Church That Accepted a Man’s Life Savings Returns it June 22, 2010

Church That Accepted a Man’s Life Savings Returns it

Yesterday, I mentioned that New Zealand’s Oasis Elim Church was accepting money from a man who really couldn’t afford it:

Whetu Abraham is 54-years-old and a “partial tetraplegic with head injuries.” He sits in a wheelchair. He can’t afford dental care. He no longer has his life savings.

[Said Rest home manager Lucy Dever] “He’s got no family or next-of-kin on our list, and they’ve taken everything from him. It is unethical, immoral and I believe un-Christian.

“He used to have a nest egg but now he has no life savings. He believes if he doesn’t give it to them, he won’t go to heaven.”

About a year ago, when she discovered the rate at which Mr Abraham was handing over his life savings –- he gave about $10,000 in 2008 –- she spoke to church pastor Bruce Collingwood.

“I explained that he is not a wealthy man. He is nearly on the poverty line and the money he had, he needed. Sure, some could go to the church, but not all of it.

“The pastor said it was Whetu’s choice and said it was tithing [taking a tenth of a person’s income for the church],” Ms Dever said.

If you haven’t read that story, please check it out.

There’s been one very-strange and one very-positive update since yesterday.

First, the weird.

It looks like the pastor wanted Mr. Abraham to clear him of any wrongdoing:

The pastor of a Napier church that took at least $20,000 in donations from a disabled rest home resident has allegedly tried to “heavy” the man into signing a document clearing the church of blame.

Napier’s Oasis Elim Church pastor Bruce Collingwood confirmed he turned up at the rest home yesterday to ask Whetu Abraham, who uses a wheelchair, to sign the document.

Otatara Rest Care and Rehabilitation manager Lucy Dever described the move as disgusting. Staff stopped Mr Abraham signing the letter until he had legal advice.

They talked about his financial and medical situation and Mr Collingwood was comfortable taking the money. “We had that conversation. I talked to him and asked him if he can afford it, absolutely. He said he wanted to give it and that was the end of that. If you get given a gift you just receive the gift out of the good nature it was intended.”

I would argue that a man who has no life savings and needs medical help is really not in a condition to oppose what his pastor says. Even if Mr. Abraham voluntarily gave the money, the church has a responsibility not to accept it from him.

It looked bad, but there’s a positive development to report.

Late Monday night, via email, I received an official statement from the pastor of the church (PDF), Bruce Collingwood:

Church Returns Money

Ps Bruce Collingwood of The Oasis Elim church (Napier), has today returned the money that had been recorded as given by Mr Abraham over the last 2 years. Mr Abraham may have donated more funds in cash amounts, but did not identify himself as the giver, so there is no way for the church to identify this.

While we are obviously not at liberty to discuss the financial situation or dealings of any member of our churches, we can say that Mr Abraham is a long standing and dedicated member of the church in Napier. Like any member of our churches, any tithe or donation that is given is entirely their choice. It appears that Mr Abraham may have given away more than he should have, given his circumstances. The church had queried with Mr Abraham about his giving and he was adamant that he wanted to give the funds to the church. The funds returned today have been done so as an act of good will. We are unsure if this is Mr Abraham’s desire. Contrary to media reports the money was never taken from Mr Abraham, it was given by him to the church.

As a denomination The Elim Church of New Zealand believes in the principal of tithing and while we encourage our people to do so, we place no pressure on people to give. We do not control or dictate to our congregations how they choose to spend their money. At no time was Mr Abraham approached with a request to give money to the church, any giving was entirely voluntary.

Ps Bruce Collingwood and his dedicated team at Napier Elim do great work serving in their local community. This has been an unfortunate situation where donations have been given and received in good faith. The Elim Church of NZ stands by Ps Bruce Collingwood and his church.

This is fantastic news, and I hope that Mr. Abraham can use the returned money to take better care of himself.

I think Pastor Collingwood deserves a lot of credit for this.

Even though he thinks the original article was unfair to him and his church, and even though he tried to get Mr. Abraham’s to sign that document, he ultimately did the right thing.

