The Unstoppable Trauma Machine of Arise Church
Leader John Cameron may be gone (sort of), but the cogs of hurt keep on turning.
“As the leader of Arise Church I am broken and devastated by these stories.
Right now, our intention is to provide a way forward for people to safely share their stories and experiences and for us to listen, learn, and change.”
Two days later, “due to the serious nature of some allegations raised”, John Cameron and his fellow Arise board members tasked ‘Pathfinding’ with undertaking an independent review.
That was 110 days ago. Since then, John Cameron and his brother Brent have resigned, and hundreds of victims got in touch with Pathfinding to tell their story.
Their stories were meant to be released publicly on June 29.
That was 33 days ago.
The report is done and dusted — but its release has been blocked because someone has managed to get the Employment Relations Authority to block its release.
I wanted to know what it feels like when you’re continually betrayed by a church that promised you salvation.
So in today’s Webworm, I throw it over to someone who’d know: Someone who submitted to Pathfinding, only to find their voice muzzled yet again.
An important note: This piece discusses events that may be distressing for some people. Take care.
“This process hasn’t opened an old wound. It has created an entirely new one.”
An essay from ‘Mike’, who submitted his experience at Arise Church to the Pathfinding review — after John Cameron told him “our intention is to provide a way forward for people to safely share their stories” — only to find himself gagged, yet again.
“I made a submission to Pathfinding about my story as it relates to Arise. My story is one that is messy and nuanced. It involves grooming, multiple rapes, and emotional abuse. All committed by an older male who attended Arise.
It involves sharing my experience with said church leadership and trusting them to protect their congregation, but also trusting them to provide support to the perpetrator in the context of a Christian community seeking redemption and healing for deeply broken people.
It involves a journey of deep, miraculous healing for me. One where I can genuinely say the perpetrator is forgiven (in fact, I have told him to his face). This story stretches back over a decade. When Arise was younger, smaller, but ultimately the same flavour of church. Beyond the veneer of their happy-clappy positive vibes was a community unable to deal with the messy realities of life.
Looking back with 20:20 I see a leadership who lacked the wisdom and maturity (plus the practical tools) to navigate messy stories like mine.
When the current Arise saga broke out earlier this year, and brave voices started publicly sharing their stories, I saw the same pattern time and time again. Some stories stretched as far back as mine. Others not so far back. And some practically yesterday. But the common thread persisted through time.
A leadership who lacked wisdom and maturity.
I was unsure if I should make a submission to Pathfinding because I was at peace, personally. At first it didn’t even occur to me to do so, then as the submission window started to draw to a close, I tossed and turned over the decision. I was torn. I made a submission on the final day (as so many did).
Why? Because I believed that it was not just about my own experience. My story was a single thread to be woven into a tapestry of trauma. I was adding my voice to the choir, and it was now or never.
Because I believed that this was a singular moment where Arise was going to be held to account (on a number of fronts). This prophetic scripture in Luke 12:3 rang in my ears: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”
Because I believed that the stories, findings and recommendations made by Pathfinding would be made transparently available for true change to take place.
Ultimately, I didn’t make my submission for me.
I made my submission for every good person (because most of them are!) still in the Arise whānau who deserve better. Who deserve accountability from their leadership. Who deserve leaders that possess wisdom and maturity.
But my beliefs about transparency and accountability have so far been unfounded and unfulfilled.
The report release date has come and gone. Multiple times. Each instance I have spent the days leading up with a knot in my stomach and a heightened level of anxiety, only to be let down and confused by a vague statement from the Arise Board. To be honest, I have no fucking clue what is actually going on.
I haven’t heard anything from anyone directly.
My trust has been betrayed by those in leadership at a moment of vulnerability. This process hasn’t opened an old wound. It has created an entirely new one.
And I did this to myself.
To make it worse it’s like I’ve slit my wrists across scar tissue. Which produces a special kind of hurt.
And it’s not a wound I can stitch up myself. I’ve handed over the power to heal this wound to a church leadership that seems intent on keeping it open as long as possible. Will I bleed out before they release the report?
Is John Cameron squashing the report entirely? Are lawyers working to redact certain pieces of information? Are other staff members trying to save their own bacon? Are the Board in support of John returning as Pastor? Or are they doing everything they can to bring this report forward transparently, but have their hands tied?
Like I said, I genuinely have no fucking clue. The silence is deafening.
In the meantime I’m being re-traumatised every day this lingers in the ether. I have a general weight hanging over me. My eating is out of whack. I keep incessantly and anxiously checking yours/Arise Alumni Instagrams for new information. I was feeling so low yesterday I left work at midday because I didn’t want to be around anyone. Even today, the beaming smiles of my three beautiful daughters didn’t bring me the same joy they always do.
When will this end?
