There are “very definitely” difficulties between Gloriavale’s Christian ethos and human rights law, according to a senior leader of the West Coast commune.
Stephen Standfast, who is the successor to Overseeing Shepherd Howard Temple, is giving evidence in the Employment Court in Christchurch.
The court is deciding whether six former residents, who are all women, were employees or volunteers. It’s claimed the women were made to work long hours in slave-like conditions.
“We should obey the laws of the land to the point where they require us to directly go against subscription,” he said.
“I personally believe that the place women have, held in our faith and life, has a lot of scope to broaden on what it has been right up to a point.”
Standfast said the community follows the New Testament, which they believe says a woman will not teach in the church and serve authority over men.
“I cannot go to a place where there would be a lady as an overseeing shepherd but I see that there's a lot of room for growth,” said Standfast.
He conceded that the plaintiffs were only able to be educated if it benefited Gloriavale, and that women had limited job opportunities.
The court has heard that most women work on the teams cooking and cleaning, while others work in the classroom, the office or the sewing room.
“That is correct. Your Honour, all I would like to add is it's not set in concrete and these things can change. I have no doubt they will change,” said Standfast.
“They would've been changed regardless of the undertakings we're currently in but it's something we've been too tardy on.”
When asked by the plaintiffs’ lawyer Brian Henry whether “human rights and your Christian ethos have difficulties with each other”, Standfast replied, “I would consider that very definitely, yes.”
Standfast, a father of 13 children, became a member of Gloriavale at the age of two, and was baptised at seven years old. He became a shepherd in 2013.
The hearing is continuing.