Chalk it to bad publicity or pressure from outside, I think he realized that the church shouldn’t be accepting money from someone who clearly has a need for it more than the church does.

I think all of you who wrote emails to him deserve a lot of credit, too, for keeping the pressure on.

Pastor Collingwood made a horrible situation right again and I applaud him for doing that.


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  • Pustulio

    This is just damage control. I get no sense of any remorse over what they did, just regret that they got caught. They may have made *this* situation right, but as long as they maintain that what they did wasn’t wrong then this kind of thing is just going to keep happening.

  • Aegis

    It’s a start. Getting a foot in the door. If a pastor can bow to pressure here, it can happen elsewhere with other issues.

    Just a little bit’ve reinforcement that it was the right thing to do…and what’ll *really* happen to them if they do wrong, instead of fables.

  • I’m sorry but I feel no sympathy for the guy. If you’re dumb enough to give away your money. oh well.

  • Big Jim

    “This is just damage control. I get no sense of any remorse over what they did, just regret that they got caught.” Ah yes, the 11th commandment “Don’t get caught”

  • gwen

    I don’t give him shit! You know good and damn well, that if the staff had not stopped him from signing that paper (which begs the ethics of coercing a brain damaged and elderly man in fear of the ‘hereafter’), they would have been waving the paper as ‘proof’. Good on the staff of that nursing home! THEY deserve ALL of the credit.

  • gwen

    OneSTDV Says:I’m sorry but I feel no sympathy for the guy. If you’re dumb enough to give away your money. oh well.

    HE IS BRAIN DAMAGED YOU UNFEELING IDIOT!!

  • Hitch

    Good outcome. I have seen worse. Still, should have never happened to begin with.

  • Claudia

    IF the post consisted only of the first part (him giving the money) and the last part (Church returning the money) I’d give him credit. However there’s that pesky little middle part, where the pastor went to the care home of this poor (and quite possibly mentally unsound) man and leaned on him to sign a legal document he clearly did not understand. That’s thugish, pure and simple, and it shows that his true intentions are the protection of his reputation, not the care of his people. No credit to that swindling pig.

  • @OneSTDV,
    As you are aware, people do some very crazy things because of their beliefs.
    If you were restricted to a wheelchair and brain damaged and you honestly believed that a better life for you waited on the other side and that tithing an insanely huge amount of your savings would guarantee you this bliss, might you not be tempted to give?
    His life as it is now cannot be considered as having a high level of quality. Sure, there are going to be hand wringing types who will chastise me for saying so, but let’s face the facts; being in a wheelchair with no prospect of a better (physical) life in this world SUCKS.
    Why do you think so many suicide bombers come from repressive Islamic societies? Because they have a better chance of getting laid in heaven than in reality, that’s why.
    When your present circumstances are shit, you are more inclined to look outside of reality for some sort of relief. Was he stupid? I don’t know. I’m sure being brain damaged didn’t increase his IQ, but his circumstances are out of his control.
    I know you are a conservative, as I am in some respects. Being conservative doesn’t mean we have to forgo our intellect or empathy for our fellow man. Try a little more Barry Goldwater and a little less Sarah Palin.

  • I have to agree with the readers that see the pastor’s behavior as damage control and nothing more.
    The guy deserves no credit whatsoever for doing the right thing. In fact, as he advocates for a belief system with claims to higher moral standards, he should be held to respectively higher standards as well. With his “lawyerly” behavior, I’d say he fell far short of the morals of most drug dealers and pimps. I only regret they don’t imprison people for victimizing the helpless as he did.
    Someone needs to keep a close eye on this jerk…

  • This quote from the spokesperson for the nationwide church was pretty interesting:

    Most churches get by because of the generosity of people. You don’t investigate every person that gives money to a church to find out whether they can afford it or not.

    UNLESS IT’S $12,000 COMING FROM A DISABLED MAN WHO IS LIVING IN A REST HOME. The pastor claimed it was “tithing,” and when he was caught, he rushed into the rest home to try to strong-arm the guy into signing away any legal rights. Only when he was caught doing that did he finally do the right thing.

