How New Zealand’s largest megachurch lost its way
Hi everyone - thanks for all the comments below. I am head down in getting Part II ready for tomorrow. I know Webworm is very Arise-heavy at the moment - but it speaks to a wider culture in Pentecostal churches, and I think it's worth focussing on. Thanks for following this - I know some ex-Arisers are here too - so, "hi!"
I remember Paul Wilson talking about the shame held by abuse victims and how its so difficult to detach from. The irony, of course, being the perpetrators don't give their own actions a second thought provided they allow for the ego boost, control or outlet for anger they are intended to provide.
To anybody that has experienced abuse by arise church, or in any form. Its not your fault. You didn't and don't deserve it. You are not perfect, but you don't have to be. You do not need to rationalize or justify the actions of your abuser. You just need to work on providing yourself the care and consideration you were denied for so long. And you deserve that and you can do it. Kia Kaha
The response from Arise is disappointing but not in any way surprising. Damage control has been activated, and the next steps are to identify people and hush them, either by paying them off, shaming them privately, or publicly discrediting them. I worry - I think this might get even uglier than it is - and I kind of hope I'm wrong about this trajectory . . . I don't think I am.
Arise is so similar to my experiences, and I'm slowly growing the courage to write about those. I'm awaiting the next part in this with trepidation and rapidly growing horror - it's like stepping into the world's worst time machine, and there is no way on this green earth that it's going to end well.
What chokes me hardest is that they do this all in the name of God. I've been privileged to meet the odd incredible person of God here and elsewhere, and I hate that this utter perversion of their beliefs exists and destroys lives. It is not my belief any longer, and there are arguments that what Arise do is not that far off what the bible teaches, but there are amazing people of God who have read that bible and created beauty in their lives from it. This awfulness is taking the worst of the scriptures and magnifying it, and taking the best of it and subverting it.
The verse that pops into my mind is "suffer the little children to come unto me" . . . not "cause the children who come unto you to suffer". These people mangle their own text, make suffering for God a ritualised abuse. Service should not be like this. Believe as you will, but don't hurt the people that come to you, don't break them, don't abuse them.
I'm warbling on a bit. This evidently touches something inside me!
As I read your reports about these institutions, I am always taken aback by how *prevalent* they seem to be in such a small country. Granted, I don't know how many are active in the US by comparison, but it still seems like an awful lot. You've said before that New Zealand has been vastly corrupted by the worst parts of American culture, particularly in your QAnon and covid crazies reporting. Based on your research on megachurches, do you think the same is true? Did this all start with America and its typical horribleness? Does the inspiration perhaps go even further back to the more "traditional" famous cults (Waco, Jonestown, FLDS, all those goodies)? I have no idea if there's any weight to that hypothesis at all; it only just occurred to me now.
"I imagine in John and Brent’s minds, it would have just been schoolboy shit; guys joshing around, having a good time. A fart here, a dead leg there."
The first thing I related this to is the Brothers Trump. Sounds like the exact kind of bullshit those dolts would pull. But I think it goes a bit beyond schoolboys just fucking around. There's an element there of abuse of power.
Talking about trauma is neither pleasant nor easy. It's a personally risky thing to do because you simply don't know how your mind and body are going to process dredging all that up. So I really admire all of these individuals who opened up about their experiences.
I did not think I would personally relate to any part of this piece. However, I was particularly struck by Elijah's story of the aftermath of his experience. Being part of an organization like this strips you of your autonomy. It restricts your routine, your activities, your time, your movement. And eventually it becomes the norm and you can't see how detrimental to your well-being it is, how manipulated you've been, that this just simply isn't *normal and healthy and sustainable.* You simply focus on surviving each day, so you get a sort of tunnel vision. And if you manage to break out, you have to rebuild every part of your life...career, relationships, your health, practical stuff like living arrangements...all while you're deep into post-trauma mode and entirely burned out. Honestly, and this may sound dramatic, but it is truly not very different from having been held captive.
We all have traumas of differing impact, and everyone processes it differently, and everyone's experiences are valid. I believe strongly in taking people at their word when describing their own experiences.
