Opinion: ARISE - Let there be light and legal action

Logan Church
Source: 1News

Earlier this year, former ARISE church pastors John and Gillian Cameron took to the stage at a Sunday service.

Tearful, Mr Cameron said to his congregation: “It's been incredibly painful to sit in the failings of my leadership, but I've chosen to listen and repent.”

Stories had emerged over many years alleging a culture of unchecked entitlement within this church.

Assault. Bullying. Sexual abuse. Racism. Homophobia.

At first, ARISE apologised and commissioned an independent review. An enlightened response that gave hope to those who felt betrayed.

The review was supposed to be released in June.

Then July.

Now it's August. The review hasn’t been released by ARISE as promised.

Initially the church said this was because of a non-publication order.

1News can now reveal former head pastors John and Gillian Cameron had taken the church to the Employment Relations Authority, which imposed the non-publication order on the respondent in the dispute. But, importantly, not on anyone else.

Here’s the wording; “Orders are made that the Report that is the subject of these proceedings is not to be published by the respondent until after mediation has occurred...”

A week ago, we asked for clarification. The ERA responded saying the order “speaks for itself” and recommending we seek legal advice, which of course we had already done. Our legal advice had been to ask for clarification.

Having enjoyed that ride, we prepared a story revealing the contents of the report, which had been leaked to us.

It was damning. It made a host of recommendations. Among them: having the whole board resign, ensuring Sunday is considered a workday for staff, commissioning an independent review of the church finances, establishing time limits for Ministry School students working in the church, and disallowing tithing for children.

We intended to broadcast this report last night (Tuesday).

We had already received an email from the Church’s lawyers, stating ARISE couldn’t comment because they were gathering feedback in order to finalise the report. The email pointed out the non-publication order (that doesn’t apply to us) and asked that we not publish, threatening “ARISE will hold TVNZ liable for any and all damages and legal claims that result…”

As the report is clearly in the public interest, and several individuals we spoke to claimed the church was trying to bury it, we pushed on.

However, an hour and a bit before our bulletin, we received an email from the Employment Relations Authority asking for an urgent conference call with the Authority Member who was “extremely concerned” about our intention to run the story.

A quick conversation with the Authority Member revealed lawyers for the Camerons had been in touch with her. She wanted to give us a heads up on the non-publication order (the one we had queried with her office last week). Then, to confirm, this minute was sent to us, cc'ing in lawyers for ARISE church and John and Gillian Cameron.

This is the minute in full.

In it the Authority Member says it is her view that “publication of the report would be in breach of the non-publication order”.

Although this contradicts the order, it gave us pause to seek further legal advice and we pulled our story at the last minute.

1News has a significant audience, and we take pride in ensuring our stories are fair, balanced and accurate. And of course, we’re answerable to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. It's a responsibility we don't take lightly.

Since then, several other media released the report in full.

So, we asked the ERA to please explain?

We were sent two sentences.

“The ERA has no further comment.

“The ERA does not comment on matters currently before it.”

While it was clearly happy to do more than comment yesterday when the Cameron’s lawyers asked it to, it seemed unable to respond today when we asked for action. Last-minute telephone conferences are not the way tribunals normally work.

Then finally, this afternoon, after further pressure from TVNZ, we got sent this.

“The Authority has now rescinded the order.”

What a circus.

This story is no longer about a review, it’s about the extent ARISE and its former pastors will go, to prevent it from seeing the light of day.

Today our story will go to air. It will investigate attempts to keep this report under wraps – including through the Employment Relations Authority.

We’ve interviewed former members of the church who are frustrated that they’ve had to wait so long. They engaged with this review process in good faith, with the understanding that their views would be released publicly - as promised by ARISE.

They say they’re experiencing an organisation – and former pastors - who appear hellbent on keeping it secret.

I’ve had dozens of former members of this church calling and writing to me, who feel deeply hurt. One recently told me the delaying of the report reeked of a “PR stunt”.

There seems to be little accountability.

I grew up in a church (not ARISE) and still consider myself a Christian. I know how these organisations should work. Some churches do fantastic work for their communities. Others do not.

Spiritual health is just as important as physical health and mental health.

Hopefully it’s a lesson ARISE is learning.