    The guy’s a con man who deserves no credit for anything.

  • SoonerHumanist

    It’s a good development, Hemant, but I can’t give the pastor or this church any credit. They should never have taken the money in the first place–not because they can’t afford it, but because the church is the oldest con game in the world. Allowing people to think that if they don’t give of their resources to the priestly caste they will go to hell is how the clever yet lazy have fed off the rest of society for thousands of years.

  • Robyn

    I don’t know about the pastor deserving a LOT of credit–as others ha said, this was damage control. He freakin’ tried to lean on the guy! …But ultimately I’m glad that this story is getting a happy ending. Happier ending, I should say.

  • Matto the Hun

    I think all of you who wrote emails to him deserve a lot of credit, too, for keeping the pressure on.

    Pastor Collingwood made a horrible situation right again and I applaud him for doing that.

    I find your last sentence at odds with the one directly before it.

    Between emails and media (which he tried to brush off as “unfair”) the son of a bitch had to be shamed into doing what was right.

    If he was a child he might get credit because he’s learning a life lesson. But the pastor is a grown damn man, he should know better… especially since he is religious and therefore has copyright on all morality ever ever.

    Maybe, just maybe, if he didn’t go further and try to strong arm the guy with legal documents I could see my way to giving him some measure of credit.

    You give him credit after pulling that douchebag move? It could be that you’re right, that he “saw the light”. It’s far more probable that he’s still a gigantic douche. A douche who saw the writing on the wall and knew that if he didn’t return the money it was only going to get worse for him.

    Sorry Hemant, I think in this case you’ve exceed your quota on friendliness. 😛

  • Matt

    http://static.stuff.co.nz/1277075444/980/3834980.jpg

    Just look at that guy. For a pastor, he’d sure make a fitting Devil in a movie or tv show.

  • Parse

    99.9% of the credit the pastor earns for doing the right thing is negated by the fact that they tried to coerce Whetu into signing a document to clear the church.

    How much do you want to wager that within the next two years, he’s ‘tithed’ away his life savings again? Shame doesn’t keep a conman away from a willing mark for long.

  • Ed

    Wow! That was fast. I expected the money to get returned, but not that quick! I am pleased things ended well. I really wonder about that strong arm attempt to sign a legal document clearing the pastor of wrong doing- perhaps there really was some coercion going on.

    I suspect most of the credit and thanks needs to go to the rest home staff, not only did they raise a fuss, they stopped Whetu from signing that “wrong doing form” and they must have contacted the press about the story in the first place since it is doubtful Whetu did. Bravo!

  • bunnyslipperz

    I’ll only be satisfied by what this pastor did when he signs a legal statement that he will no longer accept large “tithe” monies from this poor gentleman.

    Not to piss on the rainbow, but who’s to say that once the publicity dies down, this pastor goes back to taking large sums of this man’s money? Or even asking for the money back, in cash so it can’t be “identified”?

    Pastor Collingwood needs to either get new reading glasses or go back to elementary school math. Tithing is 10% not 100%. This “church” should have been giving to him, not taking.

  • Jen

    Does anyone remember about two years ago when that girl fasted for 34 days? She set a temple record, at 17, missing school for her religious goal possibly masquerading as an eating disorder I’mjustsaying. Apparently, everyone applauded her even though it is completely moronic not to eat for 34 days when you have the resources to do so. She gave herself potential long-term damage because of religion, and, even though she is not legally able to sign a contract, everyone allowed this to happen because it was for GOD.

    Religions are alike all over, I swear.

  • muggle

    Agree completely with both of Gwen’s comments (wth, oneSTDV!) and Matto the Hun’s.

    And I’ll go one further than everyone else calling this man of god out for the scumbag he is — better check with the nursing home before believing it.

    This sleazoid did rip off a severely disabled man. (And I have to ask, who made this man feel like he had to give the church money to get into heaven? Three guesses and the first two don’t count.)

