A new documentary looks at the role of women in the Gloriavale community

There is a world that is so secret, so foreign, and yet so close to us.

While they live modestly and innocently, the Gloriavale community on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island has been described as a cult that is more sinister than the idyllic location would lead you to believe.

Beyond the rolling green hills and snow-capped mountains is a very uniformed and regimented Christian community.

It is isolated and secular and the 500 members have very little contact with the outside world.

Members say they don’t want to associate themselves with the evil, adultery, drug use and fornication that the outside world engages in.

A new documentary, Gloriavale: A Woman’s Place, has explored life inside the community and how being a wife is the top job for a woman.

Dove Love. 22, features in the documentary and she is longing to get married.

She has been doing the washing for everybody in the community and she’s ready to be promoted to the role of a wife, where she is required to submit herself to her husband.

“I actually didn’t think I was getting married until about three hours before he walked through the door,” she said.

Watchful Steadfast showed up at Dove’s house with a bunch of flowers and she is required to accept the proposal when it’s offered to her.

Once a couple is married, and a woman vows to submit while the man vows to be the leader, they embrace for a number of minutes.

They are then carried to a “consummation room” immediately where they are expected to lose their virginities.

“God has given something wonderful to the human female above the animals,” an elder says in the documentary.

“He’s given her a seal, a guarantee. And that seal was to be given to her husband. He was the one to open it.”

Members of Gloriavale don’t get many choices — they are told what to wear and where to work.

Marriages are arranged when members are as young as 12 and Gloriavale leader Neville Cooper believes that’s the age a girl becomes a woman.

Cooper established the Springbank Christian Community in 1965 but the group rapidly grew and in 1991 Cooper bought a new property in the Haupiri Valley, 60km inland from Greymouth, and renamed the community Gloriavale.

A lot of controversy surrounded the community when Cooper, who changed his name to Hopeful Christian, was jailed on sexual abuse charges in 1995.

His son and a young woman fled the community and testified against Cooper.

Those who leave the community are shunned and they can’t contact those who remain part of the community.

Members of Gloriavale don’t marry out of love, and sometimes not even out of attraction.

It’s all part of the cycle that helps the members serve God by having more children to continue the following.

The documentary also follows a woman named Angel Benjamin, who was pregnant with her sixth child.

She believed it was God’s will, and he would impregnate her if that’s what he wanted.

The women in the community also hold a strong belief they were put on earth to bear children.

A man named Jeremy, claiming to be Dove’s brother, told New Zealand’s ZM radio station the leaders of the community made her marry Watchful.

“Girls are taught to submit,” he said.

“I know that she didn’t want to marry him. They’re just told that it’s God’s will. Basically, anything the leaders say is God’s will (members have) got to do that or they’re going to hell.”

According to Jeremy, he began to spread the truth about the “cult” and was banished.

“I was asking them if I could stay in the community because I’m married with a baby and they ended up saying ‘no you can’t’,” he said.

“I said ‘I’m not going’, and they were like, 'well, we’re not going to feed you. You’re not going to have a place to stay. You’re not going to have any work. How are you going to live here?’”

He was then called a trespasser when he continued to refuse to leave.

Jeremy said what Gloriavale leaders were telling people in the community were lies.

“And that’s obviously why they try to stop you from having contact with the outside world. Because you find out the truth about a lot of things and then you take that back and start spreading that around and people start leaving,” he told ZM radio.

Jeremy no longer speaks to anybody in Gloriavale, not even his family.

“Your whole life you’re told in there that the world is a big, bad, evil place. A lot of it is fear,” he said.

Members have said in previous documentaries they hold a lot of disgust and disdain for the outside world.