Destiny Church has lashed out at critics after condemnation of Brian and Hannah Tamaki fleeing Auckland hours before lockdown.
They have accused the "elitist" media of discrimination and say in this time of crisis the Tamakis must continue their "essential work" which cannot be done from the "comforts of home".
"In difficult times, people need to be able to turn to faith ... otherwise all they are left with is hopelessness.
"We believe if Destiny Church and our leaders were to stop functioning, there would be an enormous breakdown in many families across this country. The Tamaki's [sic] therefore need to continue their essential work."
As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was putting Auckland into a snap lockdown on Saturday night, the Tamakis packed their bags and fled the city for Rotorua.
They arrived around midnight, where they told a crowd gathered for the Sunday morning service they had escaped from Auckland to avoid the level 3 lockdown.
On Tuesday, Hannah Tamaki posted on Facebook that the couple were now touring the country and would be in Invercargill this weekend.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins today blasted the Destiny Church leaders for leaving Auckland on the eve of lockdown and their plan to tour the country.
He called the behaviour "completely irresponsible".
In a statement, issued this afternoon, Destiny Church said it was not the media's job to sanction the self-anointed apostle or his wife.
"As a church to thousands of New Zealanders, it is timely to address the negativity that is constantly targeted at this couple, that reeks of contemporary discrimination and racism against Māori.
"For almost four decades the Tamaki's [sic] have persevered to regenerate Christianity for both Māori and Pakeha, and they have exampled to many the lifestyle of faith, based on sound belief, hard-work and generosity.
"We as a church leadership stand by this couple who travel the length and breadth of this country to do their job, meeting people, encouraging and inspiring many. Their job can not be done from the comforts of home.
"Māori respond kanohi kite kanohi (face to face). It is also not the media's job to tell the Tamaki's [sic] what they can, and can not do."
The statement also drew a parallel with Labour MP Willie Jackson.
"Just as when Willie Jackson was on the Cabinet Zoom call during the Joseph Parker fight and he received news of the lockdown, he didn't adopt level 3 immediately either, instead he continued with part of his work, so too the Tamaki's (sic) also continued with their travel plans."
The statement ended by accusing the media of trying to vilify "good honest Kiwis who are making the best of a bad situation", which it claimed stemmed from the Government's failure to keep Covid out of New Zealand.
"As a church we want to be clear, it's not the media's job to sanction, on behalf of the state, Apostle Brian or Ps Hannah Tamaki's work or travel arrangements.
"Woe betide, when state tries to shut down the operations of a vibrant, problem-solving church."