Gloriavale’s Charitable Status

Following the Employment Court Hearing Feb/March 2022, the GLST has again called for the Charities Services to reinvestigate Gloriavale’s Charitable Status. In a letter to them in March 2022, we drew their attention to the recent hearing and the concerns around lack of employment protections inside Gloriavale, the ongoing oppressive nature of the organisation and undisputed evidence of serious breaches of International Human Rights and NZ Law. The judge herself suggsted that if there was an employment relationship found, the Trust might have a role to play.

We have in the past raised concerns about the true nature of the Christian Church Community Trust, and given the emerging evidence, this validates our concerns.

At the end of 2019 we went to Wellington and had a meeting with Charities Services, where we delivered them more concerning information about Gloriavale’s operations (to top off the more than 2-3 years worth of emails from leavers and supporters). We requested a reinvestigation on the grounds of oppression, discriminatory, and gross negligence and mismanagement. We gave them credible and disturbing evidence.

We were distressed that it took them more than 8 months to make a decision, and it was a “No”.

Charities Services responded on 27th August 2020,” “While we consider that some behaviour Gloriavale undertook prior to our 2016 investigation may have been oppressive under the Act, we note that that behaviour no longer takes place”.

They also wrote, “Charities Services holds the view that for behaviour in a registered charity to reach the level of oppression, it needs to be of a very serious and systemic nature. While we acknowledge that the behaviour outlines in the complaint is upsetting for those involved, we believe the incidents do not reach the required level of seriousness to be considered oppressive.”

Leavers were astounded. We were upset. I received a flood of phone calls over that week. No one was impressed. Their decision left us seriously concerned about the charitable sector. I personally know the evidence that was given to them, and I think the NZ public would be concerned.

We went back to the Charities Services to clarify some points. And more information was provided: They wrote:

“… There is no case law in the charities area to assist us in clearly defining what oppression looks like. The Oxford Dictionary defines oppression as “Prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority, control, or power; tyranny; exploitation and the action of forcibly putting down or crushing; the repression or suppression of a person or thing”.

There have been cases taken under the Employment Contracts Act 1991 where the court have referred to “oppression” in the light of harsh and oppressive behaviour or  as exercising power in a tyrannical manner, cruel treatment of subjects and inferiors. Also behaviour that is severe, cruel, burdensome or merciless was referred to.

While I realise that the Gloriavale Leavers Support Trust may view many of the activities Gloriavale undertakes to be unjust or unfair, to constitute oppression in the context of serious wrongdoing under the Act, we consider that the behaviour needs more than that. It needs to be serious, systemic and prolonged in nature. It also needs to relate to the behaviour of the charity directly, rather than acts of individual members. 

Many of the instances of concern around behaviour in Gloriavale tend to be more isolated in nature, occurring sporadically or as one off examples. They therefore do not meet the level of seriousness given above.  

In considering whether any behaviour is oppressive within Gloriavale we also have to assess the cultural and religious context that informs Gloriavale’s charitable purpose. The community members belong to the charity because they subscribe to this cultural and religious context. At times some of the religious beliefs may seem to outsiders to be harsh or unfair.

However it is important to note that community members are physically free to leave at any time. This is evidenced by the comparatively large number of leavers from the community over the past few years. In addition the charity has made significant improvements in its processes and procedures around members leaving the community and now provides leavers with a modest financial payment as support. 

These improvements also include the appointment of three independent trustees on the charity’s governing body, providing oversight independent of the community.”

It was clear to us that the Charities Services were dealing with an organisation that was foreign to them. Cults are not your usual kind of charity. The comment relating to Gloriavale being a part of a “religious and cultural context” is probably the biggest concern. It appears that Governments are pretty cagey when it comes to touching religious freedoms. We would also be disturbed if all religions had their charitable status revoked. That’s not what we are asking for here. Gloriavale is allowed to hold its religious beliefs, but they don’t need to be involved in coercive, manipulative and oppressive behaviours. They can’t expect to keep their Charitable Status if their behaviour falls outside of the Charitable Sector guidelines. It can still be a Trust and operate as a legal entity. It just shouldn’t expect charitable status.

Having this status gives you a financial advantage and says the Charitable sector has confidence in the good work you are doing. The Charitable Sector effectively gifts 30% back to donors as a way of thanking them for supporting the charitable sector. It’s a wonderful and generous thing. But in the case of Gloriavale, their donations are only coming from their own people, who aren’t employees with protections, but allege they are forced labourer’s in a cult, involved in a money-go-round involving the Trust and other complex entities. This is quite something else. It’s a serious allegation.

We have tried to point out to the Charities Services services in the past, the link between the Christian Church Community Trust, the Management Committee, Servants & Shepherds and the businesses. However, they seemed to be happy to separate out these groups and told us the Charity itself was being monitored and any mis-management was not occurring at a Trust level.

Delays in appropriate outcomes from various agencies to date have resulted in untold sexual harm, violence, coercion, manipulation and exploitation of labour over this time. More than 75 people have left Gloriavale in the past 18 months, and they are becoming extremely vocal about the psychological and physical harm they have been living under.

A number of agencies have re-evaluated their position in the recent years, and so we have asked again that the Charities Services look at the allegations of massive misconduct.

We maintain the Trustees have failed to practically make the changes required of them. Filling in paperwork, making promises and a few structural changes appear to have been done to comply and avoid more scrutiny, but things have not improved for the people who live in there.

And at the end of the day, people involved in calling for change at Gloriavale, are doing it for love of their friends and families still inside.

Read this article from the Business Desk:

Author: Liz Gregory. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of all leavers and supporters. However, there is a large percentage of leavers in support of the calls for the Charitable Services to remove the charitable status of Gloriavale.