
Like all employers, Arise holds a duty of care and confidentiality around each one of its employees.
We don't believe we have anything to hide in our operations-that is why we welcome this process of being reviewed independently with open arms.
Many employers would be familiar with the process of dealing with an employment dispute. This process is set out under NZ legislation and regulated by MBIE, and any ‘record of settlement’ that is reached is signed off by an independent MBIE mediator.
It is extremely common, and almost always advised by legal counsel, that these agreements include a confidentiality and non-disparagement clause. This means that the details of the agreement cannot be talked about, and that the parties agree to treat each other in good faith and avoid disparaging remarks about each other.”
There are two statements being made here:
That ARISE has never signed non-disclosure agreements.
That employment dispute agreements include a confidentiality and non-disparagement clause.
I think what they are trying to say here is that while “confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses” have been signed, that doesn’t equate to a non-disclosure agreement.
This is pointless semantics.
“Has ARISE paid interns out?
Interns have never been paid out to not speak ill of the congregation.
This may be true but it ignores a very important point: Arise staff were paid out.”
It’s a bit like their original ring-fencing of the issue in their first press statement, saying that all the problems were with the Ministry School, when they knew full well problems existed with staff, interns, volunteers and church members.
If it’s one thing I’ve learnt about Arise Church is that they pick their words very carefully.
“How long will the review process take? When is cut off for submissions to Pathfinding?
The independent review conducted by Pathfinding will take approximately 2 months.
The official start date was the 13t of April.
The independent HR review conducted by Duncan Cotterill, a NZ Law Firm, will take approximately 2 - 4 months.”
Webworm has already raised concerns about distinct conflicts of interest with the Pathfinding review.
But it is now also clear that whatever the review says, John Cameron intends to return to Arise.
I would argue that one of the key problems with Arise is John Cameron, because John Cameron is Arise.
If he intends to return, then I find it hard to see how Arise is going to make the kind of systemic change it clearly needs.
“Who is leading the Church currently?
Nathan Chambers and the Interim Leadership Team.
Who is our current Spiritual Oversight and how involved are they at the moment?
Our current Spiritual Oversight is Russell Evans and Paul De Jong.
Graeme Kirkwood our board chairperson is in touch with them every second day.”
That is where the internal Arise statement ends.
We’ll get to Paul De Jong another day. The Google Doc on his church, Life, is about 50 pages long.
Where to from here?
If John Cameron gets his way, nothing meaningful will change.
But I hold out hope that there are those around him — in his personal life, and within the church — that won’t allow that to happen.
It’s my hope others under his control at Arise will find a way to see through the smokescreen, and act. To speak up, as victims have.
In way, they’re victims, too. But there is a point at which you become complicit in all this — and at this juncture, that’s what many of Arise’s campus pastors have become.
PS: Want to help? Arise Church doesn’t want you to know any of this — so please share it: www.webworm.co/p/backfromthedead
You can read the rest of my Arise series here.