Having visited twice I can attest that the place is indeed mighty strange. Wonderfully interesting: in parts deeply troubling and in others incredibly admirable. Like all societies it’s nuanced. You wouldn’t know that from much of the reporting of the place. And this morning’s effort in The Christchurch Press is a terrific example.
The story leads with the accusation that men are “groomed” to have sex with underage girls. Yet in the next breath it goes on to report that underage sex is “not rampant” and occurs only in isolated cases.
One might question how that differs from mainstream society but of greater concern: when does a single source, without objective evidence – in this instance a disgruntled former community member who has had nothing to do with Gloriavale for 30 years – have an undisputed word on any subject? Nicky Hager would kill for that privilege. Bloody hell, even Eleanor Catton was cut down in certain quarters for having a differing view to that of the prevailing norm.
This is not a defence of the place. I find the mere fact of indoctrinating kids to gain truth from a man in the sky and a confused and contradictory book an abomination, but I do believe in balance and a critical mind that at least considers cultural relativism.
John Key will surely agree. He’s in Saudi Arabia making trade deals with a country that engages in terrible acts of violence and misogyny. We are not writing that place off like we do Gloriavale. (Coincidently it was the Christian community’s industry that impressed me most, they were among the first to use a floating dairy platform to milk cows, for instance). Yip, they are incredibly severe on those who leave the flock. The Saudi’s, that is – the punishment for apostasy in that country is death.
Parts of what happen within the West Coast community, quite openly and without secret are at face value troubling. Adults who don’t hide from children while having sex surely creases all but the most liberal of brows. As The Press reported, those in Gloriavale are not taught that parents having sex is “gross”. I’m among those who have been taught those sexual more are gross but if I were to find a culture somewhere in the world that saw sex among a committed adult relationship as an open and beautiful thing that isn’t kept secret within the family home I wouldn’t die of disgust.
Still, the paper did report being told that one member of the community who left went off the rails and ended up as a stripper! Temper your shock at that unique social occurrence, the stripper was never interviewed and may very well not exist. And neither might the sexual abuse at the heart of the story. There are exactly zero complainants. Not a single one.
‘Let he without sin cast the first stone’ proves there are some things to be learned from the Bible. That’s considerably more that I can say about The Press this morning.