The most charitable interpretation of Protocols and Requirements Between Spiritual Father & His Spiritual Sons, Brian Tamaki’s latest encyclical to his followers in Destiny Church, would be that he is insane. Certainly there are a number of manias that would seem to describe his mental state, egomania and megalomania being the most obvious. To those one might add the delusion of being God’s chosen emissary in Aotearoa and an incipient, if not yet full-blown messianic complex which seems to be leading Mr Tamaki to the inevitable conclusion that he is not merely an emissary of the divine, but divine himself.
The interpretation is ‘charitable’ because the insane cannot be held responsible for their beliefs or actions. The less charitable interpretation would be that Mr Tamaki is a charlatan, in the tradition of many such religious charlatans, particularly in the United States. His opulent lifestyle, when compared to the relative poverty of most of his followers, provides the most compelling argument in favour of this explanation. When I interviewed him some years ago on Radio Live, he and his wife Hanna had just returned from a nine-day luxury cruise on the Queen Mary II, allegedly costing around $40,000. His largely Maori and Pacific Island followers, who funded the cruise, pay 10% of their income to the Destiny Church as a tithe. They also give ‘offerings’ above the 10% each week.
Many repatriate significant parts of their earnings to their families in the Islands. The people who support Tamaki’s lifestyle are undoubtedly among New Zealand’s lowest income earners. Most of them are very poor. The money that went on that cruise was more than most of them earn in a year. None of them could even dream of having a holiday like that. And then there were the expensive cars, the expensive homes, the designer clothes, the diamond encrusted watch, the Harley, the boat and all the other expressions of ostentatious consumption. When I suggested to him that he was ‘a rich man, made rich and kept rich by the poor’ he replied that it was OK to do well as a Christian. ‘God wants you to have a positive faith, but he also wants you to do well financially.’
This is of course totally at odds with the life and teaching of Christ whose apostle Tamaki claims to be and whose message could not be clearer:
‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ By the end of the interview I was left with very little doubt where the self-styled ‘Bishop’s’ heart was. He certainly had no intention of following Jesus’ advice to the rich young man who wanted to know what he should do to gain eternal life: ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.’ The rich young man was no more keen on this advice than the ‘bishop’ and went away sad, leading Christ to observe: ‘A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’
If he’s to get through that needle’s eye, Brian may have to lose a little weight. And dress down. After all:
‘Why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do the spin. And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’ Tamaki had ordained himself ‘Bishop’ about a year before the Radio Live interview. More than 3000 people attended the ceremony at the Telstra Clear Pacific Events Centre in Manukau. They paid up to $70 a ticket to attend the ordination and were encouraged to dig deep into their pockets for more. Richard Lewis, Destiny’s political party leader, said: ‘We don’t come to the house of the Lord empty handed. There’s Eftpos available out front.’
He or Tamaki added: ‘You charge people to go through the gate to watch rugby matches, to watch some of the shows.’ When Tamaki took the stage it was to a trumpet fanfare. There is, after all, no business like show business. I rarely agree with Garth George. But where Brian Tamaki is concerned, we are in absolute accord. In a superbly argued column in today’s Herald, he begins:‘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.’ And ends: ‘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.”‘
He is absolutely right.
So should we adopt the more or less charitable view of Tamaki’s Protocols and Requirements Between Spiritual Father & His Spiritual Sons? Is the ‘Bishop’ mad, bad, neither or both? I don’t intend to answer the question. Instead, I invite you to read Garth George’s instructive summary of the contents of the encyclical and decide for yourself. Now watch this: Campbell Live infiltrates the Destiny Church – Part One And here’s Part Two of Mihingarangi Forbes’ investigation.