For many inside Arise still, this “difficult season” is about maintaining a sense of normalcy in a crumbling empire. I have been tuning into the Sunday sermon livestreams (when I can stomach it) to see what the community is talking about. And boy they’re good at putting on a brave face, and vaguely alluding to this “difficult season”, without actually speaking about the elephant in the room in plain, honest English.
Without speaking directly to the pain and hurt of 500+ people who made submissions. Without acknowledging the daily, ongoing pain and hurt inflicted on us by their leadership who are presently protecting themselves instead of their former flock.
To make matters worse, my own family remains in the inner sanctum of Arise, as staff (yes, I know, a whole new layer of significance). But they won’t even talk to me about it. They just smile and pretend like everything is normal. They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.
Arise leadership: just because we no longer sit in the pews, doesn’t mean we aren’t listening to what you are saying. And more importantly, not saying.
Arise leadership: to those that truly do care about making this right and pursuing genuine transformative change in your community, do everything you can to release the report.
Even if that means standing up to fellow leaders who see differently. Even if that means laying down your own power to do what is right.
This is Arise’s moment to reckon with the fundamental critique that compelled me to make a submission to Pathfinding.
Is there wisdom and maturity anywhere to be found in this leadership? Or is Arise still a community that is simply unable to deal with the messy realities of life?
I truly was hoping that Arise could change, but the cynic in me is starting to believe that it might just be rotten to the core.
David, please don’t let this go.
Thank you for everything you have done to fight for those that have been hurt, silenced and discarded.
But don’t let this go. I’m begging you.”
-Mike, July 31, 2022.
All I have seen in my reporting of Arise is a church putting its own reputation above the people who have suffered at the hands of its leaders or congregation members.
That pattern continues to play out.
Since John Cameron has left, the church he founded keeps playing by the rulebook he established.
While the church’s press releases about “independent reviews” hide in an obscure part of their website, John’s face continues to beam from the main page, and their Instagram account is just a sea of smiling, happy faces. The status quo.
This is a church that has zero interest in change.
Last week Arise happily announced their new Interim Spiritual Advisory — saying “the Board has been on a journey to strengthen the support, spiritual advice, and accountability it receives.” I think it’s fair to say Arise church has a strange understanding of the word ‘accountability’.
How accountable do you think Arise’s brand new Interim Spiritual Advisory will be? I’ve lifted these descriptions directly from Arise’s website:
Adrian & Ingrid Gomez: Adrian and Ingrid Gomez have been members of the Christchurch Arise campus since its inception in 2007.
Mike & Anne Burrows: Mike and Anne Burrows have been a part of the Wellington Campus of Arise Church for the last 17 years.
Aaron & Pauline Halvorson: Aaron and Pauline Halvorson had both volunteered and been employed in various churches and roles before joining the Arise Church staff in 2015.
Ivan & Julie Wong Kee: Ivan and Julie have been a part of the Arise family for over 15 years.
Between these eight people, they have a combined 108 years attending Arise Church.
108 years of John Cameron in their ear.
Naturally, changes to the Arise board are no different. Kylie Fletcher is the new Chairperson. She’s been a member of Arise for over 17 years. Ben Kendrew is a new trustee — and Webworm understands he’ll be taking over the role left by John Cameron as senior pastor.
With this kind of eternal echo chamber, it’s no wonder Arise Church’s “Privacy Officer” sent this incorrect statement to a former congregation member:
And in a final middle finger to victims who have been muzzled, John Cameron has continued to attend Arise Church services since he resigned.
This is a church that has zero interest in change.
I’d wondered what would happen when the founder of a megachurch was forced to leave, due to the terrible things that had happened under their watch. I was curious, because it’s a story that seems to play out in other cookie-cutter megachurches the world over.
Would the church take the moment as an opportunity to actually reflect and acknowledge anything that had happened? Would they be open to any type of real change?
I guess we have our answer. You keep calm and carry on. You parrot the lie that everything is okay so you can get new members in the door; so you can “save souls”, and make money along the way.
You stock the leadership with true believers, and you make anyone with an objective perspective on the church fight in court to make their voice heard.
The churn rate doesn’t matter, because there’ll always be new victims ready to take the bait, even as the old ones leave the church hurt, disillusioned and damaged.
PS: I am in contact with the Employment Relations Authority regularly to see if the independent review is still tied up in litigation. I know, thanks to months and months of dealing with Arise, that the church itself will never tell me this. Hell, they only told their own members about the ERA being the issue on July 27 — a full 20 days after I’d reported it on Webworm.
PPS: You can share this. I want you to: webworm.co/p/traumamachine.
Because Arise doesn’t just get to keep calm and carry on. They don’t get to conveniently ignore their victims. Mike isn’t alone in being silenced — there are hundreds like him who put their faith in John Cameron and Arise church, and bravely shared their stories with Pathfinding. And all they’ve received so far is a daily kick in the teeth. “I’m being re-traumatised every day this lingers in the ether,” Mike told me.
33 days, and counting.
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