Garth George

Garth George is a Herald columnist

Garth George: Tamaki's church becoming a cult

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Brian Tamaki speaks to his followers at an anti-smacking rally. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Brian Tamaki speaks to his followers at an anti-smacking rally. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In requiring its men to swear an oath of loyalty and obedience to Brian Tamaki, the Destiny Church - having glorified the messenger above the message - has begun to transform itself into a cult.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a cult as "a system of religious devotion directed towards a particular figure or object" and "a relatively small religious group regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members".

This self-glorifying rule-making, in which Mr Tamaki has obviously been aided and abetted by other Destiny leaders, makes, for instance, Catholics' deference to, and reverence for, their spiritual father, the Pope, look positively casual.

But what bothers me most about all this is that those who prepared and published the document Protocols and Requirements Between Spiritual Father & His Spiritual Sons actually believe what they wrote.

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And how 700 Kiwi men could accept this nonsense and swear lifetime fealty to a mere fallible mortal is quite beyond me. It reeks, if not of spiritual blackmail, then of a deep spiritual sickness.

Things like honour, loyalty and obedience have to be earned and freely given, not appropriated and imposed, and when they are imposed, particularly under oath, they are fragile indeed.

Another enigma in this business is that no mention is anywhere made of the women of the church, apart, of course, from Mr Tamaki's wife, known as Pastor Hannah.

I presume that Mr Tamaki and his church leaders take literally the three-verse passage in Paul's letter to the Ephesians which says: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church ... Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything."

And that the wives and children of the "spiritual sons" simply do what their husbands and fathers tell them.

That brief passage of scripture has, of course, been used by churchmen to keep women in their place ever since the apostles were cold in their graves. But, as has been rightly said, a text taken out of context is a pretext.

Such religious totalitarianism is not new. There are many churches in the United States, and quite a few in New Zealand - particularly in Auckland - that are led by pastors who operate in similar dictatorial fashion. But most of them are not nearly so blatant about it.

The American evangelist Paul Mershon puts it much better than I could.

He writes: "The abuse and misuse of pastoral authority in the case of those requiring an oath of loyalty to any degree is wholly without merit, and beyond the scope of any and all scriptural mandate ...

"Certainly we all want to, and should, support our pastor, but in no way does this imply that we are to blindly follow any man with unquestioned loyalty when it is Christ, and Christ alone, to whom total fealty belongs ...

"[A pastor's] role is that of a humble servant of the Lord, ordained of God to serve his people as a sheep-feeding pastor, not a heavy-handed despot."

Mr Mershon questions the practice of signing, or giving verbal affirmation to, some sort of "covenant" whereby followers pledge to be loyal to one leader all the days of their lives, and follow him no matter what.

History is littered with evidence of the tragic results that can come to people bound up in religious cultism.

To Destiny Church members I simply say: "Be very afraid."

- NZ Herald

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