Churches reject 'hands-off' approach to Victory Church

Palmerston North's Christian community has been criticised for its hands-off approach in dealing with the leaders of a "cult-like" church in the city.

Sources connected to Palmerston North Victory Christian Church have expressed concerns about the parish's practices, including manipulating marriage pairings, financial pressure and excessive control over members.

More than a dozen ex-Victory Church members say they took concerns to pastors and ministers at other Manawatu parishes but were met with an "ignorant attitude", "hands-off approach" and were reluctant to do anything about the issues - claims the city's Christian leaders dispute.

Victory receives support from New Life Churches International, which is an organisation that cares for more than 90 churches in New Zealand including Lifechurch Palmerston North.

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Lifechurch's senior pastor Ralph Sutherland is also the regional leader of New Life Churches International and cares for more than 15 churches in the Lower North Island, including Victory.

"Victory Christian Church has helped hundreds of people in the past 10 years to bring constructive change to their lives," Sutherland said. "The culture of the church is to work with people closely in many areas of their lives, but sometimes that can be seen as too close."

New Life was aware of concerns raised by ex-Victory members and hosted mediation sessions.

"[We] have worked both with Victory Church and former members on their issues with the aim of bringing reconciliation and closure to the concerns," Sutherland said.

"The meeting was designed to air issues and grievances face-to-face where they listened to about half a dozen people and offered an apology for any hurt they may have made."

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Criticism that New Life was "hands-off" wasn't right and the church had tried to amend things and advocate for vulnerable ex-members, Sutherland said.

"We've worked alongside Victory Church to assist them in modifying various aspects of church culture that came with them when they came to New Zealand, like relaxing somewhat in their management of people, and progress has been made."

Victory worked alongside other religious leaders in the city and was an active member of the Christian community.

"They've walked with all the other churches in Palmerston North and haven't isolated themselves from that fellowship and interaction," Sutherland said.

Victory Church was a member of the Palmerston North Christian Leaders Association, a network of about 55 Christian churches and 30 service organisations and groups in the city.

Chairman John Marquet said pastors, ministers and chaplains involved in the association had been aware of concerns circling about Victory Church for some time.

The association's executive members have taken those concerns to Victory's leaders, however as churches were autonomous the association had no authority or jurisdiction to enforce changes.

"In some things they've heeded the advice we've tried to offer them, like modifying their American style into our Kiwi situation."

 - Manawatu Standard

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