A leaked report into the affairs of New Zealand megachurch, Arise, has found “numerous instances of sexual and physical abuse, financial shenanigans, and straight-up racism”.

In April, the founding pastor of Arise Church, John Cameron, stepped down after an independent review was called for after interns allege they were “overworked, overwhelmed, and taken advantage of”.

Cameron, who founded the church with his wife, Gillian, was forced into the position after a media article about the church began circulating. The article reportedly contained “heartbreaking stories of individual Arise Ministry School students who felt overworked, overwhelmed, under-appreciated and taken advantage of as interns”.

An article on New Zealand’s stuff.co.nz website claimed that journalist David Farrier recently reported on the negative experiences of several Arise Ministry School interns, who claimed they had to pay $2500 a year to work four days a week for the church’s leaders.

They claimed the internship meant they were working long hours to make ends meet and were pushed to breaking point.

Cameron was forced to step down as senior pastor and from the church’s Board as an independent investigation was launched. Now, the findings of the investigation have been released, but rather than being confidentially handed to the church, they have been obtained by a journalist.

According to Only Sky, the report, which was put together after speaking with 545 people connected to the evangelical megachurch, details numerous instances of sexual and physical abuse, financial shenanigans, and straight-up racism. It also calls on the church’s entire board to resign.

The public only began to learn some of these details in April, when journalist David Farrier began writing about the megachurch shortly after the downfall of the Australian megachurch Hillsong and its leader Brian Houston. Farrier pointed out that ARISE had a dozen satellite locations throughout New Zealand, an eight-figure budget, and a membership of over 10,000 people. Yet its leader, John Cameron, wasn’t a major public figure. Maybe that was by design.

The Board has since responded, stating, “Overnight the most recent version of the Pathfinding Report was illegally obtained and made available through unofficial channels online. The report is subject to a non-publication order of the Employment Relations Authority, and while frustrated by the delay, Arise is legally prohibited from releasing or commenting on any of the content.

“Nevertheless, Arise has always been committed to safely sharing the stories of those who participated in the Pathfinding independent feedback channel, with a commitment to listen, learn and change. The most important thing we can do now as a church is to listen to those who had the courage to share. We are committed to ensuring that the issues that have caused hurt do not continue.

The Pathfinding Report was intended to be one of a number of inputs to inform the process of change. While it was an important channel to gather stories and experiences from people, it was not an investigative process, with no testing or verification of what was heard. Because this approach does not result in substantiated findings, the Board sought further advice from experts in the field of HR, governance, and finance.”

The situation at Arise is becoming all too common, and Christians are becoming tired of leaders in churches who abuse their position. We wonder why churches aren’t growing and why people won’t enter our doors, but with so much never-ending controversy, why would we expect them to?

As one person commented online, “A church providing sanctuary to abusers while covering up their crimes? Must be a day ending in Y again.” So sad, yet so often, so true.

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