    When the nursing home questioned it and got the church bad publicity by speaking publically of his bamboozling of a brain-injured man, did he red-faced try to do damage control at that point? No, he rushed over to the nursing home and tried to strong arm (and you can betcha there were some hellfire and brimstone threats in that) the man to sign a release form.

    When that failed and only when it did and he got pressure from the press, from you Hemant and everyone that e-mailed him (this can’t be the only blog to call him out and I’m sure he must got letters of disgust from the article itself, from all kinds of people not just nonbelievers), he, like a rat deserting a sinking ship, returned the money.

    I suspect it was mainly a diversionary tactic to keep the rest of the church books from being looked at too closely. It’s a sure bet that this isn’t the only elderly/disabled he’s taken advantage of and he only didn’t get away with it because of the diligence of the nursing home. How much you wanna bet that what he’s really learned is strong arm the release form up front as soon as you get a large donation, before some vigilant dogooder wises up to it? Let’s just hope the diversion doesn’t work.

    Matt, when I saw that pic on the article, my first thought was he looks like the sleazy kind of con man who’s always trying to look for ways to use the law to enable his scamming of the gullible.

    I hope to hell if I ever land in a nursing home, it’s one like that!

  • muggle

    Jen, that case was just messed up.

    The article said the mom was worried but I’d have been more than worried. Probably taken her into the ER or called the local Crisis Unit on her. No food at all for 34 days!!!

    And the temple encourages it not just for her but by giving her the celebration any other young girls wanting attention! No wonder you left, Hement!

  • What I’m concentrating on isn’t so much that the man was, er, fleeced, but that the pastor eventually did the right thing. Sure, it took a lot of prodding, but he did it. And maybe, just maybe, this experience will start him thinking.

  • This is yet another case of someone religious doing something very immoral when they think only their alleged god is looking, and only doing the moral thing when people are looking.

    Morals don’t come from god (one doesn’t exist). They come from within for most people, but if you are light on your own morals, then sometimes society can help you out. Clearly his ‘god’ didn’t help him to be moral. The people who called him out helped him be moral, and there were plenty of atheists in that bunch.

  • Heidi

    [Said Rest home manager Lucy Dever] “He’s got no family or next-of-kin on our list, and they’ve taken everything from him. It is unethical, immoral and I believe un-Christian.

    I love that she separated “un-Christian” from unethical and immoral. Because we all know something can be unethical and immoral while still being Christian.

  • OK sorry guys. I should have read the article a little closer.

    I take back what I said.

  • But in general, that’s my viewpoint.

  • KeithLM

    Ugh, Hemant, really? Give this guy credit for returning money he shouldn’t have taken in the first place? If the pastor returned the money, submitted his books for an audit to see who else has been swindled, publicly apologized to everyone, his church promised to be careful in the future when collecting donations, and the pastor resigned, well that would be a step in the right direction, but it still wouldn’t make up for his actions.

    This makes me think of the end of Quiz Show. If you do something you know is wrong, and then try to apologize only after you’ve been publicly shamed, you shouldn’t be applauded for it.

  • @OneSTDV,

    But in general, that’s my viewpoint.

    Understood and agreed. There’s way too much social engineering going on in ill-fated attempts to prevent bad things from happening to people and not enough personal responsibility being taken. I get that, but as you can see, this was a clear cut case of a predatory act upon an unknowing and helpless individual.

  • I got a refund from Calvary Chapel….

    http://billy-braun.blogspot.com/2010/04/pennies-on-dollar-from-heaven.html

    Go figure..?

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    The church I attended as a kid used to publish a list of all its members and how much they donate as a way to shame people into giving more. They even included the teenagers in the list.

    Those that gave more money tended to outwardly show how important they felt they were.

    I found out years after I left the town that they were still putting my name on the list with a big 0 next to it.

    Anyway, it’s just been my experience that churches do pressure in some way. Even before the list it seemed like everyone always knew what everyone else tithed. I’m assuming some see it as part of the “keeping up appearances” thing.

    Also, nothing helps like a good sermon to shame people into giving more. That was how they did it in a different church I attended….just periodic sermons on tithing.

