Gloriavale: Leadership denies breaching its duties to members, reveals remarkable insights into community

New Zealand Herald/May 18, 2021

By: Kurt Bayer

The infamous Gloriavale document where newcomers sign their lives over to the secretive religious sect has been revealed as a key part of a potentially-landmark legal action against the Christian community's leadership.

The original document, "A Declaration of Commitment to Jesus Christ and to the Christian Church and Community at Gloriavale" is a foundation piece of ongoing court action, it can now be revealed.

Ex-member John Ready, who was banished from Gloriavale more than three years ago, has launched a civil claim at the High Court.

Ready wants the courts to intervene and remove the board of trustees of the Christian Church Community Trust - the registered charity behind the remote community based at Haupiri, inland from Greymouth – and have them replaced with a public trust "until a fit board can be found".

Senior Gloriavale "Shepherds" and figures can now also be named as defendants, including leader and "Overseeing Shepherd" Howard Temple, Fervent Stedfast, Faithful Pilgrim, Enoch Upright, Samuel Valor, Noah Hopeful, Stephen Standfast, Peter John Righteous and Joshua Disciple. Christian Partners Nominee Ltd, one of Gloriavale's incorporated companies, is also named as a defendant, along with independent trustees Colin Neil Smith, David McMillan, and David Smith.

The court case is in its early stages and New Zealand mainstream media outlets made legal applications to receive a redacted copy of the statement of claim - the document that outlines Ready's claims against Gloriavale.

Gloriavale strenuously denies having breached its duties to its members, saying they are "committed to ensuring Gloriavale is a safe and stable religious community for those who choose to live within it in accordance with the tenets of its faith".

It has responded at length to the claims – which include incredible detail of life inside the religious community.

Today, after protracted legal wranglings, the Herald can reveal both the basis of Ready's claim – as well as Gloriavale's detailed response.

The statement of claim tells how John Ready signed the "declaration of commitment" - and handed over, forever, all personal possessions and assets.

Ready accuses Gloriavale leaders of dereliction of duty and failing to properly care for its members.

"I forsake all that I have to follow Christ, renouncing forever all personal ownership of houses, lands, money and all other possessions," the document states.

"Whatever I own, I now give to the poor and needy of this world or share with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

"Concerning all money, lands, buildings, possessions or assets of any kind that at any time in the past, present, or future I give to, earn for, or in any other way help to build or acquire for THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH COMMUNITY TRUST, THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY AT GLORIAVALE or any other Christian Community united with it, I declare that all these are to be held in common for all the members of this and any other Christian Community united with it and that at no time in the present or future do I have any right whatsoever to claim any of them as mine or as belonging to any of my descendants, relatives or other persons associated with me".

It goes on, "I count the life and blessing of living in these Communities to be full recompense for any contributions that I ever at any time take towards them. Receiving as I now do the benefit of all contributions already made by others to these Communities, I realize that they could not continue to operate for the benefit of all their members if they began to ask for reimbursement for their contributions to them".

The document says the Overseeing Shepherd has the "absolute and unfettered right" to administer and use all the property, assets and money of Gloriavale "for the benefit of everyone within these communities".

It's understood that the document has been revised since the 2018 death of founder and convicted sex offender Hopeful Christian aka Neville Cooper.

The statement of claim alleges that Gloriavale trust assets, held by the trustees for the benefit of all members of the now 600-strong community, includes:

* A residential community for members and their children.

* A quality of Christian life reflecting the Bible and the members' statement of 'What we Believe'.

* Adequate and accessible food.

* Medical and health services which is timely, appropriate, and accessible equally.

* Accommodation appropriate to human/Christian family dignity and fit for human habitation.

* Education that fully develops the individual and is accessible equally.

* To provide work, which is "remunerated fairly and equally, safe, with adequate rest and leisure", where the individual is "free to choose their vocation".

* To provide for practical living needs such as transport and communication, accessible equally.

* To provide a safe and secure environment where all members have liberty and security of person, and are free from interference with their privacy, family life, and home.

* To ensure all members have freedom to impart information, hold and express opinions and religious beliefs, without interference.

* Freedom of association.

* To ensure ethnic minorities are permitted to enjoy their own culture and use their own language.

