A Sunday service at Arise Church./. Photo/Elle Hunt/The Wireless
By RNZ’s Jonty Dine
Interns who left Arise Church were given settlements, one of which is said to be near six figures, on the condition that they do not speak ill of the congregation.
Other former members have come forward alleging the Church is trying to silence them with payments and nondisclosure agreements.
Arise Church founder John Cameron has been described as New Zealand’s biggest manipulator by a former member who received tens of thousands of dollars in payout.
“They’ve done very well staying away from the media so far.”
He says he is aware of another member who was paid just under a six figure settlement.
The MP is caught up in legal battles and unable to comment at this time.
Ben worked closely with John, traveling overseas with him and serving as something of a protege.
He says part of his settlement included a clause against speaking negatively about Arise.
Ben alleges that the senior pastors, brothers Brent and John Cameron, were bullies, with their behavior ranging from juvenile to violent.
This came in the form of farting into their hands and putting it in trainees’ faces, ‘sack tapping’ and ‘charlie horsing’, which church leaders thought was all done for fun .
“The other side was that John was completely losing his shit.”
Ben says it didn’t take much to trigger John.
“He had righteous anger, he was tearing up 15-year-old girls in bad lighting and grabbing young men by the collar. They’re insecure little monsters.”
The demands on the trainees went far beyond the walls of the church.
“You were expected to help pastors in their gardens or move house on your days off.”
Ben says many interns have helped renovate pastors’ homes.
During conferences or on Sundays, they can be expected to work 20 hours a day.
Ben says John’s extravagant spending has been on high-end clothing and restaurants, electronics and business class flights, as well as very expensive gifts for other pastors.
He says he encouraged other former members to speak out.
The parent of another trainee thinks the mental scars left by Arise on his child are deep.
Raymond’s son, Peter, is still unable to talk about the damage caused by the church.
Peter was encouraged by the management of Arise, directly led by Brent Cameron, to leave university with only one year left of his degree to pursue the internship.
Despite Raymond’s protests, Peter was determined to follow the path Cameron had convinced was his calling.
However, a few years later, Peter was broke, homeless, and physically ill from exhaustion.
“For two years my son worked 55-60 hours a week and that didn’t include Sunday hours at church. Those 10 hours are overtime.”
Raymond eventually cut off his financial aid in a desperate attempt to take his son away from Arise and bring him home.
“He was sleeping on a couch, he lost a third of his weight, it was killing me but I had to get him out of this cult. My wife and I were convinced he was going to die if this went on any longer.”
Peter told Arise about his health issues but Raymond said they weren’t interested.
“They just wanted more and more, it never stopped and when you asked for help they gave absolutely nothing.”
After leaving Arise, Peter was also completely isolated from his peers.
“You are not allowed to socialize with people who don’t go to Arise.”
Raymond thinks the level of manipulation was incredibly sophisticated.
“When they decide to disown you, you also lose all your friends.”
After becoming a trainee, Peter learned that the friendships he forged while joining Arise were fabricated.
The interns phoned him on a Saturday to ask if he would be at church.
“It’s disgusting, he thought they were his friends, but it was their job to bring him over.”
Two years later, Peter is slowly recovering but still unable to talk about his experience.
“Even now he doesn’t talk about it, he put it in a box.”
Raymond’s family also took in a young member of Arise for a long time after he had a nervous breakdown.
“We spoke to Arise to offer advice, absolutely no response.”
His other son Paul was also convinced to create an automatic payment for Arise when he was still under 16.
This was equivalent to his entire weekly allowance.
Raymond was particularly concerned about the tactics used during the expansion bid weekend.
“It’s a very smart and clever marketing strategy. It’s like a well-scripted presidential campaign.”
Raymond says that when he started asking management questions, he too was quickly reprimanded and shunned.
That was until Raymond stopped his regular donations to Arise and a head pastor called to ask why.
“I never had that in all my Christian life.”
In his opinion, Arise have become the false idols they preach against.
Ashleigh was an aspiring young journalist when she first joined Arise.
It appeared that her two worlds had come together when she sought to publish her first article.
Instead, she would be ostracized from both.
Arise had raised over $4 million in one weekend for its new Porirua campus.
Spotting some good news, Ashleigh approached her team leader to ask if she could share it.
She met with aggressive resistance.
“I was told that I would no longer be welcome at church, that I would go against God and that I would be rejected.”
Ashleigh says she felt emotionally blackmailed by her team leader.
Complaints were made to her journalism tutors and Ashleigh soon left Arise as she no longer felt comfortable.
Arise’s chairman of the board, Graeme Kirkwood, said two independent reviews are currently underway.
He says that for reasons of confidentiality, he was unable to comment on specific allegations or individual employment circumstances.
“The Arise Board recognizes the hurt and pain that continues to be expressed. We strongly wish to encourage anyone who has a complaint or negative experience to engage with the Independent Reviewer. It is important that we hear and understand these stories to help bring relief and healing to those who are suffering, and to put in place any corrective action that may be necessary.”
The “give” section of the Arise website indicates that she exists to transform cities with the truth and love of Jesus Christ.
“Your gift strengthens our ongoing operations as a church and our work to reach new cities and communities. Thank you for your generosity – together we impact eternity.”
John and Brent Cameron did not respond to interview requests from RNZ.
*Some names have been changed to protect identities.