In this series I’ve discussed Bert Potter’s Albany-based sex commune, Centrepoint, in the light of Angie Mickeljohn’s personal story, and my own in the 1980’s. I’ve given commentary on the nature of Bert Potter’s spirituality and now turn to commenting on the legacy that will [hopefully] help those affected by Centrepoint to see and understand what happened to them.
Widespread negative MSM reporting during Centrepoint’s time gave huge validation to the many who sought an escape from the hypocrisy of ‘outside’ New Zealand society. It was, to them, proof positive of their ‘wise’ decision to escape the rat-race, a common feeling when people get out of one unwelcoming environment into another ‘more friendly’ one. When the people whom have lost your respect attack you from a position of power and influence, no matter how justly or unjustly their criticism, venom or hatred, this reinforces your decision to escape to a place like Centrepoint.
I for one had huge problems explaining my existence at a sex-commune to the wider Christian community at the time. That a guy who could chose to make an independent decision to say, “I’m going to live there” could also say to the sexual opportunities, “No thanks” (or to the entire community, “Bye!” when ostracised from within) didn’t seem to occur to the hypocrites outside who had lost my respect.
It’s actually not that I, or anyone who went there were better than others, or were more enlightened, it’s actually that the reason for its existence, the power that Bert had over the people was that there were unmet needs outside of Centrepoint that he sought to meet.
His solution ‘sucked’ of course and was incredibly destructive but human nature has remained the same cross-culturally and throughout the ages. Like Victorian England, New Zealand in the 1970’s and 1980’s was a ‘prim & proper’ society on the outside. We didn’t DO sex outside of marriage, supposedly. Homosexuality, drugs and fornication were not spoken of in decent society, yet the rich, powerful and hypocrites of society were active despite appearances. Think of the Catholic Church and its priests taking advantage of their elevated position or politicians and tennis balls, or the teaching profession of the last few decades or the legal profession of today.
Note also the cover-up of authorities who failed to deal with child abuse when alerted. The Public Trust AND ACC have been accused of immorality. You can be sure that there is more. I’ve blogged previously that my expulsion from Samoa resulted from exposing the Samoan PM’s inappropriate relationship with one of his top CEOs. What person with the power to influence others doesn’t take that on offer if it suits them? This is the norm.
In some ways Bert (& Centrepoint) was simply meeting a need, and being honest about what he/they did.
So the fact that Bert broke laws relating to sexual activity; that Centrepoint permitted and normalised societally inappropriate behaviour is all par for the course.
“Is this not a typical cult dynamic?” you suggest.
“Of course!” I reply.
When looking at the legacy, we can see from Angie’s story and others, that there is a huge and lasting legacy of pain. This pain comes from pride, and always through ungodly, self-destructive and/or anti-social behaviour.
For healing to occur, these three things need to be identified in each and every situation. Each and every situation of course is as different as the people involved.
Yes, women have lost trust in men as a result of sexual abuse, but men too have lost trust in their wives as they have ‘spread it about’. Yes, Bert has come and gone and spoke variously utter nonsense as well as truth. Some have found him to be a “dirty old man” which has validity of course, as the court events showed us. Others (like me) have grown through their challenging experiences and forged ahead in life wounded, for sure, but wiser. Some have taken their pain to a private place never to be shared and have gone to the grave with it; others have forgiven and yet others remain still unforgiving.
There are always consequences for doing things ‘wrong’. Always. In the Christian context this is best seen as living under a curse (as opposed to a blessing), sometimes outworked in spectacular fashion with a sudden death, perhaps immediate illness or adversity that can be linked back to any rebellion. Sometimes it is a long slow painful recovery with grief that seemingly never ends. Karma is another way of looking at these things.
A deception that follows the Christian faith like the night follows the day is that God is a grumpy old-man joy-killer sitting up in the sky issuing rules to control us, like puppets and that very bad very hot and nasty things await us if we don’t comply. From my perspective this is a falsehood in all regards . . . I have found Him to be good, to love, and to have set the rules because He is good and can be trusted whereas we tend to get things wrong more often than not.
