A New Zealand Christian cult headed by convicted sex offender, Neville Cooper, above, lost 14 of its members when James and Hope Ben Canaan and their 12 kids fled the Gloriavale Christian Community at the weekend, branding it as a ‘false system’.
In 1995 Cooper was jailed for almost a year on sexual abuse charges. He was convicted on the testimony of his son, Phil Cooper, who had left the Haupiri-based cult along with several young women.
According to Phil Cooper, who documented his life in the cult in a book, Sins of the Father, his father was a controlling, manipulative, sexual deviant who set out to dominate every aspect of his life – from whom he could marry to what he named his children.
Cooper said he had to endure watching his wife being fondled by his father and young girls were sometimes told to join community elders in hot tubs.
Phil Cooper’s sister, Miracle, also defected from the cult with her husband and ten children. She is James Ben Canaan’s aunt.
The latest defection prompted one cult member – Fervent Stedfast, a “community brother” who’s been a Cooperite since 1970 – to declare:
If they [the Ben Canaans] want to go and live in Timaru, well, that’s their choice and that’s what they need to do. No one is here against their will. We only want people who want to be here.
“Brother” Stedfast wouldn’t discuss details of what led to the Ben Canaan’s sudden departure.
Female cult member pictured making iced buns
When word of the family’s move went around the South Canterbury town on Monday, donations soon began flooding in.
The family are said to have been “blown away” by the generosity of the local community after being gifted clothes, furniture, household goods, books and toys.
James Ben Canaan, who managed Gloriavale’s self-sufficient dairy farm for 20 years, is now seeking a job.
Liz Gregory, who is putting up the Ben Canaans, said the family have been “hugely courageous”.
This family came to believe that they were in a false system and have left 500 of their family and friends – the only ones they’ve ever known. They are feeling blessed, but are aware of the road ahead of them.
It’s a huge deal for them to stop wearing their community clothes and so they are going to transition slowly.
The Ben Canaans thanked the Marchwiel Reformed Baptist Church and wider Timaru community for helping them reintegrate back into society. A statement released by the family said:
It’s been quite overwhelming and we offer our sincere thanks to everyone involved. At this time we are requesting privacy so that we can settle into our new lives.
The reclusive Gloriavale Christian community, which currently has more than 500 members, was founded by Neville Cooper in 1969. It relocated from its original site at Cust near Rangiora, where it was known as the Springbank Christian Community, to Haupiri on the West Coast in 1991.
It has attracted much controversy over the years and there have been reports of several large families leaving the settlement in recent years. However, with birth control prohibited, the population is said to be flourishing still.