A Flightless Bird PSA, as Arise Church Sits in Purgatory
I launch a new podcast this week called Flightless Bird, and Arise Church awaits the findings of the Independent Review
I hope your weekend is going great so far. Somehow the last Webworm — ‘Time: What Is It?’ — became the most quickly and heavily commented on Webworm of all time. I guess we all just needed to blow off some steam!
Now I’ve been getting quite a few questions about Arise Church and what’s been going on. So here’s a quick update.
The independent review closed its public submissions on Thursday. From what I understand — plenty of people came forward. This was brave. And surprising, because people hurt by Arise also have very little reason to trust anything instigated by Arise.
My take: It’s good Pathfinding is getting ammo. John Cameron will be digging his heels in. I hate to think of the frantic meetings he’s been having behind the scenes. All those coffee meetings. So many lattes.
His attitude to stepping down from the monster church he founded is most accurately portrayed by the character of Ruth in Netflix’s Ozark (warning: bad language):
I have very little doubt Graeme Kirkwood — Arise board’s Emperor Palpatine equivalent — is also digging his heels in. He’s been the one who’s refused to answer barely any of my questions over the last few months — most recently insinuating I’d been spreading misinformation (“The Board has noted incorrect and misleading information in your article”).
Since I wrote about that, Lord Graeme admitted the disinformation came from… Arise Church:
“We recognise that the internal FAQ communication sent out 29th April has caused confusion about the return of John and Gillian to Arise Church.
This internal FAQ did not have sign off from the Board, and although it was a healthy attempt to shed light on important matters happening at Arise, it was missing an important clarification about the findings of the independent reviews in determining the way forward for Arise.
The statement in the FAQs regarding John and Gillian Cameron read “When the results of the review are provided, their intention is to return to lead the church through the learning and change process.”
The Board would like to clarify this to: ‘The Board will reach decisions as to John and Gillian’s positions following the completion of the independent reviews and the Board’s careful consideration of the reports and recommendations coming out of those reviews and any legal advice that it might receive.’”
I think it’s fair to say Arise’s overall approach so far could be categorically summarised as “a giant deathstar of a mess.”
Despite me continuously asking to be kept in the loop, it’s constant crickets from Graeme Kirkwood and the Arise Board. Instead, they keep quietly updating the FAQ page on the church’s official website… without really telling anyone.
The FAQ has reached such a length I think anyone who knew nothing about the story would read the FAQ and just go “WTF — this place seems bad.”
It’s damage control gone awry, and it’s sort of amazing to see it roll out.
I’m also aware that after my piece on Flocks (the internal database sometimes used to track the moral failings of Arise Church members) some former church members requested to see all the personal information Arise church held on them.
I’ve talked to several people who were surprised at what was on file — including their various “offences”.
This is another term Arise bandies around — along with words like “Uplining” and “Honouring”. If people raise concerns about Arise or speak out negatively about it — they have committed an “offence”. This is dutifully noted so it can be discussed amongst staff.
Whenever I hear internal lingo like “offences”, I can’t help but think of cults like Scientology with all its jargon and buzzwords: “Disconnection”, “Fair Game” and “Suppressive Person”.
I think there’d be a game show in this called ‘Arise, or Scientology?’
The host would approach the two teams wavering over their buzzers, playing for the $10,000 prize money (the amount John Cameron would regularly say God was asking for every year).
“‘Offences’ and ‘disconnection’: Arise Church, or Scientology?” the host would ask. “‘Uplining’ and ‘Suppressive’: Arise Church, or Scientology?”
The contestants would realise it’s an incredibly hard game show. It gets pretty confusing pretty quick.
Another question I’ve been asked is if I submitted anything to the external review, Pathfinding. I went back and forth on this. I’m incredibly cynical that anything Pathfinding recommends will be listened to. Pathfinding is dealing with a narcissist who doesn’t want to lose power:
John Cameron is a celebrity at Arise. Without Arise he (in his mind, at least) is nothing.
