Jun 11, 2024

New Zealand cults hit the world stage

Philip Matthews
The Press
June 11, 2024

Is New Zealand a little bit culty? That question will be asked at the International Cultic Studies Association conference in Barcelona, Spain, next month.

That may not be how New Zealand likes to see itself on the world stage. Yet it indicates how interested the world’s cult experts are in the ongoing story of the Gloriavale Christian Community.

The community must seem like an anthropological experiment, a cult operating in real time, rather than something historical.

“It’s like a perfect microcosm of a cult you can study,” Christchurch journalist and author Anke Richter said.

Three New Zealanders will be explaining our cults in Barcelona. There is Liz Gregory, manager of the Gloriavale Leavers’ Support Trust. There is Caroline Ansley, a doctor who founded the Centrepoint Restoration Project. And there is Richter, whose journey into the cult world has gone from covering the fallout from Auckland’s notorious Centrepoint community to writing the book Cult Trip, which has just been published in the US, to organising a “decult” conference in Christchurch in October.

Tickets to Decult 2024 go on sale on Wednesday. International experts include US author Dr Janja Lalich, who appeared as an expert in the recent Netflix series Escaping Twin Flames. Journalists Adam Dudding and David Farrier will present their work on Centrepoint and Arise Church respectively. Dudding hosted the Stuff podcast series, The Commune.

Many of the other presenters have lived experience of groups such as Centrepoint, Gloriavale, Shincheonji, Children of God, the Truth who are also known as the 2x2s, the Exclusive Brethren, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Destiny Church.

But that raises a fundamental question. Some of those churches will not exactly welcome being put under the “cult” umbrella.

“It’s not up to me to slap the label onto groups but I think we can provide enough information from people who have come out of those groups, and let the attendees decide for themselves,” Richter said.

Her hope is that some of those groups will take a hard look at themselves and “be more aware of the dynamics that make people speak up about them”.

While there will be tears and emotion, Richter doesn’t want the conference to be “trauma porn”.

The Olive Leaf Network, which supports survivors and leavers of religious groups, and the Gloriavale Leavers’ Support Trust estimate that dozens of “problematic” groups are operating in New Zealand, from evangelical churches to new-age movements. They believe more than 10,000 people are affected.

The problems faced by children who were raised in cults was a focus of the conference, Richter said.

“Their risk for unemployment, addiction, depression and suicide is huge,” she said. “We don’t have trained cult counsellors who know how to help those who left or were shunned. There is so much untreated trauma, grief, confusion and shame.”

Tickets and more information is available at www.decult.net.


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