Gloriavale’s headmaster says the Christian community and its way of life are under attack from those who have chosen to leave.
Gloriavale leaders today began their defense in Christchurch Labor Court, where six former members are demanding the verdict that they were employees, not volunteers, while in the community.
Gloriavale Christian School principal Rachel Stedfast rejected former members’ claims that Gloriavale’s leaders controlled every aspect of their lives.
“People who have left think they can speak for us. I believe those who still live in Gloriavale should be able to speak for themselves and be heard,” Steadfast said.
“The leaders wouldn’t even have a clue about the details of my life. They have no control over when I drink something or what underwear I wear, whether I choose to dine in the garden, or on my porch or in the living room. .”
Yesterday, former member John Ready – whose sister is one of the plaintiffs – told the court that Gloriavale is a “society with one overbearing emperor who rules over everyone and has access to the entire community”.
There was nothing for it but to obey the dominant male and obey what he dictated, Ready said.
The six women who brought the case forward have also claimed in court that their life choices, including marriage and employment, were predetermined for them by the leadership.
One of them, Crystal Loyal, said she had sex outside of marriage in the hopes that it would force the leaders to marry her and her secret partner.
But Stedfast told the court she could choose her husband and choose to become a teacher in the community.
“The leaders have no control over when I get pregnant,” she told the court.
She also chose to submit to her husband, the mother of nine said.
“As a woman, I give my husband that authority over me. And I give my trust and my trust in him, the same way he gives Christ the authority over him,” Stedfast said.
Yesterday, former member John Ready told the court that he believed the main focus for women in the community was to work and have children.
Women were criticized for having children slowly, Ready said.
Stedfast said comparisons of some of those who left, that women in the community were like cattle to breed, deeply offended her.
“The ability and power to give life to another is something I wouldn’t trade for something the world has to offer. I never had any of my children for the shepherds’ sake [leaders]. This is my personal choice.”
The principal, who has worked in the community’s center and school for 20 years, said the nature of her job meant she had a range of contacts outside Gloriavale and often traveled for work.
Stedfast drew parallels between the community and the marae visits it made.
“The way the tangata whenua worked together and shared what they had and what to do” [was similar]. On a marae people do not pay each other for common work. They consider it part of their contribution to the survival and existence of their people and culture.”
Stedfast said she didn’t teach for money, but instead donated her government salary to the Gloriavale community.
When questioned by the plaintiff’s attorney, she said that every child enrolled in Gloriavale’s early childhood centers received benefits from the government.
Stedfast became upset when she spoke about her relationship with the plaintiffs.
“I grew up with the plaintiffs. I loved them and shared many happy memories with them… I worked with them and lived in the same household with them… Some of them are my relations.”
The defense will continue their case next week.