Echoes of the Past
Opinion piece: Liz Gregory.
(Disclaimer: Views are not necessarily those of the staff, trust or other leavers from Gloriavale. Pass feedback directly to me if necessary.)
Sometimes timing can be important. I don’t want to be tone-deaf. But today I have such a heavy heart as I think about the devastation Gloriavale’s culture has brought on so many people.
I’m referring to the tragic circumstances that led to a Gloriavale man’s imprisonment yesterday. This post is not about the awful specifics of yesterday’s case, because the people involved will not want further attention and rightly so. It’s devastating and all I can do is reach out and offer them some aroha, and hope they feel supported at this difficult time. But it has opened up a can of worms.
There are many victims of Gloriavale – some have left, many still remain.
My phone has lit up with calls and messages for the past 24 hours, and I’ve had personal contact with more than a dozen Gloriavale leavers (as well as some current members).
They just wanted to talk and process and vent and express their sadness for the victims. Some wept. Most were calm and emotionless. They all said they felt sick.
So I want to leap the conversation to where it really really needs to go.
“No indication the children at Gloriavale are unsafe”?
Carmel Sepuloni’s comment a week ago that the Government has had ” no indication that the children of Gloriavale were unsafe”, has rightly disturbed a number of Gloriavale Leavers. Particularly in light of yesterday’s news.
How CAN her comment be true? This man was in the community until his arrest a few months ago. Does she actually think they’ve got to the bottom of this muck?!
Bad thinking leads to bad behaviour. And bad thinking, unless challenged, acknowledged and accepted, will continue to lead to bad behaviour. It has a habit of moving through the generations, and it becomes a cultural issue. Until someone breaks it.
Leavers are trying to break it. They are a truly remarkable group of people. Each on their own healing journey.
One current member contacted me while I was writing this post and said, “Liz, you are entirely vindicated.” But I want to correct that. I think it’s the leavers who are vindicated. And the people inside Gloriavale who have done their bit to try to get change. It’s those who have been speaking up on this issue for decades. For some of them they did this while they struggled to readjust to a new life. For some they didn’t have the strength to speak themselves, but they supported others who did. Some wrote books, some went on TV, many have been on radio and in newspaper. Some spoke in court. Each to their own, when they felt they could. I’m sure some felt they wished they could do more, but it’s not that easy for some.
And it’s paid off. Especially as people keep packing their bags and coming out to the fresh air.
(We also want to acknowledge some outside groups / agencies have been working with current members to try to change mindsets, but it’s not that easy when the main messaging in Gloriavale is unchanged.)
“Perverts among us”
Lydia Christian’s , a current, trusting member of Gloriavale, said in court,
“Sin and lust are everywhere. So yes, in our ignorance and our desire to be merciful, loving and forgiving there have been perverts among us. But I have never heard sexual immorality encouraged, condoned, or taught. It is not condoned. I feel safe in our community. The leaders have put in place processes to ensure the issues of the past are not repeated.”
I need to challenge that statement. Some of your leaders have not willingly “put processes in place”. They were forced on them after mass exposure of child abuse among boys. And you know full well there are leaders and members of the community who have not been happy about this intrusion into your lives. And when you mention the “issues of the past” you’re likely only referring to the issues around the boys and their recent offending spate – because that’s all you likely know about. But what about the past 50-years? And the offending on girl victims which hasn’t seen the light of day yet? What about the two generations of abused people before you?
There is no indication your leaders have grappled with that yet. The leaders at Gloriavale haven’t yet accepted there is a systemic, cultural abuse issue that comes straight out of the mouth and modelling from their revered their old leader, assisted by the Shepherds and Servants, and they certainly don’t believe it’s linked to their warped and weaponised faith beliefs. They think it’s completely unrelated.
You need to ask this question, why is there such a high number of perverts in your midst? That’s worth examining. Don’t just flippantly say it’s all okay – our leaders will keep us safe. That’s what you all thought when there was a proliferation of abuse sweeping through your community. You thought you were safe then, until you weren’t… Blind trust in this community, is in my opinion, folly that will lead to a repeat.
Leavers haven’t taken too long to leap from this current tragic tale, right back to the start of the community.
All I can do is help draw a link between the past and the present. I know a small minority of people are hurt and wounded by constant referencing back to Hopeful Christian (the original leader jailed for sexual offending). I can accept that’s how they feel, and I don’t want to deliberately trod over them and be insensitive. But it’s important to reiterate it. You and I might have made that link a long time ago between the present and the past, but it was clear in court earlier this year, that the current leaders of Gloriavale, and plenty of current members haven’t managed to make the link yet. And so until they do make that link, I am going to keep harping on about it. I know these blog posts are being read inside and outside of Gloriavale. I know they are helping people.
Once the leaders and members at Gloriavale can recognise it, acknowledge it, accept it and apologise for their part in holding up the system, then yes, I’m pretty sure leavers will finally be able to stop talking about it, and continue on their own deeply personal journey of healing. But who is confronting the leaders and forcing them to take a good hard look at themselves and their beliefs? It won’t be the Government. They don’t like to get involved in religious matters.
