Celebrity was a long time in coming; it will go away. Everything goes away. Carol Burnett
I bet that title caused you to take a glance at this post. I would venture to guess that you may not have heard of this church, considered the largest megachurch in New Zealand. Before I get into some of the antics surrounding this church which is now in the news, here is some information to get you up to date.
We believe that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is an essential part of the Christian experience, designed to empower for service and witness.
It was founded by John and Gillian Cameron and other family members. It appears to pattern itself after Hillsong, perhaps too much so. It is youth-oriented, and according to Wikipedia:
According to Paul Morris, Professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University, Arise is part of a “religious revival” in New Zealand’s youth culture. Radio New Zealand‘s youth channel, The Wireless, compared Arise to Australia’s Hillsong Church, and other papers have described Arise as having, “a big youth following.”
Misusing interns in more ways than one
So what happened? According to Christianity Today, which published New Zealand Authorities Investigating Nation’s Largest Megachurch
New Zealand’s largest megachurch is being investigated by the country’s Department of Internal Affairs following a damning report that the church commissioned but then refused to release. According to the 49-page report, there were “egregious and systemic” failures in the leadership of Arise Church. The independent review, conducted by Pathfinding, a Christian critical response management company, called for board resignations and new leadership to address widespread problems, including the ill-treatment of volunteers and interns enrolled in the Arise Ministry School.
According to Christianity Today:
Interns were reportedly asked to work excessively long hours and do cleaning, driving, babysitting, and gardening for pastors. There were also allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, and manipulation. Pathfinding surveyed 545 current and former members of Arise, a 10,000-member, 13-campus Pentecostal church. (ed. Note: Their website says they now have 14 churches.)
Jonty Dine wrote Former Arise members allege naked pastor chased intern for RNZ. He got much of his information from journalist David Farrier who has been reporting in his online newsletter, Webworm, allegations from ex-members about Arise church and its leadership.
Confidential payouts were made to keep them silent about the treatment they received.
Former churchgoers allege Brent Cameron, pastor and brother of the church’s founder John Cameron, was notorious for getting naked in front of interns, labelling them with derogatory nicknames, and boasting to his colleagues about his behaviour.
Matthew, who worked closely with John Cameron, saw events that took place on a tour in 2014 as a particularly unpleasant experience for one young intern.
“[What] took place makes me sick to my stomach to this day. What’s worse is that other pastors knew about it, encouraged it and would frequently ask Brent to retell the stories.”
During a night in Dunedin, he claims that while sharing a room with the young man, Brent Cameron took off all his clothes and began singing ‘I was made for loving you’.
He then chased the intern around the hotel room until the man locked himself in the bathroom to get away.
Matthew claims Brent Cameron did not let the intern forget about the night, often saying to him “we will always have Dunedin”.
Journalist: “This story has been researched and written over the last six months.” (Source)
The above quote was from an article published on April 04 2022, the article that started it all: Hillsong Isn’t the Only Abhorrent Megachurch. The truth is that a journalist took “allegations extremely seriously” and started investigating allegations that were “serious in nature” around November 2021. This date is important for point 3. It was a journalist who initiated this. Not Arise Church. Not the Arise board. Not the Arise leadership.
“In December 2021, the Arise Board approached a New Zealand law firm to conduct an independent HR review. The Terms of Reference and Letter of Engagement was signed on March 16 2022.”
December 2021 was when the Arise board finally started caring about a potential threat to their image of Arise Church. This statement provides major insight as to what Arise Church was doing behind the scenes months – before this media report, published on April 04 2022, made headlines across New Zealand.
Wikipedia accurately portrays the chronological order of what happened.
Things were so bad that Pastors John and Gilliam Cameron and Brent Cameron, the nude intern chaser, had resigned from the church.
In mid April 2022, several ex-members alleged that Arise Church used unpaid volunteer labour excessively, that interns were made to pay in order to take part in internships, and students were encouraged to donate portions of their student loans to the church. In response to these allegations, Pastors John and Brent Cameron temporarily resigned from their pastoral duties and Arise’s governing board pending an internal review.
