Victory Church leader disputes claims of 'cult'

Manawatu Standard, New Zealand/March 28, 2015

By Lucy Townend

The pastor of a Palmerston North church accused of having "cult-like" practices has broken his silence.

Palmerston North Victory Christian Church leader Joel Miller has issued a written statement regarding the criticisms levelled against the parish in the past few weeks.

More than a dozen sources connected to church, including ex-members, former chaplains, parents and students from Massey University and UCOL have expressed concerns about the parish's practices, including claims of hitting infants into submission, manipulating marriage pairings, financial pressures and excessive control over members.

Miller has been reluctant to confront the concerns, but issued a written statement on Friday via Adam White, the leader of New Life Churches International, which is the pentecostal organisation that provides oversight to Victory Church.

Miller disputed claims by complainants and said he was disappointed they had gone to the media.

"Controlling people, manipulation, coercion, and bullying people to give money are definitely not our church values," he said.

"Arranged/appointed marriages have never been done in our church and people are free to attend or not attend our church as they please.

"Emotive words like 'cult-like' and such do sound sensational but are a severe mischaracterisation of our church . . . and it grieves me that anyone would feel hurt by anyone in our church.

"I have not wanted nor thought it appropriate to address accusations, especially from anonymous sources in the newspaper."

Sources have asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions and retribution from the church.

Former members said they were suicidal, depressed and in need of counselling after leaving Victory Church, and were shunned by member of the congregation.

Miller said he and Victory Church leaders wanted to work through issues with people.

"Our church staff and I are very happy and willing to sit down with any disaffected person and do our part to resolve any issues, and apologise where needed," he said.

"Over the last 12 years we in Palmerston have led over 10,000 Bible studies with university students and other young people, and I believe our church has done a lot of good things and helped many people turn their life around for the better."

White questioned the issuing of trespass notices against the church's religious leaders and said Miller wasn't given a chance to speak up.

"They have touched thousands of lives for good over the years and I know people whose lives have been radically changed for the better from there contact with these guys."

Massey spokesman James Gardiner said the university stands by it decision.

"All the previous interactions with Mr Miller and his team would suggest that nothing we said to them would change their unacceptable behaviour towards students and nothing they said to us would ameliorate our concerns about that behaviour."

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