Massey University warns off 'cult-like' church

Massey University is in the process of trespassing religious leaders of a "cult-like" church from its campuses.

The university has come under fire from students, a former chaplain and ex-members of the Palmerston North Victory Christian Church for not taking seriously concerns raised about the parish, "ignoring" complaints and failing to take care of students' wellbeing.

However, the university says it's upheld its duty to protect students and is finalising trespass orders against nine known Manawatu-based church leaders.

Sources connected to Victory Church have expressed concerns about the parish's practices, including manipulating marriage pairings, financial coercion, alienating people from parents, public shaming of members, leaders' authoritative attitude and excessive control over the congregation's strong student membership.

The church's senior pastor, Joel Miller, has not replied to calls and emails.

His wife Jaimie - who is also listed as a senior pastor on the church's website - declined on her husband's behalf to comment when visited at the couple's home on Monday.

Victory Church was established in New Zealand about a decade ago and has a subsidiary branch called New Zealand Campus Ministries Trust. The church and the trust have strong connections at Massey and meet weekly at College Street Normal School.

One former member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said young people were approached by teams of ministers at Massey, While that might be viewed as a commonplace evangelism practice, it was getting out of hand, he said.

"When they come up to you, they're really friendly, they want to meet with you, all voluntary and that's great . . . love bombing is the term."

However, a control-oriented style of leadership soon became evident. "It's all very subtle, but it becomes very difficult to leave," he said.

Students who had taken concerns to the university were "ignored" and were "disappointed" when nothing was done, he said.

A former Massey chaplain, Mark Grace, said the university knew of the concerns raised by former members for years.

"Victory Christian Church and its Massey club have practised ongoing, widespread spiritual abuse amongst some of Massey's most vulnerable students for almost a decade," he said.

Massey spokesman James Gardiner said the university had spoken with "potential complainants and witnesses" but there were no "formal complaints" that could be substantiated.

"There have been a variety of complaints and allegations over the years and we have not ignored any of them," he said. "It is almost impossible to satisfactorily investigate allegations where a complainant insists on complete anonymity and what they allege cannot be tested or corroborated.

"Nonetheless, Massey University has become sufficiently concerned about the actions and behaviour of certain members of the Victory Church and their attempts to associate themselves with the university. Those people are not welcome on our campuses and will be asked to leave if they are seen at Massey."