A baby made a rare appearance in a witness box as a member of Gloriavale hit back at those who say women in the religious community have little choice in their lives.
Rachel Stedfast, who is the acting principal of Gloriavale School and has nine children, testified in an employment tribunal case centered on six women who argue they should have been recognized as employees, not volunteers, for the domestic work they did for years at the religious sect.
Stedfast, 39, was born to the Springbank Christian Community, which later moved to the West Coast and became known as Gloriavale.
She began her testimony at the hearing in Christchurch on Friday by saying she wanted to tell “the other side of the story from what most people have heard”.
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Stedfast said claims that the women of Gloriavale were ‘ignorant’, ‘brainwashed’ or ‘robots just doing what we’re told’ were false and designed to discredit everything women in the community had to say. say about their way of life.
“It is claimed that everyone who lives in Gloriavale has suffered immense trauma and injury, but that is not true.
“The people who left think they can speak for us. I believe those who still live in Gloriavale should be allowed to speak for themselves and be heard.
Shortly after beginning her testimony, another woman from Gloriavale approached the witness box and handed over Stedfast’s baby, who needed attention. Stedfast settled the baby and continued her testimony while holding her baby.
Babies are not unknown in court, but are rare on the witness stand. It is more common for them to be handed over to a parent for a cuddle in criminal court before the parent is taken to jail.
Having children in Gloriavale
Stedfast said she was offended by the suggestion that she and other Gloriavale women were forced to have children.
“I love having children and I feel capable of carrying children. Men can’t do that and will never be able to experience what I can. The ability and power to bring another to life is something I wouldn’t trade for anything the world could offer,” she said.
She added that the leaders of Gloriavale had no say in her choice to have children.
“I never had any of my children because of the shepherds. This is my personal choice and I resent the accusations made about my choice not to kill my unborn babies.
“I love each of my children and I can tell you that they were not born to become financial assets for the leaders of this community.”
Asked about earlier testimony from Crystal Loyal, who said she was forced to return to work just a week after giving birth while her baby was placed in day care, Stedfast said it was not normal practice .
She said that when women had babies they had “full time off” and then only worked a few hours a day to allow their babies to get into a routine.
When she worked in the CPEs from 2015 to 2020, the youngest of the babies was “6 weeks old, maybe 4 weeks old”, but only if their mothers worked at the centre.
She confirmed that when a baby is registered at the center, the center receives a subsidy from the government.
Stedfast has repeatedly stressed that Gloriavale’s management does not control it, but rather directs and guides it. She denied that the women in the community were submissive to the men, but said the women chose to submit to their husbands.
“The Bible says that the man is the head of the woman and the head of the man is Christ. Now there is an order and it is called the order of God. True Christians know the order of God. Christ is above man, man must submit to Christ. And then the woman must submit to the man and the children submit to their parents,” she said.
“Submission is willingly giving that authority to the person above you. So as a wife, I give my husband that authority over me and I trust him.
Asked that the leaders of Gloriavale were all men, Stedfast said she had complete confidence in the leaders of the community. “The spiritual side of leadership can only be by men, it is according to the word of God.”
She said that didn’t mean she wasn’t allowed to disagree with men, but if she questioned anything about the teachings of servants and shepherds, she should ask her husband if what she was questioning was right.
“So it’s kind of like you don’t just stand up and say, ‘I disagree with you’.”
She said it was “a humble way to be”.
Stedfast said Gloriavale leaders did not benefit from their positions of power. “They go to their graves penniless, but surrounded by their loved ones. The reality is that our leaders have given up all of their material possessions, their money, their inheritances and their very lives to allow me to live the life I have chosen without the stress that some of my fellow mothers outside of the community are confronted. Daily.”
Work in the community
Stedfast said claims that children as young as 5 had to cook breakfast before school were untrue. She started helping with meals when she was 8 because she asked if she could help because it was “so much fun”, she said.
She spoke in court about her education and work as a teacher and then a school principal, and said it was her choice to become a teacher.
She confirmed that she received a salary from the government for the work, but said she did not wish to keep the money for herself and chose to have it paid into an account that benefited the whole of the community.
“Reading the Bible, I personally see my role as serving God according to his commandments. I love serving my sisters and brothers in Christ as he served others when he was on earth.
“I want to share this wonderful blessing with others and so I give my time and energy to help others in any way I can.”