  • @Ms. Crazy Pants,
    Gotta love that “voluntary” tithing! When I attended a Church of Christ in southeast Michigan, there was a large cow woman (the mother-in-law of the pastor)that would sit at the back of the tiny congregation and write down the names of those who gave…and those who didn’t. Quite often I could be counted in the ranks of the latter and I made it a point to turn around and stare at her as she wrote my name down.

  • David D.G.

    Hemant, congratulations on living up to the “Friendly” part of your cognomen, but I really think that your conclusion gives this pastor a degree of credit that he doesn’t deserve. As others have pointed out, while this outcome is a good one, the sequence of events clearly shows that the returning of the money was motivated by pure self-interest and a desire for damage control.

    Consider the following scenario:

    “Your honor, I didn’t take any money from that crippled candy store owner! He offered it to me for providing protection … from, uh, neighborhood thugs, yeah!”

    “Well, sure, I did come see him after I got out on bail, but only so’s I could coach him on what he should say about me on the witness stand; he ain’t too bright, y’know, and I didn’t want the prosecutor to get him all confused and saying bad things about me, y’know? I was just trying to help him get his story straight.”

    “Oh, okay, Your Honor, I’ll tell you what: I’ll give back all the money that he freely gave to me in the first place — that I can find, anyway. Then we can call it square, right? ‘Course, that’ll mean that I won’t be able to protect him no more….”

    ~David D.G.

  • Gauldar

    I would have be raised a Baptist if it wasn’t for a bureaucratic situation like this years ago. My mother told the priest he has her word she would raise me in that church, but the priest said she MUST sign the document. She got so ticked off with him that he couldn’t take her for her word and told him “He has her word that I will NOT, be raised in that church”. While this does sound like he was saving his own ass, there’s a slight chance he was just going through the motions with the paperwork to file his report… which is put in place to save the churches ass.

  • plutosdad

    It reminds me of when Galileo had to sign a document stating the Catholic church did not try to coerce him into recanting some things he said (this was before he was officially thrown in jail).

    Even nowadays people point to that as proof the church didn’t oppress him, the latest example being Armstrong in “The Case for God” where she said Galileo shared half the blame for what happened, and the document he signed was somehow proof that he was free to say what he wanted and shouldn’t have made fun of the pope (which he apparently did once).

  • JSug

    Do we know how much money was actually returned? I don’t like how the pastor hedges the “apology” by saying they returned all the money that could be identified as having come from Mr. Abraham. I don’t think it would be that difficult to compare their donation records with his bank statements and identify cash contributions. But then, maybe he’s unwilling to share bank statements, seeing as he willingly gave them the money.

  • Guffey

    You are generous Hemant. I don’t see any recognition of doing the ethical thing, I only see Mr. Collingwood doing something to relieve Mr. Collingwood from pressure.

  • @JSug: my thoughts exactly.

    I strongly suspect they have not given the majority of the money back- and while the reporters could have interviewed the carers again to see if they were satisfied with the outcome, they did not.

  • Eliza

    Well, damn. Now how is Mr. Whetu Abraham supposed to be guaranteed of a place in heaven?

    But seriously. I do wonder what this gentleman thinks of getting his money back. It’s possible that he’s been so convinced (brainwashed) of the need to give all he can, and more, that now he’s scared shitless about his eternal future. What this situation needs is someone who can convince the fleeced gentleman and the pastor that the pastor & those well off in the church should provide material and emotional support to Mr. Abraham…free of charge.

    Hmmm. A commanding voice from on high would come in handy right about now…

  • This is apparently only one of the pastor’s money-making schemes

  • plutosdad

    Wow that article, the foodbank turning hungry poor people away if they didn’t give 10% of their gross income? … I am speechless.

  • grumpyolddog

    Had quite a time tracking down a follow-up to that story; I came across it in the Dominion paper. I’m with bunnyslipperz: sign on the dotted line “man of god” & make sure the math is correct this time: you take o% from now on, not 100%. In fact . . . yes, you should be giving to Mr. Abraham. But, by-the-by, my thoughts are also the same as Jslug: has the money in fact been returned? How can we be sure?