Ready claims that Gloriavale's trustees have breached their terms and that "foregoing breaches" are ongoing and serious, requiring them to be removed and replaced.

He wants the Public Trust needs to be appointed, "until further order of the court".

Prominent Auckland barrister Brian Henry, who is acting for Ready, said at an earlier court appearance, that the trust's leadership group needs to be removed and a "proper sexual conduct set of rules" introduced.

He alleged that the current set-up at Gloriavale was "breeding predators" and that members were "literally in slave labour".

The defendants deny many of the accusations, saying they're either untrue or historical.

In response to the allegations, the trustees of Gloriavale's Christian Church Community Trust say that "only the Attorney-General has standing to bring these proceedings in respect to the charitable trust".

And the community's spiritual leaders say that any issues raised by Ready, which concern either matters of religious belief, doctrine or practice; and matters of family or social arrangements, custom or practice, are not matters for the court unless they are unlawful.

"The court cannot rule on questions of belief or doctrine, or on domestic or social arrangements," Gloriavale's "position statement" - a legal document – states.

The leaders also say there is no "commitment trust" as alleged by Ready.

"When members formally join the community, they sign a document setting out their agreement to adhere to the beliefs of the community," Gloriavale says in its response to the allegations.

"As a religious community it is important that those who join the community understand, acknowledge and live by the core beliefs of those that live there.

"A core belief of the community is that all property, assets and money will be used collectively for the benefit of all those within the community. This is acknowledged in the document that is signed, which also includes an acknowledgment that nothing can be claimed by any particular person from the assets of the community."

Gloriavale says independent legal advice is provided to those who sign the document, which they say is a "personal, heartfelt, spiritual statement of faith to the community made by those who wish to formally join", but does not create a trust.

They also note that Ready has left the community and does not have legal standing to seek changes to trustees or to community leaders.

Gloriavale says they provide simple, home-grown healthy meals, as well as warm, clean and dry accommodation, and education to NCEA level 2 – with "access to some level 3 courses" and fully-funded access to tertiary education - in accordance with the New Zealand curriculum.

They say the community has proportionately more tertiary education qualifications than the West Coast's general population.

It also says they provide recreational facilities including sports courts, boats, an indoor swimming pool, holiday lodges, music, games rooms and movie nights.

Computers, mobile phones and internet services, including email by personal email address, is also either within the personal control of individuals or available to access, they say.

Pool cars, childcare facilities, on-site GP visits, full-time aged care, and "parental and age-appropriate programmes concerning child development" are also available, Gloriavale says.

The community also pays for dental care (except for school students who have access to the school dental bus), eye care, specialist visits, chiropractic treatment and physiotherapy.

Families have visited specialists in the United States and Australia for particular medical treatment not available in New Zealand, up to the closure of the borders. The community has on site midwives who "also provide midwifery services to those who live in the surrounding area".

It also says that individuals "who are full or associate partners" of the partnership known as Christian Partners receive an equal share of the profits from that partnership, pay personal income tax and ACC on those profits and donate "the remainder to the community to enable the provision of the functions above". Gloriavale says there are 168 women and men who are full or associate partners and share in the profits.

"Funding is also received from the provision of midwifery services to the community and more broadly, and Working for Families payments."

They also say that those who choose to live in the community agree to abide by certain aspects of religious doctrine including that they should "obey the word of the Lord".

This includes:

• Not using contraception and "gladly receiving all the children that God gives them".

• Marriage being for life, with "Christ having commanded that they must never be divorced".

• That family relationships should be fostered, that families should be able to live and work together and that parents have responsibility to bring up their children.

• The belief that all things should be held in common and those that have more "should give to those that have less" and that as Christians, they should share what they have with those around them.

• That men in the community are the religious leaders.

People are free to leave at any time, Gloriavale says, and that support is given to those who leave.

"For those that have family members who choose to remain, those family members will continue to be welcomed and supported as valued members of the community," Gloriavale says.

"The leaders do not believe that adherents to their church are the only form of Christians or that those leaving the community are damned," Gloriavale says.

"Nor do they believe that just because a husband or wife leaves the community that their spouse and children should be forced to leave as well. The community provides a home for all those who follow their faith."

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