I have also found His solution to our human woes to be extraordinarily valid – Jesus is very much alive and well, working in our hearts through His Spirit to build, lift, encourage and support those who humble themselves to actually listen to Him and then do what He asks of us. Note that I am not talking about religion or any religious adherence here.
Four decades ago, I went to Centrepoint, and by the grace of God, chose to honour and respect His ways. It was a ‘hell’ of an experience but while there I chose to remain faithful to my wife of the time. It was a costly decision way back when, but I do not regret it one minute now, and see that the philosophy and spirit behind Bert Potter and what he created was one of a falsehood, and that he and his adherents were destined for pain, failure and ultimately a sad and lonely death.
New Zealand society has to a very large degree opted for the Centrepoint way of thinking – we “give ourselves permission” to do as we please. It is preposterous to think that rejecting the Christian values just as the Centrepoint people did under Bert’s leadership would lead to anything but the same consequences – pain and living under a curse.
It’s pride, plain and simple.
When given the freedom to choose to go our own way, as New Zealand society has done, we reap the consequences. Accountability goes hand in hand with responsibility. The sexual immorality that Bert became infamous for permitting at Centrepoint has spread into the mainstream. Indeed there are large and increasing sectors of NZ society where this is the norm and conservative thought is seen as weird.
The individual challenge is that God doesn’t step into man’s domain and force us into compliance, equally as He didn’t intervene in the Fall, but something proven to be so simple as obedience leads to a life of blessing, awaiting all who do humble themselves and do what He asks of us. Sadly many choose otherwise.
The first step to recovery is an accurate diagnosis. Viewing the pain wrought by Bert Potter and Centrepoint from a Christian world view, I believe, gives that proper context. The experience that Angie and others went through was not primarily sexual abuse, it was a spiritual one. It was the human choice to participate in ‘alternative’ behaviour contrary to the Word of God. It was rebellion. Mankind giving mankind the permission to [whatever]. Note also that Angie “was in trouble” before she went to Centrepoint.
This is NOT to say that sexual abuse didn’t occur – of course it did. It is also NOT to say that people (particularly the young and vulnerable) found themselves in difficult situations not of their own making – of course that also occurred. The saying that “Sh*t happens!” is appropriate here; we all have stuff happen to us that isn’t fair. What really matters though is that the vast majority of Centrepoint adherents chose to go, stay and submit to an ungodly leader in an ungodly environment. Smiles, luvey-dovey feelings, communal sharing and a nice facility for sure, but a spiritual hornet’s nest of rebellion nonetheless.
Having diagnosed accurately, the doctor will then prescribe a remedy that matches the diagnosis.
I must now generalise, a challenge, for everyone’s situation is different but the three things that seem relevant to dealing with the grief that Centrepoint seems to have created in many are:
- Humility; and
We all need time to deal with things that hurt. Nobody I have ever met has the capacity to deal with pain instantly. The healing process is cyclic and not lineal – it goes in circles which over time reduce in their intensity – up and down; round and round until we have worked things through. Bert and Centrepoint have long gone, so many will have achieved maturity by now, but there may still be some rawness there for some. Time doesn’t heal in itself but it IS needed for healing.
If the root of trauma is based in pride, the root of healing is based in humility. It is not easy for mankind to accept that we are proud, or that we stuffed up, or got suckered by a salesman and a [in regards to Centrepoint] lived in a spiritual environment that sucked. We would generally prefer that Christians would STFU and go away, rather than splash their faith in our faces, especially when, deep down, we know that there is something different about that name, Jesus Christ. Humility is a critical component in dealing with reality.
While time and humility are required for dealing constructively with any challenging experience, forgiveness is the deliberate action that unlocks healing. Unforgiveness is the lock that ensnares and keeps us bound. Dealing truthfully with a painful situation is not always easy but when we come to the point that we fess up, perhaps agreeing with the essence of this series, we can forgive the other ‘idiots’, fools and conmen/[women] that set us up; that manipulated us; and perhaps, just a little perhaps here, we might be able to confess our own pride, errors and stupidity, then forgive ourselves.
Thank you for hanging in there with these posts. I trust that you’ve appreciated the work in not only writing them down but the long-term work invested over some four decades into being ABLE to write them down.