Pastors control marriage pairings, say former members

Manawatu Standard, New Zealand/March 20, 2015   

By Lucy Townend

Former members of a Palmerston North parish say marriage pairings are manipulated by pastors and people were called "jezebels" or "unholy" if they strayed from the church's teachings.

More than half a dozen people with connections to the Palmerston North Victory Christian Church have come forward after a story linking the parish with a "cult-like" religious movement in the United States.

Victory Church is one of seven international branches of the Faith Christian Church in Tucson, Arizona.

The University of Arizona is investigating the church's on-campus dealings after more than 20 people raised concerns about what they said was excessive control over student members, an authoritative attitude and "cult-like" behaviours.

Victory Church senior pastor Joel Miller hasn't replied to calls and emails.

One former parishioner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said if members of Victory Church's congregation had romantic feelings for someone they had to first tell their pastor, who would wait for the other person to register an interest before deciding if the couple could be a suitable match.

"There's people there that are going into their mid-30s, not getting married, even though they want to be married or in a relationship, but they're waiting for the word," he said.

"They think that they can't marry or date outside the church, or even if there was someone in the church they liked they wouldn't be able to go up to them or ask them out for a coffee without the church saying so."

Another former member said it was common practice for a person to get engaged on a second or third date. "There's no dating, unless you know you're going to marry them, it's just bizarre," he said.

There was a routine the church had where a song was played during weekly service. A man would approach a woman, because they weren't allowed to sit together in church, give her flowers, marking a match. They could then sit together.

Members were also labelled as a "jezebel" or told they were "unholy" if they strayed from the church's preferred pairings, the source said.

"Hand-holding and kissing is completely out, a peck on the cheek is completely out of order and you'd be corrected if that happened," he said.

"They pick into things that are just ridiculous that at other churches it wouldn't even be an issue . . . and they take it to an extreme.

"But when you raised these things with leaders it was very, what are you thinking, you're going against the grain, you're not being holy, you're unspiritual, you're not copying or listening to your leaders, and you were told to repent."

Victory Church was established in New Zealand about a decade ago and has a subsidiary branch called New Zealand Campus Ministries Trust. Calls. Messages to the New Zealand Campus Ministries Trust have also gone unanswered.

The church also receives support from New Life Churches International, an organisation that cares for more than 90 churches in New Zealand.

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