Discover more from Webworm with David Farrier
Full Email from Life Church to Webworm
Life Church responds to Webworm's enquiries.
For context, please read The Holy Hell of New Zealand’s Biggest Pentecostal Megachurches first.
Last week on Friday 3 Webworm put a list of questions to Life Church. The email we sent was this:
Kia ora, I'm working on a story for Webworm about the treatment of former and current staff, interns and congregation members at Life.
The story includes a number of stories, and so we wanted to give you the opportunity to comment on some of the observations. These are some of the main things we've been told:
-Life church has asked interns about the intimate details of any physical contact with the opposite sex
-In the mid-2000s, Life church stood someone down from a volunteer role after they revealed an assault that had occurred as a result of prostitution.
-Life has advised members to attend Cleansing Stream and Mercy Multiplied in Australia
-Life puts a high emphasis on moral ‘purity’, especially in regard to girls’ clothing and body language
-Life has taught about “soul ties” forming during sex
-In 2013, the youth decided to host a Bollywood vs Hollywood Ball where a leader wore blackface.
-In 2013 there was a “cross the border” game as part of a “Mexican Fiesta” event. This game was played at multiple events.
-Around 2005 a staff member was told to pay $160 for Luke De Jong’s water-damaged passport
-Staff have disclosed eating disorders and being demoted for it
Can you respond to these allegations? I appreciate some are from a long time ago, but obviously Luke, Paul and Maree were present at the church for all of them.
In a more general sense:
What steps does Life take to ensure the wellbeing of its interns now?
What processes has it got in place to ensure the wellbeing of congregation members who report trauma or abuse?
Our deadline is 5pm Monday.
With that set deadline of 5pm Monday 6 (New Zealand time), Life emailed us back at 3.59pm on Monday 6.
This is their email in its entirely — written to Webworm contributor Hayden Donnell (for context, Hayden also writes for RNZ and The Spinoff).
From: Life Church
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2023, 3:59 pm
Subject: RE: Media query on the treatment of staff, interns, and congregation members at Life
To: Hayden Donnell
We appreciate you giving us the chance to respond.
We were happy to answer Webworm’s initial general questions about our church, however due to the serious nature of these allegations we have a few queries and concerns we hope you can understand we’ll need responses to before deciding how to fully respond to your enquiry.
Firstly, can we ask if you’re engaging us in your capacity as an independent blogger for the Webworm blog or one of the New Zealand media outlets you represent including Radio New Zealand and The Spinoff, or both, or all three? We note your subject line says “media” enquiry but then you go on to say you are working as a blogger. Our understanding is that as a blogger you are not accountable to any code of ethics or journalistic standards, nor accountable to New Zealand media law.
We would like you to clarify what standards, code(s) of ethics and law you are operating under in these enquiries before we consider if and how to respond. I’m sure as a journalist for Radio NZ and The Spinoff - both reputable media organisations working under NZ media law, codes of ethics and the media council - you’ll understand our apprehension at your approach as a blogger rather than as a journalist. There would be no process for us to appeal to a governing body to seek a retraction or correction. We would need to know we will be treated fairly and impartially, without bias or prejudice and that you will be subject to accountability in some way, as we (and we are sure you) rightly expect us to be.
If you are approaching us solely as a blogger, will you guarantee us you are approaching us with an open mind, with impartiality and without bias and prejudice? Will you also guarantee equal time and space for our point of view, and equality in the amount of time you’ll spend reviewing and considering it?
Can you please also disclose how many of Webworm’s financial backers are linked to groups with religious intolerance and bigotry, and also please fully disclose any conflicts of interest around this? We know only too well how real the threat is of intolerance and hatred towards minority religious communities in Aotearoa and so we would appreciate full disclosure around this.
If you could please clarify these important matters before we proceed, that would be most appreciated—our interest here is simply truth and justice, that we are given a fair hearing.
Secondly, a number of the brief bullet-pointed allegations you’ve sent through, while we appreciate the need to preserve anonymity, are vague and lack specific details, so are difficult to respond to, especially given the attention they deserve. We’d like to understand the alleged details and facts including scenarios and exactly who was representing our organisation in what capacity etc. Can you please provide more specific details around each of them so we can investigate and comment in a more informed manner? All people involved deserve a fair and balanced response.