  • grumpy old dog

    Here’s a follow-up I just found in the Kiwi posts:

    “Church pastor Bruce Collingwood says the money was given willingly by Mr Abraham “out of his own heart”, and he was comfortable about taking it after he and Mr Abraham had talked about Mr Abraham’s financial and medical situation.

    Others, including the church’s national body, are not.”

    Based on the implication here that old BC is being “overseen” by a national body & isn’t entirely free to go off on his own hook, makes me think Mr. Abraham really did receive his money back. Let’s see if the “national body” makes meaningful amends for their wayward son’s, BC’s, behavior. In other words, Pony up some cash, boys!

  • Bruce Collingwood

    I have only just come across this tonight. This story certainly made very entertaining and juicy reading but unfortunately most of it was WRONG….like so many other people who only heard 1 /3 of the story and believed it. And the most important 1/3 is the man himself. The truth is almost completely opposite from what is written above. For example just to get you thinking I have worked 2 days a week outside the church for many years so that I am not taking a full salary from the church as i dont want to be a financial burden. I did this of my own free choice. After 10 years in a school hall we finally leased the building they talked about only about 9 months ago there is no way without a miracle we can afford to buy a building like that. Our church works very well with all sorts of people but also many of the poor and marginalized and with some people that many other people wouldnt go near ie people who have come out of prison and people with disabilities. Bruce Collingwood

  • Anonymous Atheist

    I’m glad you’re so frugal and your church does so many good things, Bruce, but that doesn’t justify taking this man’s money. Nothing you wrote says anything is actually “WRONG” with the story.

    ‘We may have taken money we shouldn’t have, but we were going to do good things with it (until we got caught and gave it back)’ is just an excuse, a distraction.

  • Bruce Collingwood

    There is so much more to this story. The money was given in small amounts weekly and i didnt even know how much was given by him until the end of the tax year as I keep out of those things. He was asked at least 4 times if by 4 different people myself and 3 others if he could afford to give and was upset that we even asked the question. there was one lump sum of $5,000 that was given in the middle of the week and involved him getting into a taxi and coming over to my home and handing a cheque. All of his own free will in his own time. sensasionalist journalism is what is was

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Okay, so you didn’t realize (because you don’t keep up with accounting, and didn’t worry about the huge check), and you thought it was okay (because the man with head injuries insisted it was, despite his caretakers’ concerns), and you don’t think the story should’ve been reported (so that you could’ve kept the money to do good things with instead of having to respond to public pressure to return it). At least that’s all more relevant to the story than your first comment was.

    It’s too late now, though. The story was reported and the public formed opinions about it. If you’d like to share some belated clarifications now to try to look/feel better and change people’s opinions, go right ahead.

    The reality is that this kind of stuff (people donating more than they can afford) undoubtedly happens with tons of people in tons of churches around the world, and everyone involved just tries not to look too hard at it and tries to justify it for the sake of the mission and good intentions. This particular example was just egregious enough to get attention because the person is disabled with head injuries and in a rest home, a significant portion of his donations were identifiable, and his caretakers noticed what was going on and came forward.

  • Parse

    Bruce,
    Then what explanation do you have for trying to heavy-hand Mr. Whetu into signing a letter, clearing you of blame? Did you honestly believe he earned $100,000 in 2008? Don’t you have any sort of accounting practices that records donations per member – if for no other reason, to provide a receipt for tax purposes at the end of the year?

    A lesson I learned before my teen years was that if somebody offers you the shirt off their back, you are under no obligation to accept it.

    I also agree with what Anonymous Atheist said: “‘We may have taken money we shouldn’t have, but we were going to do good things with it (until we got caught and gave it back)’ is just an excuse, a distraction.” Although, in your defense, I’m sure you can provide the verses where Jesus says that the ends justify the means.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Parse: I found the link in the comment on June 23 from ‘disposable’ to be informative as well… the problems appear to involve more than just Whetu: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/national/3847032/Pastor-sold-vitamins-to-his-flock
    I’ll go ahead and quote it here:

    Embattled Napier Elim Church pastor Bruce Collingwood sold packages of a controversial vitamin programme to churchgoers seeking health or spiritual counselling, a former church leadership member says.