Until there is a truth-telling exercise, there is no safety for the people at Gloriavale.
Stephen Standfast (Shepherd and next-in-line Overseeing Shepherd) was asked about Hopeful Christian’s “unchristian behaviour” in court and he said, “I don’t have an explanation for but I don’t believe that everything that he was involved in as far as the Church and community goes was false as in false teaching, etc. But there certainly are things that I haven’t engaged myself to understand more deeply at this point but certainly going forward would be necessary to do so.“
Boom. This is the issue that Stephen is referring to. The sexual issues. The stuff he refuses to talk about.
Question for Stephen? How has the progress gone on that front?
You have a chance right now to prove you have some insight. Your current Overseeing Shepherd is awaiting trial for inappropriate contact with girls. And yet he’s still the leader of your “church”…
Stephen, you know there are still people in your midst who are guilty of sexual offending. When will you do the right thing?
The Role of Culture
The newly imprisoned man’s beliefs were shaped by the bizarre and dangerous beliefs of others in the community. It was actively promoted and this diseased thinking has deeply permeated the culture of Gloriavale.
As one leaver said to me yesterday, “We were created by the group.”
A current member today said, “Gloriavale didn’t just shape my life, it essentially created who I am.”
Another former member said,
“When stuff like this comes out, you realise that you lived in an open sewer your whole life … no wonder I came out stinking.”
Another former member said,
“Hopeful’s ideology has permeated through to people, and their type of offending depends on the weaknesses in their mind and psyche and make-up. That’s how they manifest it.
It all links back to Hopefuls original thoughts on sexual freedom and physical discipline.”
I will never take away the responsibility that each person must take for their behaviour either.
But I am just extremely aware that in high thought-control groups like Gloriavale, there are other issues at play for the average member. There are things that stop them being able to go to Police, or stand up for the abused. Coercion, deceit, gas-lighting, narcissism, prolifically high rates of mental distress, spiritual abuse, entrapment, enslavement, brainwashing, cognitive dissonance and more. Perpetrators are often victims too. When you have a leader and his henchmen telling adults that beatings weren’t violent abuse, but only discipline, then you have a problem.
Even though Hopeful has passed, his biggest and most ardent supporter and enforcer lives on in Gloriavale. His ideology is dangerous. He has allowed and enabled and encouraged a vast number of terrible things to occur on his watch. As one leaver said, if Hopeful told us to jump off a cliff, he would have made sure we did it. I can’t believe he is still living in Gloriavale today. Why hasn’t he been arrested? The Stedfast Reign of Terror needs to end.
Tale of parallels
There are thirty years between Hopeful Christian’s sentencing and yesterday’s sentencing. Different men, Different generation, but the parallels are chilling.
The excuse that it was educationally motivated was first recorded in Judge Noble’s 1994 sentencing report, on Hopeful Christian,
“I find the evidence was overwhelming that you used and abused your position of trust, power and dominion over them to sexually abuse the complainants, while professing to do these things to relieve their tension, and/or to prepare them for life, or to prepare them for marriage ….”
Judge Hattaway’s 1995 sentencing notes on Hopeful Chrsitian (read here) said,
“You have said I think, it was in preparation for marriage ….”
30 years later, different man, same excuse: 2023:
“reiterating that this was a learning experience, and he was teaching her.” Perpetrator said he was trying to “boost their confidence” and teach them how to “please their man”.
Back 30 years:
Judge Eichelbaum’s stated in his sentencing 1996,
“There were no signs the appellant (Hopeful Christian) had the capacity to accept responsibility for his offending and to reform.” (read the whole report here)
Forwards 30 Years, different man, same issue:
“When he was questioned by the police, he acknowledged he had done something wrong, but there was nothing sexual in it from his point of view.”
The Missing Link
There is a link…. This recent man and his family were part of the Springbank and Gloriavale communities since before he was born. They had imbibed the beliefs and activities of the earlier culture. And no doubt this impacted his life and informed his subsequent beliefs and actions.
Remember – he’s not the only man before the courts for offending in Gloriavale. There is a chain that links them altogether.
What lessons can we learn
After getting out of prison, Hopeful was allowed to go back to Gloriavale to keep preaching his gospel … Infecting and affecting and certainly not correcting the appalling “teachings” and practices about sex that got him put away. That was failure of the State. And they must own that. But by then his dangerous beliefs were well-entrenched, and all he had to do was keep encouraging them. He kept talking to the next generation about inappropriate sexual things and helping “educate” them for a “happy marriage.” By then he also had henchmen doing that job for him too. Other community leaders and members were performing vile acts on their children or asking them to participate or watch behaviours that were supposed to be privately performed in marriage.
