Gloriavale members can’t necessarily exercise right to freedom of religion

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Former Gloriavale Christian School principal Faithful Pilgrim has told a court the community’s leaders do not rule like tyrants, before breaking down over his relationship with a son who has left the sect.

Pilgrim, who was a Shepherd until his resignation last May, also claimed that members could not necessarily exercise their right to religious freedom at the commune.

His granddaughter Serenity Pilgrim is one of six former Gloriavale women who say they lived in slave-like conditions and are seeking an Employment Court ruling they were employees, not volunteers.

Faithful Pilgrim told the hearing Gloriavale’s Overseeing Shepherd Howard Temple did not have unfettered power and the community’s Shepherds and Servants were not “yes men” seeking personal power or glory.

“The plaintiffs have claimed that the Shepherds at Gloriavale have absolute power and control over the community and are in effect tyrants. That is not true,” he said.

“The New Testament speaks against tyranny and oppression.

“Nobody in our leadership wants absolute power or authority. Power and authority was and is to be used to protect the weak and to safeguard the rights of the people, not to enable a leader to have his or her own way.”

Pilgrim was the first of the five Gloriavale defendants to give evidence in Christchurch.

He disputed testimony from his sons Isaac and Zion Pilgrim, in one instance accusing Isaac of “over-generalising and misrepresenting people shamefully”.

Faithful Pilgrim later denied beating Isaac and became upset describing their relationship.

“I do remember that I found it hard to relate to Isaac in particular and I deeply regret the fact that I was not being able to get through that barrier,” he said.

“At the time, he appeared to be a lot happier, and he remembers it.”

Former members including Zion Pilgrim have testified about Shepherds and Servants meetings in which they were told to submit unconditionally or be cast out.

Under cross-examination about the leaders’ treatment of dissenters, Faithful Pilgrim told the court Gloriavale was set up for people who followed its foundational document, What We Believe.

“Everyone in New Zealand has the right to freedom of religion, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can exercise it inside Gloriavale,” he said.

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