So this was all running through my mind reading Elijah's story. I can't say precisely why I felt the need to explain it here except that I think that all of us could be more sensitive and kind to trauma survivors of all kinds. Including gentleness to ourselves.
(And just as a disclaimer, I am not speaking as an academic or a professional here; I just happened to see a lot of similarities in Elijah's story to my own life the last several years (didn't involve a cult or anything akin to that, however). I hope this doesn't sound like trauma dumping. That wasn't the goal here. Trauma-informed care is a concept that is gaining traction especially in environments like schools and health care. I think it's important that we understand for ourselves and those around us what trauma *is* and how it impacts people.)
To Elijah, and the rest of the people who came forward, I hope you are in a place of healing. You have all exhibited immeasurable courage, and I thank you for sharing with us.
I'm not the kind of person to go to Pak n Sav and buy a catering pack of eggs, then drive to the Camerons' house and throw them at the front door and windows and shout obscenities until the police show up, but after reading this awful account of this vile, abusive, narcissistic behaviour, I really want to go to Pak n Sav and buy a catering pack of eggs, then drive to the Camerons' house and throw them at the front door and windows and shout obscenities until the police show up.
Why is it only about the congregations sacrifices and never the pastors? Its so glaringly one sided I don't get why none of them see it! They are so often on the bones of their arses but the leaders are just shitting money openly?
(I do know it's far more complex but I just can't see past it)
Commiting to memory: Brent is the hand farter.
It's all so unsurprising and yet still horrifying.
I'm agnostic about the whole religion thing, but the cognitive dissonance required to believe you are lifting people up and all the "Glory to God" schtick whilst treating people within your care like they are indentured servants?! That is batshit crazy and extremely worrisome.
Gee whiz DF you know how to razzle me up first thing in the morning. While these grifters are using religion as a technicoloured dream coat to obscure the con, the way I see it the bigger problem is capitalism driving people to make money. The Christian aspect only adds a thick layer of extra hypocrisy. Fuck these fart cupping clowns.
If a screenwriter turned in a script where the narcissistic preacher opens his phone and scrolls through social media AS SOON AS HE GETS OFFSTAGE after preaching about the evils of social media, in front of throngs of teenagers surrounding him, thanking him for his sermon and looking for some validation, someone would surely tell him to dial it back to the preacher waiting to check his phone when he's in his car or at least until he's alone. In a fictional setting it's too much of a "bad guy twirling his mustache" cliche but it's real.
I see that Kingdom PR have changed their website since your previous pieces. There used to be an "Our People" page with pictures and role descriptions - gone. I suspect this job might soon get too much for a small Kapiti Coast-based business...
When the 'culture' benefits the few while exploiting the many, it's time to fucking burn down and dumpster despatch it
Thanks David -
You are picking up a lot here - hope you are taking care of yourself!
Glad to know we all have someone like you “doing the lords work” in exposing these fart cupping chaps.
I find it very interesting that in their comments about upcoming investigation efforts, they are using religious event dates rather than the standard calendar. I interpret that as stalling any actions based on the excuse of "the next major event on the church calendar". I'd give them more credit by using religious event dates throughout: "Last year the Board was made aware of some non-verifiable allegations. Just prior to Christmas 2021, the Arise Board approached a New Zealand law firm to conduct an independent HR review, including the Executive and Board practices for dealing with complaints. The Terms of Reference and Engagement was agreed two weeks after Ash Wednesday. "
I attended one of these cults once or twice, doing sound, so l was actually one of the few congregation with their eyes open trying to navigate the any sonic curveballs.
Didn't help that l'd easily lost faith watching the hypocrisy, but it went well with the social psychology l was studying and interests in cults.
Always think of the below scripture with these types and especially the accounts if the three articles( nine inch nail title reference David?).
New King James Version
You Will Know Them by Their Fruits 🍑 🌬️🙍
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?
17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Oh boy... the dead legs and farts brought back church youth group memories like a tonne of bricks. Why is this lame embarassing prank culture so embedded in 'cool christian' circles.