Why is everyone so down on Brian Tamaki? Ok, so he has EFT-POS machines in his churches. He tithes church members ten percent of their income and lives the high life on the backs of the poor. He demands unquestioning obedience. In the context of Christianity, none of that seems unusual. The role of shepherds, after all, is to deliver sheep to slaughter.
This is not to condone ecclesiastical greed, but I watched a live interview with him on Close Up recently and found it hard to understand why he was there. Mr Tamaki was as slick as ever, and quickly took control of the show. Richard Lewis looked as if he had been brought in to heavy the host if the questions got difficult, which unfortunately they never did. Mike Hoskins had the appearance and energy of Hugh Grant after a long night with Devine Brown.
He was on the show to discuss the walk-out of the pastor and most of the congregation in an Australian branch office of the church. It seemed a good excuse to question the self-appointed bishop about Destiny Church more broadly, but after watching it I decided that Mr Tamaki must have offered the interview to Close Up to avoid a more searching cross-examination elsewhere.
Still, we heard some interesting things. Destiny has EFT-POS in the church foyer because it is convenient for the congregation. Many churches do it. No one carries cash anymore. The congregation, he said, asked for the machines to be installed. I'm sure that is the truth, yet listening to the interview I couldn't help thinking about the money changers in the temple in Jerusalem. They were providing a needed service, changing the profane coins of the empire for the shekels that would be acceptable for offerings in the temple of the Lord. Money changers were a convenience for worshippers. None of that prevented Yesus from overturning their tables, driving them out with whips and cursing them for turning the Father's house into a den of thieves.
Tithing is an even more ancient practise than banking services in church. Paraphrasing the prophet Malachi, Mr Tamaki even accused Hoskins of robbing God by not paying tithes. This is a characteristically out-of-context reading of the Bible, as is tithing itself. The tribe of Levi received tithes, and passed on ten percent to the priests, because they could not own land in ancient Israel. The tithe was ten percent of everyone elses increase – produce, food stuffs. It was not intended to be used to buy flash mansions. In addition, people at that time did not already pay more than a third of their income in tax, some of which is used for similar purposes to the tithe.
As for the issue of swearing blind obediance, we need look no further than Rome for a comparison.
I've found the best way to understand the Bible is to read it cover to cover. Like the other reactionary churches, the teachings of Destiny seem to be based on a highly selective reading of it.
They make much of things, like homosexuality, that are rarely (and some argue never) mentioned in the Bible while seeming to ignore its major preoccupations, such as paying workers fairly, not being greedy, doing justice for the poor and not charging interest on money. As Yesus said, woe to them who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, hooves and all.
None of this explains why Destiny Church is under attack for things common to so many churches. In fact it might be argued that the only reason the established churches don't still tithe is because they have already gathered vast wealth, invested it in land and share portfolios and do well enough out of the usury thereof, thank you very much. To my mind the reason is because Mr Tamaki doesn't just want your money, he wants your country as well. He has been remarkably frank about his lust for political power. He is said to have claimed to be the returned King David and to be building an army. He may find that is one blasphemy too far.
(from my Waikato Times column 19 March 2010)