We note Webworm wrote in a blog last year that it has a number of stories about LIFE, so it would appear you have been working on this for many months. We would like you to share these concerning stories with us, with identifying details redacted to protect privacy, so we can cross-check against our complaints process to see if any of these allegations have been made directly or if they have been resolved given many of them are many years (some decades) ago.
We also have concerns around how healthy and safe it is for grievances to be publicly litigated in this way, because it could be actively harmful for some, especially those vulnerable to experiencing mental health challenges.
Have you read and understood the NZ Mental Health Foundation media guidelines for reporting? Can you assure us you will abide by these when publishing stories that involve or have an impact on mental health?
Thirdly, would you please encourage people with negative experiences to make a complaint via the feedback and complaints page on our website? We take these matters very seriously and are committed to addressing them with the care and weight they deserve through our robust complaints process. We are most concerned that people who may have shared stories some time ago with this blog have not been able to resolve them because they haven’t engaged with our process.
Our heart as a church is to see people healed, reconciled and restored into a supportive community of faith, wherever and whatever that looks like for them. We have long understood as a church that our style may not suit everyone and have supported many people to find a community of faith that suits them.
Finally, can we ask when you’re planning to publish? And, if you are writing for a blog and not a deadline driven media organisation, we’re curious as to why you had such an urgent deadline for our response (two working days) when you have been sitting on these stories for many, many months according to your blog. Is there a reason for the urgency and will we be given an equal amount of time to respond once we have all the information we need to respond to? We’d also welcome seeing what you plan to publish so we can consider responding more fully to what you are planning on publishing.
In the meantime, below is an initial statement you can use, should you decide not to respond to our requests and concerns.
Thanks Hayden, we appreciate your interest. It is enquiries like yours that have made us reflect deeply on our processes and deepen our resolve to have robust measures in place to ensure the health and wellbeing of people in our community. We hope you understand our reservations and questions. They are very important to us, as are each of the people involved in the matters you raise.
While our preference is to resolve the matters above with you in good faith, I understand, based on what I have previously read on your blog, that you may choose to publish this email in full in your blog.
“We take allegations of this nature very seriously and are committed to addressing them with the care and weight they deserve.
Our heart as a church is to see people helped, healed and restored into a supportive community of faith, wherever and whatever that might look like for them. We’ve understood for many years as a church that our style, values and beliefs may not suit everyone, and we’ve supported many people to find alternative communities of faith that are the right fit for them.
The allegations put to us, by way of brief bullet points and a short relative deadline, are historic and resolved, or vague and lacking details and therefore difficult to investigate or respond to with the attention they deserve.
Our message for anyone who has had a negative experience is to please come to us directly via the feedback and complaints page on our website. We resolve most complaints really satisfactorily through this process, so please know you will be treated with the utmost compassion, care and privacy. We are also open to providing independent or self-selected support if desired.
We’re most concerned that people who may have shared historic stories with this blog have not been able to resolve them, simply and sadly because they haven’t engaged with our complaints process.
If it is helpful for people to share their experiences publicly, then we support that; but we also welcome the opportunity to work directly with anyone to help resolve issues in a safe and helpful manner.
What we want to avoid is publicly litigating issues via a blog with no process or structure around standards and accountability. We have concerns around how healthy and safe it is for grievances to be handled this way because it could be actively harmful for people, especially those vulnerable to experiencing poor mental health.
Since our church began in 1991, we’ve sought to continuously develop and improve how we do things to ensure they are best practice for an organisation of our nature.
We regularly review our policies and processes and are satisfied they ensure a positive and caring environment where people can thrive and grow.
We are fully committed to people being our priority and being a healthy, open community of faith. We’ve long acknowledged that only Jesus is perfect, and that is why we have a robust and professional process for dealing with issues, concerns and complaints.”
Luke de Jong
Senior Pastor, LIFE
Corporate Communications Manager