The Gloriavale school principal says the Christian community and her way of life are being attacked by those who have chosen to leave.
Gloriavale’s leaders began their defence today in Employment Court in Christchurch, where six former members are seeking the ruling they were employees, not volunteers, while in the community.
Gloriavale Christian School principal Rachel Stedfast rejected former members’ claims Gloriavale’s leaders controlled every aspect of their lives.
“People who have left think that they can speak for us. I believe that those still living at Gloriavale should be able to speak for themselves and be heard,” Steadfast said.
“The leaders wouldn’t even have a clue about the details of my life. They don’t control when I have a drink or what underwear I wear, whether I choose to have dinner down at the garden, or on my veranda or in the lounge room.”
Yesterday, former member John Ready – whose sister is among the plaintiffs – told the court Gloriavale was a “society with one over-bearing emperor who rules over everyone and has access to the whole community”.
There was no choice but to obey the dominant male and what he dictated, Ready said.
The six women who brought forward the case have also claimed in court that their life choices, including marriages and work, were pre-determined for them by the leadership.
One of them, Crystal Loyal, said she had sex outside of marriage in the hope it would force the leaders to marry her and her secret partner.
But Stedfast told the court she was able to choose her husband and choose to be a teacher in the community.
“The leaders don’t control when I get pregnant,” she told the court.
She also chose to submit to her husband, the mother of nine said.
“As a woman, I give my husband that authority over me. And I give my trust and put my trust in him, the same way he gives Christ the authority over him,” Stedfast said.
Yesterday, former member John Ready told the court he believed the main focus for women in the community was to work and have children.
Women were criticised for having children slowly, Ready said.
Stedfast said comparisons from some of those who have left that women in the community were like cattle to breed greatly offended her.
“The ability and power to give life to another is something I wouldn’t trade for anything the world could offer. I have never had any of my children for the sake of the Shepherds [leaders]. This is my personal choice.”
The principal, who has worked in the community’s early childhood centre and school for 20 years, said the nature of her work meant she had a range of contacts outside Gloriavale and frequently travelled for work.
Stedfast drew parallels between the community and marae visits she went on.
“The way the tangata whenua worked together and shared what they had and what work there was to do [was similar]. On a marae, the people do not pay each other for communal work. They consider it part of their contribution to the survival and existence of their people and culture.”
Stedfast said she did not teach for money, instead donating her government salary to the Gloriavale community.
When questioned by the plaintiff’s lawyer, she said a government benefit was received by every child who was enrolled in Gloriavale’s early childhood centres.
Stedfast became upset speaking about her relationship with the plaintiffs.
“I grew up with the plaintiffs. I loved them and shared many happy memories with them… I worked with them, and lived in the same household with them… Some of them are my relations.”
The defence will continue their case next week.