About the same time last year I watched a documentary programme on what was the TV2 channel. The commentary was a critical appraisal of the Christian community Gloriavale in the South Island. It made me aware of a situation not unlike the former Centrepoint in Albany with allegations of sexual misconduct with minors by the leader in a male dominated environment. It portrayed a closely regulated exclusive society that made no allowance for individuality and appeared to have little prospect of imposing on a secular society in competition with other faith based organisations. When the opportunity arose to revisit Gloriavale in a fresh screening on the Bravo channel I settled down to a further critical appraisal with an expectation of a follow-up report to confirm my earlier negative impression. But lo and behold, the reportage on this occasion was minus any negative comments and conveyed a positive image of a well organised and systemised organisation in which every member had their place and played a productive assigned role. Women are subservient to men and confined to domestic chores that cater for 540 residents in shared communal living that allows for little privacy. I cannot see the need to elaborate further, as this has turned out to be the highest rated Bravo Show with in excess of half a million viewers, which on my assumption will have included many of you. What it did not provide are answers to many reasonable questions covering the sustainability in terms of income sources, obvious growth pattern with large families and social structure that defy individual expression and independence. The high viewership on this occasion also raises the spectre of comparable advertising revenue with a suspicion of a financial return to the subject for putting its restrictive practices on public view. In all it amounted to a successful advertisement for Gloriavale that many other open communities of faith are unable to achieve.
What stands out is that the practices observed in this community rely on the willingness of vulnerable members to submit to the strictures of a small number of self-appointed leaders that runs counter to the teachings and example of Christ, whose tolerance of human weakness and respect for women is documented in the New Testament. While it can be argued that their prescription installs discipline and order in the lives of their followers, it cannot be denied that it allows no room for dissent and disobedience. Members leaving the community are ill adjusted for life on the outside and committed to a life of servitude if they remain. I also detect a degree of self-interest on the part of the leaders not in keeping with the teachings of Christ that takes advantage of the charitable status of the community and the advantages of access to public and self-generated income sources without an associated tax burden. In an environment where traditional churches are financially restrained and ideologically aligned to contemporary thinking, Gloriavale seems to be succeeding with an operational format of total obedience and submission that resembles a one party dictatorship. While I agree that this system entails the acquisition of practical skills, they are exclusively applied for the benefit of the whole entity and its upper echelon and without reward for individual qualifications and achievement. It would also be fair to assume that these considerations have not been lost on many observers, who have rated the screening highly as a good night’s viewing. In the final analysis Gloriavale presents the practice of Christianity as a cult that provides excuses to non-believers to ridicule the true meaning and significance of Christ’s teaching in the present era. It is our task to take issue with this rejection of the core values of our belief and to speak out on behalf of the silent majority, who fail to challenge such detractions.