People bullied into giving cash to Palmerston North's Victory Church

Manawatu Standard, New Zealand/March 19, 2015

By Lucy Townend

Former members of a Palmerston North parish were told they would be "cursed by God" if they didn't give money to the church, even if they weren't in a financial position to do so.

More than half a dozen people with connections to the Palmerston North Victory Christian Church have come forward following a story linking the parish with a "cult-like" religious movement in the United States.

Victory Church is one of seven international branches of the Faith Christian Church in Tucson, Arizona.

The University of Arizona is investigating the church's on-campus dealings after more than 20 people raised concerns about what they said was excessive control over student members, manipulation, an authoritative attitude and "cult-like" behaviours.

Sources connected to the New Zealand arm of the religious group have spoken out about Victory Church's practices, including former members claiming financial coercion and spiritual abuse.

Among the list of allegations raised were concerns Palmerston North pastoral leaders were playing an influential role in members' personal finances, scrutinising people's budgets, tracking how much money they gave to the church and pressuring members to donate more than they were able to under the guise of tithing.

Victory Church senior pastor Joel Miller hasn't replied to numerous calls and emails regarding the church's practices.

Victory Church congregation members were expected to donate at least 10 per cent of their income - a commonplace Christian practice known as tithing - but the church reprimanded those whose giving levels were deemed too low or not enough, according to ex-members.

One former member, who only spoke on the condition of anonymity, said for many of Victory Church's congregation it was difficult to give an "appropriate" amount of money because they were students on a limited income.

"They actively imply that you're cursed if you don't tithe, cursed of God, and for a naive Christian what could be worse than that?" he said.

"[It's been said] if you don't tithe I wouldn't want to be standing next to you in a thunderstorm, implying that God is going to get you and nail you, which is completely anti-biblical.

"The Bible says to give not of compulsion, but there is an air going around that you'll be cursed and people certainly believed they were cursed if they didn't tithe - it was completely fear-based."

The church's most up-to-date financial statements, which were published for the year ended March 2014 and publicly available online via the Charities Services, show the church's income for the year was $302,406, of which $187,961 was received from tithes and offerings, and $114,004 was received through eight "specified donations" and the other $441 was received from sales income.
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Victory Church was established in New Zealand about a decade ago and has a subsidiary branch called New Zealand Campus Ministries Trust. Calls and messages to the New Zealand Campus Ministries Trust have gone unanswered.

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