And the Arise board — while it now contains fresh blood — is also still filled with very old blood. Yes, I’ve been writing about this stuff for so long I’m starting to sound Biblical.
I am also aware that some of the stuff I’ve been writing about is the domain of the police. You can’t get your penis out and chase a staff member down a hotel hallway. You can’t lay your hands on staff and scream at them. You can’t sweep sexual assault and rape allegations under the carpet.
And yet we’re dealing with a megachurch. It’s in their DNA to survive on the blood and bones of sinners. They idolise power and control over everything else.
With that in mind, I did write a short submission to the external review. This is what I sent in:
“I am writing this letter to the Pathfinding Review for a very simple reason.
I am writing on behalf of those who wrote to me with stories of abuse and hurt from Arise Church, that the review will never hear from.
I have hundreds of pages of people telling their stories, that now live rent free inside of my head. Many of them will never go anywhere else. They are between me, and those telling me.
They are revolting, they are sickening, and they are full of hurt.
I wish I’d never read them or heard them, like the people telling the stories wish they’d never encountered Arise.
I am writing on behalf of those people. That’s all.
From what I have observed, Arise is run by a narcissist who is utterly detached from anything Jesus ever taught. I have no doubt he intends to come back and lead. If that happens, all of this is for nothing.
There are those I’ve spoken to who will not go near Christianity again, because of how they’ve been made to feel inside this institution.
From what I understand of Jesus, he was for the outsider, the downtrodden, the rejected. Those that Arise — lead by John Cameron — has very little interest in. I’d argue — zero interest in.
That is all clear in my reporting. But my reporting is the tip of an iceberg. I hate that iceberg.
This letter is for those who won’t ever tell their stories.
These people exist, and they deserve far more than an apology. They deserve systemic change.
Jesus flipped tables. If only anyone inside this church could be so bold.”
And so — we wait.
I wanted to tell you about another thing I’ve been working on. It’s a podcast called Flightless Bird. I know what you’re thinking: “Thank God another white man has a podcast, it’s what we were missing.”
But I am so proud of this thing. You can hear the teaser here.
I’ve made it with my friends at Armchair Expert — Dax Shepard, and Monica Padman and Rob Holysz. These three have looked after me since I accidentally got marooned in America last year — and that’s what this show is about: Me being marooned here. I set out to understand what makes America tick.
What does the first episode this coming week cover? Religion. I did the interviews and wrote the script well before Arise showed up. I take a look into American megachurches, how they formed, and what they mean.
I feel really proud of this show. It’s personal, quite weird, and I like to think you might find some of it surprising.
The show launches on Tuesday in America — which is Wednesday in New Zealand. It’ll be on Spotify under the Armchair Expert feed, over on Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to shows.
It will come out weekly. Some topics are meaty (like religion!) and others are hilarious and bizarre. I am lucky enough to always have Monica Padman by my side - and Dax will drop in, too.
Bob Mervak composed the theme song. Rob produced, did all the photos, and I have him to thank for the show existing, thanks to a discussion we had on a road trip we took up the West Coast. Billy Klein skilfully edited the show, with stellar help from Jake Anderson.
Dax let me do this. It was him who said “pitch me a show and we’ll do it.” I am so appreciative of his support since I met him via Armchair Expert as the pandemic kicked in.
If you listen to Flightless Bird, I’ll keep making it.
And for anyone listening to Armchaired & Dangerous — that will keep happening. We may miss a deadline now and then as we get into the flow of Flightless Bird, but I will never abandon diving deep into conspiracy theory hell.
Talk soon, and as always I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments section.
Really liked your submission to the inquiry David. Simple and honours all those who have confided in you. One can only wish that Pathfinder would stand up for the Arise victims as much as you have...
I picture a coffee meeting. Brent puts out his hand for a handshake. The person he's meeting with looks at it uncomfortably.