John Cameron takes to the pulpit for a non-apology apology
As I reported last week, John and Brent Cameron have resigned from Arise Church.
This was big news — and it wouldn’t have happened without Webworm supporters. So thankyou for allowing me to do what I do.
A few updates.
John Cameron has resigned, yes — but he has three months to do his handover. Which is why on Sunday’s service we saw him take to the pulpit again, for an apology slash not apology.
The video is “unlisted” but you can watch it here.
It starts well, but quickly veers off into “this was all in the past!” territory, as John focusses it all back on him (instead of, say, the victims):
“I, and therefore Arise, began a process of change in January of 2016. I have worked very hard on my leadership.
We have transformed the culture of our church, we have clarified many systems and improved significantly as we’ve journeyed along…”
Let me make this very clear: A lot of shit happened post-2016.
And if I understand the independant review process correctly, John Cameron won’t have seen the 617 submissions to Pathfinding yet, detailing just how cooked everything is. So he doesn’t even know what he’s apologising for in this clip.
John’s rant goes on — a friend of mine summing up his “apology” better than I ever could:
Pharaoh: “We have heard that some time ago, some of the slaves were hurt in the construction of these amazing Pyramids™️. We are deeply sorry to hear this and changed some stuff a while ago and choose to believe there are fewer people being crushed, whipped, or collapsing from exhaustion than ever.
But more importantly, how incredible are these pyramids?! People will be talking about them for ages! I mean, when you realise how amazing they are, it kind of makes you forget how many people died making them am I right?”
Of course all the pastors of these churches rally around each other during these difficult seasons (their term, not mine — more church speak) and that’s what happened next.
Pastor Leo Hanssen of Majestic Church (we’ll save Majestic for another day) took to the stage, turned to John and Gillian Cameron, and said: “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.”
Imagine being a victim and hearing that. Just powerful white men all rallying around each other in a giant church circle jerk.
At this point I’d like to point to a piece on another newsletter by Wade Mullen. He’s written a really handy piece on how to assess whether an institutional apology is genuine or bullshit. Wade did his PhD on how churches cover shit up, so he knows what he’s talking about:
Too often the words “We are sorry” are casually offered and easily accepted as if they possess a supernatural power to resolve every grievance and heal any wound.
Yet, in my experience working with abuses in organizations, this short statement, offered as a bridge of reconciliation, is often surrounded by other messages that serve a very different purpose.
Above, underneath, and all around this single bridge are numerous walls of defense.
These walls are established to repel the shame that threatens from without and to protect the legitimacy hoarded within, ensuring that the bridge of apology allows no shame to enter and no legitimacy to exit.
As for Arise? Brent and John leaving is huge. It is real change. Eternal thanks to the bravery shown to all those who’ve spoken to me over the last few months of reporting.
I will be watching with curiosity how Arise (the leaders and the board) react to Pathfinding’s final report.
I will be across it, and on it. Thanks for being here.
A few other things relating to all this.
I recently went on an episode of The Bible for Normal People. I really love this show, and it was a pleasure to be asked to be a guest. Here’s the episode: Episode 208: David Farrier – What’s Going On With Megachurches?
It’s also great seeing the media calling out other Evangelical churches. Arise is the tip of the iceberg — and reading stories like this from Sam Olley at RNZ makes me think the tide may be changing: ‘A toxic environment’: Former Celebration Church members felt exploited.
Back in October last year I called one of my early megachurch stories Destiny Church isn’t the Problem. It feels like that sentiment is finally cutting through!
Journalist Philip Matthews wrote a great big piece on megachurch culture called The media and the megachurch — it was surreal seeing two idiotic Webworm stars John Cameron and Peter Mortlock (of conspiracy-ridden City Impact Church) beaming at me from a big New Zealand paper:
They use softer language than I do, and it’s a good podcast to pass on to those who are perhaps stuck in these systems.
There was another incredible church story this month — incredible as in absolutely vile. It unfolded in this Facebook video taken inside Warsaw’s New Life Christian Church, which was transcribed and documented here.
The short version? Pastor John B. Lowe gets on stage and admits to “adultery” 20 years ago. He gets a standing ovation from his followers. A woman and her husband then take to the stage. The church’s livestream cuts, but a member of the congregation keeps filming.
The woman says — boldly and bravely — that she was the woman Pastor Lowe had had the “affair” with. Except it wasn’t an affair — it was rape. She was 16. The congregation is stunned — then gets a bit angry at Pastor Lowe.
It’s all hideous, but at this point you at least think sanity is prevailing. The congregation is angry at the right man. But then Pastor Lowe grabs the mic, and tells everyone in a pathetic voice it was “20 years ago”, and asks for forgiveness — because he’s taking the Biblical approach and owning up to things. And you know what? The church members all go up to the front and hug him.
While the brave and bold woman and her husband are ignored at the back.
The hold these pastors have over their sheep is incredible.