It is clear, that the link needs to be drawn between the harmful beliefs of the main leader, which were communicated to the leaders and down to the members, and the terribly tragic situation Gloriavale is in today.
How do you have insight with poor eyesight?
Until the current leaders get some insight into that link, there can be and will be no change at Gloriavale.
Their beliefs on women and marriage, remain the same. They have an entitlement complex. Their belief that this isolated group of 600 are God’s special people, creates arrogance and is dangerous for safety. Their beliefs on sin and salvation are warped, leading to dangerous views on concepts like forgiveness and the use of the law. They still have power over people and how they think. Worse than that, for so many they still believe their main leader could do no wrong.
And even worse than that, I know what some people will be saying inside Gloriavale today about those poor victims…. and it won’t be pleasant. It will stink of victim blaming, criticism & judgement. Heck I bet they’ll even be downplaying the evidence and suggesting the girls exaggerated it. How do I know this? Because I know them. I know how they think, because they’ve spoken their thoughts aloud. They don’t keep their views quiet. Despicable. Uugggghh!
(Extra note: Before I even got to complete this blog post someone else just rang to protest their disgust. They’ve been talking to a family member in Gloriavale today. And guess what that person said. “The girls lied. They just wanted to put him in prison. No one out there understands forgiveness. They just want to destroy the church.” Uuuggh. Why am I not surprised.
Believe it or not I’ve just had some more feedback from a completely different line of communication. They’ve been hearing inside Gloriavale that the girls exaggerated. So that’s the rumor-mill in Gloriavale today. I feel ill.)
Don’t tell me the children at Gloriavale are safe today when victims who courageously stand up against wickedness are not believed. But that’s the hall-mark of the Gloriavale culture. A few new policies and “eyes” on Gloriavale don’t wash away the distorted thinking patterns.
These beliefs have created a culture that is infused with sick and dangerous thinking. And it has spread through its bones.
Another lady who lives at Gloriavale wrote to me saying, “I think most of the people at Gloriavale don’t know all that evidence because it hasn’t been made available, and even if it was, they would be told if you read those lies you’ll end up like those twisted and bitter people that have left.”
That is the current and prevailing attitude of many people still living at Gloriavale.
The children cannot be safe when people still think like this.
Another leaver rang yesterday and said,
“the leaders won’t stop (controlling people). It’s not going to stop. It’s bred into them. And not much has to be said. It’s all there in the silence. There is a silent expectation it’s a look in the eye. All the pressure is there. They can say to people “We don’t say such and such to our members” but you heard it every day for hundreds of days and for years. It’s there. It’s all been said in the past. It’s been bred into your heads. It’s impossible for them to change if they’re still living in the environment. They have to come out and experience normal people. They have no idea how normal people function. And I know this because I was one of those people.”
Commission of Inquiry
Will you help call for a Commission of Inquiry into Gloriavale?
Today’s leadership of Gloriavale is not a new group of people with fresh insights. They do not believe they have to accept any responsibility for the unfolding tragedy. Today’s leaders are the same old guard who saw bruises on these girls and turned a blind eye.
I said to one leaver yesterday, those leaders knew those girls were being beaten. They went to school with welts and bruises. They would have seen them.” Her response was was unemotional, “Bruises were normal“. Another said, “What could we have done? We would have just been on the receiving end of abuse ourselves.”
Another leaver said, “I only knew he beat his kids badly, like everyone else did. He was one of Hopeful’s ardent followers.”
We need to keep in mind that the average person living in Gloriavale was powerless to stop abuse. They were caught and trapped in an enslaving culture and you just put your head down and obeyed to survive. Don’t ask why they’ve taken years to come forward. It’s a miracle they have found the strength to do anything at all. Just encourage them. Applaud them and remind them they are acting out of love for their friends and family still inside.
Don’t believe for a minute that all the perpetrators have been brought to justice. Or that they have insight into their offending. How can they?
There is no magic cure. There is idealism, but where has that got people? Move the children and their families away from the entrenched thinking. Dilute them with the rest of the right-thinking population, and they will see the light. It doesn’t take long after leaving to be faced with your old wrong beliefs. Not everyone is a perpetrator either. Be kind to people who leave Gloriavale, you don’t know their journey. But people who still live in there need to be challenged. Maybe it’s time to stop letting your children associate with adults and other children who hold to bad beliefs. Maybe you all need to attend healthy churches and schools while your children are still young. Maybe you need to stop breathing the air of the sewer. And at least give your children a chance. But I accept that takes a special kind of courage. We pray you find it.
How do we know what the cure is? Because more than 250 people have found their way from the darkness to the light in the past ten years. And they tell me you need to leave to get a new perspective.
It’s never too late.
Call to Action: Email you local political candidates and ask them if they support a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Gloriavale including Government failures. Head here to see which candidates are standing in your electorate and then do a google for their email addresses. 5 mins tops! Here’s a list of current MP email details (click the name of the MP and look for the little blue speech bubble in the left column)
If they support one, email me their names on email@example.com