John Cameron is Attempting a Resurrection
The results of the independent review into Arise Church have been delayed. There’s a reason for this: I'm guessing its name is John Cameron
It’s been a while since we spoke about Arise.
To recap, I put out a series of stories about harrowing stuff happening in the 10,000-member megachurch, including allegations that interns were exploited, congregation members and staff were physically and emotionally abused by senior leaders, and sexual assault complaints were swept under the carpet.
It all culminated in the founder of Arise, John Cameron, resigning on May 27, along with his wife Gillian. His brother Brent — who allegedly chased a member of staff down a hallway, and showed them his genitals without consent — also resigned.
All this followed John Cameron himself appointing an independent reviewer to dive into various allegations headfirst. This is what John Cameron told his church and the public on April 11, following Webworm’s reporting:
“We are going to listen and learn. Myself and the leadership team have been reviewing the information that has been brought to light. We have sought advice from an independent body to guide the church on next steps and have appointed an independent reviewer to confidentially hear people’s stories, and to make recommendations to our Board and leadership team for the purpose of organisational change. We are open for dialogue, and will be making the organisational changes recommended.”
With that, independent reviewer Pathfinding — lead by Charlotte Cummings — started its review. It opened up for public submissions, and hundreds of victims came forward.
The Board has now seen her report. The public was due to see it tomorrow.
This is no longer happening.
A statement from the Arise Board released last night said:
“In the interests of transparency, and our desire to give voice to those who were hurt, a report will be released publicly, this was due to occur on Wednesday 29 June.
However, both Pathfinding and the Arise Church Board understand the need to act responsibly within the principles of natural justice and remain within the bounds of the law in what is presented in the final report, this is a process which will take further time and advice. We are committed to ensuring that there is no compromising of the integrity and independence of the Pathfinding process.
We anticipate the final version of the report will be made publicly available in around two weeks’ time. We will advise in due course the revised expected release date.”
That statement came out yesterday evening — the worst time for any kind of press pickup. You release information at this time if you want that information to die, or at least go unnoticed.
It’s no accident that a report won’t be released this week.
Webworm knows that John Cameron retained a lawyer who specialises in defamation law shortly after our stories started coming out. Of course he can afford a good lawyer because his congregation has made him — certainly relative to them — wealthy. Shepherding a church has been good business for John.
You don’t hire a lawyer if you are 100% happy with how things are going.
There’s another key thing in last night’s media release. It’s subtle and easy to miss:
“The report from Pathfinding will provide key themes and broad recommendations in light of the submissions that were made.”
In other words, the report the Arise board are planning to share publicly (if they ever do) is a reduced version of the review team’s work. Webworm spoke to Charlotte Cummings at the beginning of this process, and she made it clear she only signed up to do this independent review if it could also be made public. Now according to this recent board release, the report will now only “provide key themes and broad recommendations”.
This is a huge change from what the Board itself publicly stated on April 27:
“Following Pathfinding’s process being completed, the findings will be shared with the Board and will also be made publicly available.”
I guess it was fairly obvious from the beginning that John Cameron didn’t intend to have his image ruined by an actual exhaustive independent investigation into the things that happened under his leadership. It’s possible he saw the review more as an exercise in PR than as a genuine undertaking.
But now that review has received hundreds of complaints. We understand many of the people who came forward shared harrowing details about their time at Arise. I think it’s fair to imagine that, despite commissioning Pathfinding, John Cameron is now not so keen on its findings being released.
We don’t know what John Cameron and his lawyer are telling the Arise Board, or the Pathfinding review panel. But we know the board has also stopped answering any enquiries from Webworm. We sent it emails on the 19th, 22nd and 23rd of this month. They’ve all been ignored.
I think it’s fair to say this prolonged silence — and the delayed release of Pathfinding’s recommendations — flies in the face of what Arise said publicly when it released the details of this review process:
“It is also important, in order to rebuild trust, that there is transparency, accountability, and engagement with the review findings and their recommendations.”
It is my honest opinion that at this point, that commitment to transparency, accountability, and engagement is utter bollocks.
Instead what seems to be taking place is almost the opposite; a mission to launder John Cameron’s stained reputation and distance him from the bad stuff that happened at Arise, all while dodging that aforementioned transparency and accountability for as long as possible.
During the long wait for Pathfinding’s report to be released, multiple pastors have taken to the stage at Arise to praise the church’s founder unreservedly. After John Cameron resigned and gave his tearful goodbyes on May 29, guest pastor Leo Hanssen took to the pulpit, saying:
“We just love you guys so much.
It’s not the end. It’s not the end.
