Christchurch City councillors will decide this week if a controversial spiritual group should be granted an interest-free loan of $162,735 to fund a conference.
The Subud spiritual group has 12,000 members in 60 countries and was described as a “charismatic group” by Christchurch scientist Dr Stephen Urlich in a 2005 report.
The group, which has 204 members in New Zealand and 89 in Christchurch, hopes to hold a world conference in the city in 2010.
It has applied for a bridging loan from the city council so it can book the Christchurch Convention Centre and Town Hall for the event before money starts to come in from conference delegates. The loan would be repaid before the conference opened.
The Urlich report raised concerns about a practice in the group known as latihan. According to Urlich, the practice involves “uninhibited weeping, shouting, writhing, moaning and speaking in tongues”.
His report also raised concerns that children raised in Subud households face potential identity conflicts and family rejection if they choose not to join as young adults.
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Christchurch Subud chairman Hammond Peek, who has won two Oscars for his sound-mixing work on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and King Kong, said the latihan practice allowed members to “independently receive their own unique form of worship”.
He said the group was not a cult. “Subud is an international association of men and women dedicated to the worship of God. Subud is neither a religion nor a cult, does not put forward a dogma or systems of beliefs and is open to people from all religions, cultures and nationalities, as well as those with no religion,” Peek said in an email.
A decision on the conference funding request was deferred by councillors just over two weeks ago so more information on the group could be compiled.