Gloriavale responds to abuse allegations: 'It doesn't mean they're all true'

One News, New Zealand/April 30, 2015

The Gloriavale commune has closed ranks and is standing firm amid allegations by some ex-members of abuse at the Christian commune on the West Coast.

Seven Sharp reporter Jehan Casinader spent 24 hours inside Gloriavale looking at the life of members. He was allowed to stay only after a four-hour grilling from leader Neville Cooper, also known as Hopeful Christian, and the commune's other 11 'Shepherds' or leaders.

TVNZ's visit came as the sect faces scrutiny after allegations of sexual abuse, physical punishment and brainwashing inside the community. Former members claim inappropriate relationships between some adults and minors at the commune.

Police have said they're aware of the allegations in the media and want to fully understand them. And they say anyone who wishes to discuss their experience while living within the community should feel confident in approaching police.

The police turned up while Seven Sharp was at Gloriavale yesterday. Today the police described the visit as "a courtesy call". Jehan Casinader says the police will be looking for any evidence they can use if there is a further investigation in the future.

The community, which started at Springbank and shifted to the current Gloriavale site near Lake Haupiri on the West Coast in 1991, has not responded to any of the allegations levelled at them by former members, until now.

"There have been serious allegations but it doesn't mean they're all true," Fervent Stedfast, one of the Shepherds at Gloriavale told Seven Sharp.

But Gloriavale won't discuss what is true and what isn't, instead turning to the Bible.

"Well Jesus said 'if they smite thee on the right cheek, turn the left'. He was challenged and criticised and he said, he answered, not a word," Fervent Stedfast said.

The sect members remain entirely trustful of their leaders.

"People ask 'don't you feel coerced or threatened here?' Well I want to say, not at all," one young member said. "I know that each one of my brethren here, each one of my leaders, would die for me," he added.

However, leader Hopeful Christian refused to be interviewed for the programme.

"I'm not going on. I'm not going onto that. They have had enough of me, they have torn me to bits. So just forget that," he said. "Cause with a leader, they want to pull a leader down."

In the 1990s, Neville Cooper - his real name, was jailed for multiple sexual assaults at Springbank, the previous incarnation of Gloriavale.

Asked by Casinader how he feels about the criticism in the last few weeks, he said: "I told you I'm not going on."

The people of Gloriavale believe what outsiders believe doesn't matter. They say only one judgement counts.

"Each one of us is going to stand before God at one point in our life," a woman member said.

Fervent Christian says he's "looking forward to the Lord Jesus Christ coming back, which, I believe, could be very soon".

For his part, Hopeful Christian did say he'll be "off the scene soon".

"I'm 89 this year, okay? How long am I gonna live?"

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