Twenty-four-year-old Hannah Harrison also fled the Gloriavale Christian Community. Growing up, she describes herself as obedient, and explains having to tell on other children because they were taught that if they didn’t, they were guilty by association.
“As a young teenager, I was very much sort of legalistic, the rule-abiding kid that told on everyone else. Not because I was particularly a tattle-tale, but just because I had this sort of conscience that if I didn’t tell on them, I would be just as bad as they were. And they definitely pushed that, so if I knew that someone had a pair of ankle-socks or something, and I didn’t go and tell someone, then I was participating in their wrong. So that was quite a big thing for me as a younger teenager.”
This sort of accountability to the leaders infiltrated into every aspect of society, with Hannah saying the leaders would never admit they were playing God, “but that was the impression they gave you”. She began questioning Gloriavale in her later teen years, and this presented a different set of problems.
“As I got older I started to disagree with them on some things, and it was more a fear of if I actually said what I thought, I would get in a lot of trouble for it. I learnt to just be quiet and just not say anything, and let people think that I was good or whatever, to look good in other people’s eyes.”
When Hannah first had thoughts of leaving, her instinct was to pray to God to make it stop. But one day, she came to the realisation that God must be allowing her to see all of these things that were wrong in the community for a reason. She began discussing the idea with her sister and some close friends, but their talking caused whispers among the community. Her family had also been thinking about leaving, and the turning point came when her parents were found taking a clandestine visit to a Timaru church.
“… And then someone found out about it, and we were like, ‘Right, we need to convince my parents to leave within the next few days, because they’re going to split up my family.’ So it was a matter of three days between then, and us actually leaving.”
Now she’s left and settled in Timaru, she certainly won’t adhere to some of the rules that used to define her life ever again.
“Now, if some guy came and said, ‘You’re supposed to be wearing socks’, I would say, ‘That's ridiculous, who do you think you are?’ But at the time, I don’t even think you realise how much you are controlled by fear, and how much your thinking is affected by the fear.”