A document at the heart of the secretive community of Gloriavale is now at the centre of a legal stoush.
Former Gloriavale member John Ready and another plaintiff, whose named is suppressed, have filed civil proceedings at the High Court in Greymouth.
The pair are seeking the removal of some of the men who govern the West Coast commune.
TVNZ and other media fought for the statement of claim to be made public, which the court agreed to with some of the information redacted.
The plaintiffs point to a document entitled A Declaration of Commitment to Jesus Christ and to the Christian Church and Community of Gloriavale.
It reads: “I forsake all that I have to follow Christ, renouncing forever all personal ownership of houses, lands money and all other possessions. Whatever I own, I now give to the poor and needy of this world or share with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
“I give the overseeing shepherd of our Church Communities the absolute and unfettered right to administer and use all the property, assets and money of the Christian Community Trust for the benefit of everyone within these communities.”
One of the plaintiffs signed the document on December 7 1977.
It’s explained that any person can apply to join the Gloriavale community and as a term of joining they complete the application.
The High Court has redacted the breaches as alleged by the plaintiffs, and the total assets acquired by the members. Gloriavale deny the breaches.
The plaintiffs' claim identifies the ‘Commitment Trust’ as the trust administering the assets for the benefit of all Gloriavale members.
The ‘Commitment Trust’ consisting of the Christian Church Community Trust (the trustees named as Fervent Stedfast, Enoch Upright, Samuel Valor and Joshua Disciple, while the independent trustees are Colin Neil Smith, David McMillian and David Smith); Howard Temple, Fervent Stedfast, Enoch Upright, Samuel Valor, Faithful Pilgrim, Noah Hopeful and Stephen Standfast, as shepherds of Gloriavale; and Faithful Pilgrim, Peter John Righteous and Stephen Stedfast, as shareholders of Christian Partners Nominee Limited.
The pair argue that it is “necessary or desirable that the Court remove the defendants as trustees … as it is expedient, difficult or impossible to remove the defendants as trustees … as the trust do not have a power … of removal or appointment … ”.
They have asked the court that they be made beneficiaries of the Christian Church Community Trust, and for an order directing the appointment of the Public Trust as trustee of the Commitment Trust.
Gloriavale’s position statement said that there is no “commitment trust” as alleged by the plaintiffs.
“When members formally join the community, they sign a document setting out their agreement to adhere to the beliefs of the community.
“As a religious community it is important that those who join the community understand, acknowledge and live by the core beliefs of those that live there … [the Declaration of Commitment] does not create a trust,” the statement reads.
They have submitted that any issues raised by the plaintiffs that concern either matters of religious belief, doctrine or practice, or matters of family or social arrangements, custom or practise are not matters that the court can consider unless they are unlawful.
“These areas are matters of belief, or private arrangements within families which are not justiciable.
“The Court cannot rule on questions of belief or doctrine, or on domestic or social arrangements,” reads the statement.
Gloriavale submit that John Ready and his family have left the community.
It said that the other plaintiff is “no longer a formal member of the community but lives in accommodation owned by the community and works outside of it.”
“They do not have the legal standing to seek changes to trustees or to community leaders,” said Gloriavale’s lawyers.
“As with any religious community, those who live at Gloriavale who do not wish to adhere to the core tenets of belief of that community are free to leave.
“Support is given to those who leave.
“For those that have family members who choose to remain, those family members will continue to be welcomed and supported as valued members of the community.”
Gloriavale’s lawyers also claim individuals who are full or associate partners of the partnership “known as Christian Partners” receive an equal share of the profits from that partnership, pay personal income tax and ACC on those profits and donate the remainder to the community.
“There are 168 women and men who are full or associate partners and share in the profits,” reads the statement.
Gloriavale is also being asked to cover all court costs.