    His church came under the spotlight this week when it was revealed the church took at least $20,000 in donations from a disabled resthome resident with head injuries.

    The church hierarchy has since told Mr Collingwood to repay the donations it can trace through documentation.

    But now Mr Collingwood faces more scrutiny, with former friend and church leadership member Rodney Rawiri alleging the pastor signed churchgoers up to buy Mannatech vitamins when they went to him for counselling sessions.

    “He would use counselling to get them into the multi-vitamin scheme … from memory, the upfront cost was around $250 … I joined it [the vitamin scheme] as well,” he said.

    “I thought it was a conflict of interest and, at that time, about 40 per cent of the church were unemployed.

    “I got disillusioned with it as some people had medical problems and they were using a miraculous healing with vitamins.”
    Mr Rawiri said the vitamin selling occurred about seven years ago.

    Last year, the vitamins’ manufacturer, Mannatech Inc, paid US$6 million (NZ$8.5m) to settle allegations by the Texas attorney-general that it made false claims about the health benefits of its products. Marketing material falsely claimed Mannatech’s supplements, especially its big seller Ambrotose, could cure or treat Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, cancer and other serious diseases, the attorney-general alleged.

    Mr Rawiri said he helped Mr Collingwood set up the Napier branch of the church and boarded with him for about two years.

    But after seeing churchgoers being pressured to donate, he began to question the pastor and others about church literature which said “if they [the church followers] did not give money you were in direct rebellion with God”.

    “The crux of it came down to when he had a pamphlet handed out that was saying if you didn’t give your money to the church you were robbing God.”

    Mr Rawiri said he witnessed solo mothers and unemployment beneficiaries being told they could not get help from the church unless they were donating 10 per cent of their benefit.

    “I said, `What you are doing is wrong’, and I went to the leadership team and said: `This is wrong.”‘

    Mr Rawiri said he left the church in 2003 because of its focus on getting money from people with little money to give. He now lives in Australia.

    He was backed by another former church leader, Andrew Lamont, who said he had witnessed some followers seeking assistance from the church’s foodbank being asked by Mr Collingwood if they had donated 10 per cent of their gross income.

    Mr Lamont said he also saw beneficiaries being told that if they had not given 10 per cent of their gross income, they would not get food parcels.

    He estimated about half the congregation were signed up for the Mannatech vitamin package.

    Mr Lamont said he got into trouble with Mr Collingwood for telling some church members they should not give 10 per cent of their gross income but rather 10 per cent of what they had left after paying for food and other living costs.

    Mr Collingwood declined to comment yesterday.

  • Parse

    Behold, more ‘sensationalist journalism’!
    Charity is a fruit of the spirit, and it’s one Mr. Collingwood seems to be lacking.

  • Bruce Collingwood

    Again the truth was twisted. After the story was all splattered over the news I thought
    [ in hindsight unwisely, as it was bound to get misinterpreted ] I would go over and see Whetu who I have known for over 11 years. We have a good relationship so I would have a sit down chat with a friend who I know gave what he gave because he wanted to and we would clear things up….well that backfired coz the nation had already made up their mind i had done wrong….He is a smart man and can make his own decisions contrary to what the media portrayed. He lived independently 4 years ago and we actually encouraged him to go into the home and helped him get there as I and many others in the church got called out to his home many times to pick him up off the floor coz he had fallen and couldnt get back up…On a winter night at 10pm after being on the floor since 2pm he managed to drag himself to the phone and called me. After that we tried to get him in a home so he would be safe…and funnily enough now they had a go at us….and the vitamin thing again twisted. i was involved for a little while in the early days of starting the church. I soon stopped it as i felt it was a conflict of interest and now I know why I did coz it can get all twisted. In the end people will believe what they want to believe. Im human not pefect but I didnt do anything wrong.