Gloriavale Christian Community

A reclusive and tightly-knit Christian community in New Zealand, known for its communal living and conservative practices.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Fundamentalist
Founder: Hopeful Christian (Neville Cooper)
Founded: 1969
Location: Haupiri, New Zealand
Size: 609
Other Names: Cooperites, Springbank Christian Community

Gloriavale Christian Community, located in a remote area of New Zealand’s West Coast, is a self-sufficient, fundamentalist Christian group known for its communal living and strict religious practices. This community, often described as controversial and secretive, has garnered significant attention due to its unique way of life and the legal and societal challenges it faces.

This community claims to model itself after the first church in Jerusalem, prioritizing a literal interpretation of the Bible. Central to its belief system is the King James Version of the Bible, which they regard as the only legitimate English-language version. Members of Gloriavale adhere to a comprehensive and detailed set of beliefs and practices, meticulously outlined in their publication “What We Believe,” which, despite being presented as a summary, holds substantial influence within the community, akin to the authority of the Bible itself. This booklet encapsulates a blend of Christian doctrine and unique theological perspectives, emphasizing practices such as baptism by immersion as essential for salvation, a stance considered aberrant by mainstream Christianity. The community operates under a collective ownership model, where members sign a “Declaration of Commitment to Jesus Christ and to the Christian Church and Community at Gloriavale,” relinquishing all personal possessions and assets to the community.

Life within Gloriavale is marked by a collective adherence to specific social norms and practices aimed at maintaining purity and separation from what they perceive as the corrupt outside world. Celebrations like Christmas and birthdays are eschewed in favor of living a life that reflects their strict interpretation of Christian teachings. Names given to children, such as Charity Love or Trust Stedfast, are chosen to inspire a life of devotion, while modest dress codes are enforced, barring the use of makeup, jewelry, and certain types of clothing deemed immodest. The community also practices a highly controlled approach to relationships, with courtship being a brief, closely supervised period devoid of physical contact until marriage.

Throughout it’s history, Gloriavale has faced significant controversy, including accusations of it being a cult. Central to these controversies is the leadership of Hopeful Christian, who was convicted of sexual offenses, revealing a troubling abuse of power within the commune. The Employment Court case brought forward by six former Gloriavale women unveiled the full extent of Christian’s crimes for the first time, involving cruel and bizarre sexual offending disguised as educational or marital preparation. The court also heard claims of women being entrapped, enslaved, and living in servitude, with their lives marked by drudgery from birth. Women in Gloriavale are said to be dominated and controlled from birth, with their educational focus limited to roles traditionally viewed as domestic, such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry. These allegations also included forced child labor, as the community reportedly relies on its young members to sustain its operations amid growth challenges.

Further criticisms stem from allegations of physical punishment and sexual abuse within the community, including against minors. Former members have reported a culture of fear and intimidation, where questioning leadership or practices is quickly suppressed. This level of control extends to the restriction of information, with limited access to external media and communication channels, thereby isolating the community from the wider world and controlling the narrative within. Relationships and interactions with the outside world, including with ex-members, are strictly regulated, often resulting in complete shunning of those who leave.

These controversies have led to public debates about the nature of religious freedom, the rights of individuals in communal living arrangements, and the responsibilities of the wider community and government to protect vulnerable members, especially children. The New Zealand government and public have grappled with how to respond to the complex issues raised by the Gloriavale Christian Community, balancing respect for religious beliefs with the imperative to prevent abuse and exploitation​​​​.

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