In mid-May 2022, independent journalist David Farrier and Radio New Zealand reported that former members had alleged that Brent Cameron bullied interns and had stripped naked in front of one. This behaviour had allegedly occurred during Arise church’s annual tour of other New Zealand churches. It was alleged that this member received a confidential payout to ensure their non-disclosure of Cameron’s behavior. Another former staff member claimed that Pastor John Cameron was more concerned with financial donations than the wellbeing of church members. In response to the allegations, an independent investigation was commissioned. By 16 May, at least 190 people had contacted the team conducting an internal review of Arise Church.
In late May 2022, Arise Church’s board confirmed that Pastors John and Gilliam along with Brent had formally resigned from the church’s leadership in the wake of the exploitation and bullying allegations. In addition, Radio New Zealand reported that Arise Church had made confidential payouts to interns who had reported allegations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour by both Brent and John.
Here is where it gets interesting. Pathfinding started its investigation in April 2022 and finished in July 2022.
I’m impressed at how quickly it completed its task. According to Christianity Today”
When he announced in April that he (Cameron) was “stepping aside from his pastoral duties” and Pathfinding was opening the independent review, he promised that things would change.
“We are going to listen and learn,” Cameron said. “We are open for dialogue, and will be making the organizational changes recommended.”
The following month, Cameron resigned as senior pastor. In July, Pathfinding made 92 recommendations. They ranged from the formation of a Māori group to encourage diversity to an independent review of the church’s finances and pastors’ discretionary spending. Pathfinding also called for resignations, saying the church board “has lost its moral mandate to govern.”
Pathfinding said that board members should not include Arise pastors in the future so the governing body can more effectively provide oversight.
Now the gloves come off. I want readers to tell me what happened when this report was given to the church. Pro Hint: Think Foursquare church. The Roys Report posted Review Finds ‘Systemic’ Leadership Failures at New Zealand Megachurch, Recommends Board Resign Immediately.
At the same time Pathfinding was commissioned to begin the review, the church also hired an independent law firm, Duncan Cotterill, to review employment policies.
Arise Church says it plans to pass along the report findings, as well as those from other reviews, to an advisory council made up of church representatives. This council will make final recommendations to the Arise Board by February 2023.
First problem: Nothing is going to be released until February 2023.
The church claims they are being sued over thevrrelase of the report. According to 1 News NZ ARISE church faces legal action, delays releasing review publicly.
The embattled ARISE Church said in a statement on Wednesday it’s facing legal action over an independent review.
It revealed that an “urgent non-publication order” was now in place over the review’s report, delaying its initially planned release.
Could it be that a few people are afraid of this coming out?
Second problem: The authorities temporarily blocked the investigation’s release.
I bet you can guess what happened. The yep-the investigation got leaked. Only Sky posted Leaked investigation into New Zealand’s ARISE Church reveals widespread abuse.
Here is a link to the full report.
According to Hemant Mehta, writing for Only Sky:
The saddest thing about this is how, reading through the report, the allegations aren’t all that shocking in part because other evangelical megachurches have done many of the same damn things. They thrive in secrecy, they take advantage of their followers by using Christ as a carrot, and leaders feel beholden to no one. They know that their faith gives them a shield against criticism and oversight, and church leaders surround themselves with people who only know how to nod at their every suggestion. That’s not unique to ARISE. That’s common within all kinds of insular religious institutions. They suck people into their orbit, make them fear ever leaving the fold, then use that unearned trust to their advantage. Even if it’s not always criminal, it’s highly unethical.
And in this case, it only came to light because a bunch of courageous members and former members of ARISE were willing to share their stories with someone outside the bubble who had no allegiance to the Camerons
Third problem: The leaked report
Since this has just happened, I have yet to hear of any board members who have resigned. They were given a holy duty to protect the church of Jesus Christ. Instead, they invented and perpetuated a free for all with pastors who were not held to account.
Every one of them should resign. In the meantime, I’m sure the Camerons are gearing up for Round 2 of The Cameron Show, with Brent “in the buff” Cameron keeping things lively.