Glo­ri­avale – sex, secrets and sal­va­tion

The Southland Times - - Front Page -

What is it that makes reg­u­lar folks so fas­ci­nated by Glo­ri­avale, the Chris­tian sect of about 500 peo­ple based in god­for­saken Haupiri, on the West Coast?

The death of the com­mu­nity’s over­see­ing shep­herd and con­victed sex of­fender, Hope­ful Chris­tian (aka Neville Cooper), was as ex­trav­a­gantly cov­ered, and fol­lowed, as the death of a very notable New Zealan­der.

One of the coun­try’s most suc­cess­ful books last year was an ac­count by Lilia Tarawa of her time in the Chris­tian sect. The com­mu­nity has been the sub­ject of breath­less un­der­cover ex­poses, se­ri­ous doc­u­men­taries and count­less news sto­ries and fea­tures. And here we go again.

Glo­ri­avale is a back­ward, fun­da­men­tal­ist com­mu­nity where in­di­vid­u­al­ity is sti­fled and frip­peries like the in­ter­net, books and tele­vi­sion are strictly con­trolled.

Peo­ple eat to­gether in a big cafe­te­ria and women are re­quired to wear frumpy uni­forms, marry young, be sub­mis­sive and have lots of chil­dren.

Although mu­sic plays a large role in the com­mu­nity, cre­ativ­ity is chan­nelled into mak­ing money and cel­e­brat­ing its reli­gion.

So why don’t we dis­miss these re­ac­tionary mav­er­icks as bor­ing mis­fits who couldn’t make it in or­di­nary so­ci­ety and let them get on with it?

It boils down to four things: secrets, suc­cess, sex and sal­va­tion.

Look­ing at secrets to be­gin with, it’s clear that part of the at­trac­tion of Glo­ri­avale is its iso­la­tion and in­su­lar­ity.

It plays by its own rules and those rules rep­re­sent a re­jec­tion of much of what we take for granted in nor­mal, sec­u­lar so­ci­ety.

The rules aren’t ad­ver­tised. It op­er­ates like a se­cret club and there­fore piques our cu­rios­ity.

The sec­ond fac­tor re­volves around its suc­cess.

Although it will even­tu­ally im­plode, the cult has stay­ing power. Cults (in­clud­ing hip­pie com­munes) in New Zealand don’t tend to last long but Glo­ri­avale has been through var­i­ous it­er­a­tions over 50 years and gone from strength to strength.

With­out ques­tion the com­mu­nity has had its prob­lems, not least of which are per­sis­tent al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual and phys­i­cal abuse within the com­mu­nity.

Ex-mem­bers, of which there are now plenty, have also told of a rigid regime at the sect, with a small group of men call­ing the shots.

But some­how Glo­ri­avale car­ries on, de­fy­ing pre­dic­tions of fail­ure and col­lapse.

Then we have the sex thing, which is ironic given the fact that in most ways Glo­ri­avale is run along lines that would draw praise from an Is­lamic State mul­lah.

Given the birth rate, Glo­ri­avale res­i­dents ap­pear to give full rein to their sex drives and, un­usu­ally for a fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tian cult, ap­pear to have no hang-ups about en­joy­ing a ro­bust sex life.

Although adul­tery, for­ni­ca­tion, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, and the re­mar­riage of di­vorcees are not tol­er­ated, the plea­sures of the flesh do not seem to be dis­cour­aged or hid­den.

Con­sid­er­a­tions of pri­vacy are given scant at­ten­tion and young chil­dren at­tend their sib­lings’ births.

New­ly­weds are given les­sons on love­mak­ing, which adds a whole new di­men­sion to com­mu­nity ed­u­ca­tion.

Lastly, Glo­ri­avale’s fas­ci­na­tion lies in the sneaky feel­ing it just may be on to some­thing. We are all suck­ers for utopian vi­sions as we can’t be­lieve life has to be the way it is. Glo­ri­avale, where every­thing is owned col­lec­tively, is like a sort of god-fear­ing so­cial­ist state. The or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­vides for all its mem­bers’ needs and no money changes hands. Men work in the fields and fac­to­ries and women in the home, the of­fice and the kitchen. For peo­ple who han­ker af­ter a so­ci­ety with tra­di­tional roles, Glo­ri­avale holds much ap­peal.

TV pro­ducer Amanda Evans made a doc­u­men­tary about the com­mu­nity in 2014 and found many of its prac­tices com­mend­able. She dis­cov­ered a com­mu­nity where ev­ery­one pitched in and where the sick, dis­abled, or el­derly were well looked af­ter.

‘‘No one gets left out,’’ she said. ‘‘If you had any stress, it would be a calm­ing place to live.’’

What Glo­ri­avale prom­ises is harmony and sal­va­tion and in a so­ci­ety which is in­creas­ingly frac­tured, un­equal and an­gry, that has a strong pull.

Not that peo­ple are flock­ing to Glo­ri­avale. It doesn’t have that sort of at­trac­tion. Glo­ri­avale is like a fairy tale steeped in hu­man flaws. We don’t have to be­lieve it to be fas­ci­nated by the plot.

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