And if there’s one person in the room that’s gonna make sure it’s not — it’s gonna be me.”
Leo Hanssen is cut from the same church cookie-cutter as John — opening multi-million dollar church “Majestic” in 2020.
Despite resigning, John Cameron has kept turning up at Arise Church services. His brother Brent Cameron and wife Annie Cameron have been spotted in the front row as well.
I can’t imagine another business who would let their former CEO keep turning up to the office while they were subject to not one, but two investigations.
John and Gillian Cameron are still front and center of Arise’s website, under the “Our Leaders” section. It’s almost as if they never left.
The most clear signal that Arise Church and its leadership were still backing their former leader 110% came on Sunday, June 19, when Arise pastor, Ben Carroll, took to the podium to sing John’s praises as John sat glowing in the front row.
If you can’t stomach watching the gushing, this is a transcript:
“Wow. What a time it’s been. What a time it’s been to be Arise.
And, you know, it’s a big time for our church. A really big time. And unprecedented times — I don't know how how many times we’ve said that over the last two years, unprecedented times.
But, you know, I’m always reminded of what Pastor John says to us. He says that churches grow larger in good times, and they grow stronger in hard times. And we’re in a tough season, but we’re going to be stronger.
We’re going to be healthier. And we just honour our pastors today, Pastor John and Gillian, who are here joining us here in the Hutt Valley today. And we just honour you guys and we love you.
We love you so much.”
Notice Ben calls John and his wife “our pastors”, despite their resignations.
With words like that still being preached from the Arise pulpit — it’s not much of a surprise we are yet to see any of Pathfinding’s work.
John Cameron has resigned, but he clearly still has power at the church he founded. With a legal team by his side, he has even more power.
That power could be enough to intimidate the Arise Board. It could be enough to give some people second thoughts about making truly transformational change at the church.
John has always said his mission is to further the Kingdom of God. A report was meant to come out this week telling the stories of hundreds of people, many of whom felt they had been used and spat out by the church he founded with that mission supposedly in mind. Some were subject to abuse both physical and psychological. They were hurt, often in profound and long-lasting ways.
Those sorts of stories certainly don’t help when it comes to Kingdom-building. And John Cameron will be damned if he lets real human hurt get in the way of God’s Kingdom.
-with additional reporting by Hayden Donnell.
If you know people at Arise — share this piece, because they are not getting the full story. They are in a vacuum: https://www.webworm.co/p/resurrection.
Anyone who has information regarding Arise, the Arise board, John Cameron — or any of the other leaders mentioned in the Pathfinding report — are welcome to get in touch anonymously: email@example.com. This offer does not extend to John Cameron’s lawyer.
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Mailbag - your feedback:
I was overwhelmed by your comments under the Webworm piece about the overturning of Roe v Wade — America’s Race to the Bottom. I think it’s the most discussion I’ve seen under a Webworm piece, and thanks to Emma who posted this quote from Methodist Pastor David Barnhart:
“The “unborn" are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don't resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don't ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don't need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don't bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without reimagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus, but actually dislike people who breathe.”
Also appreciated what Jacqui had to say in regards to what that means for the rest of the world - including New Zealand:
“I feel so sorry for American women right now, it must be terrifying. But what really scares me is the fact that conservatives here will now feel emboldened to try and push their antediluvian moral code on the rest of us. America is like a source of infection now - Trump leading into QAnon and then suddenly we have 6 week occupation at the Beehive and loons threatening to execute people and harassing them. Distrust in the govt and elections is on the rise. All using rhetoric straight from the Orange Cheetos’ mouth. Anti-vaxxers spouting American phrases messing up our National response to a pandemic. And now this. Is our national immune system robust to withstand yet another infection? Based on how the other ideas have gained traction I’m guessing not. The evangelicals will be all over this, getting their people into positions of power just like they did in the States and the bingo!”
I mean — we saw this in New Zealand over the weekend. National’s Simon O’Connor posted this to his Facebook. Under it, a sea of New Zealanders heartily agreeing with him — except for me, who took the moral high ground and told him to “suck shit”.
He eventually removed the post under the advice of National leader Chris Luxon. But Luxon is someone to be incredibly wary of. He’s been involved in megachurch culture in New Zealand for some time, and he’s made it clear in interviews he thinks abortion is tantamount to murder.
Despite its brokenness and decay, the world still looks to America. There’s a reason all of America’s conspiracy madness hit New Zealand, and we’d be stupid for thinking that some Kiwi politicians and the public aren’t cheering America along.
Thanks for all of your comments. I read them all, as always, and appreciate you being here.