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Tuesday 11 April 2017

Review: Destiny, The life and times of...

Posted in: Features
By Jay Bennie - 5th September 2013

Destiny: The life and times of a self-made Apostle

Peter Lineham

Penguin books

From a gay perspective there's something innately troubling about Brian Tamaki and his Destiny Church - and Peter Lineham's newly-released book Destiny, The life and times of a self-made Apostle, though excellent, doesn't really addess it.

From a gay perspective - and Lineham is a gay Christian as well as being a respected historian and religious commentator - we wonder why Tamaki is so, so, incredibly anti-gay. Of course he has this in common with other evangelical preachers and, to one degree or another, even the 'established' churches, but that doesn't excuse it.

It's impossible to ignore that Tamaki controls his followers by warning them of the dangers of straying from the path he has laid down for them. The path he somewhat conveniently claims God tells him, and only him, about - and which he passes on to the Destiny flock. For those who believe, Tamaki's word is the word of God. Hence the apostle bit in this book's title.

So God speaks to him,  Tamaki passes the word and Tamaki says how God's apparent word is to be interpreted and how this must play into the lives of his flock. And as a result they feel joy and reassurance and make pilgrimages to lay gifts of money and overseas cruises and other opulent gifts at his feet. It's all too medieval potentate-ish for words.

Historian and author Peter Lineham
But Tamaki's flock, apart from a few serious money types, are the marginalised and the dispossessed. Squeezing his luxurious lifestyle out of their meagre resources requires control. Hard core, manipulative control. And all of that is outlined in Lineham's remarkable book. It's scary and, frankly, abusive stuff.

Controlling them, stopping them and their tithes from drifting to newly-fashionable churches with even dippier practices (anyone for a 'falling down' ministry?) requires steely control.

Fear is a great motivator, even better than greed. Fear falling from the true path. Fear of the demons which you are told lurk inside you. Fear those who would attack your family and your security. Fear of those in society who see progress as a positive and inevitable thing.

So fear the unseen. Fear the homosexuals, particularly the invisible ones trying to take over the country and the world. Tamaki's manifesto DVD distributed in the lead-up to the 2005 general election is awash with anti-gay imagery and cant.

Lineham goes light on the anti-gay thing in this book but there is heaps of background on Tamaki, Destiny, its predatory and remarkably cannibalistic sister-churches and the remarkable proportion of their flock who go church-hopping, hungering for a gratification they never seem to quite find. And then there's phenomenal number of dodgy people with appalling morals and criminal leanings who rise to positions of power in these piously religious circles. Graham Capill was only the tip of the iceberg. Disturbing.

Because it's entirely possible that, for instance, God doesn't actually speak to Tamaki (an increasing number of New Zealanders don't believe a God actually exists) and Tamaki's just articulating what he wants to believe or, more cynically, what he knows will keep him in place at the top of the Destiny pyramid... which is, undeniably, a very nice little earner indeed for a boy from the King Country back-blocks who was going nowhere until he miraculously, and maybe conveniently, heard God.

It's entirely possible that Tamaki fans the flames of homophobia to keep his flock in line and giving, giving, giving. It's entirely possible that he cynically seeks to destroy, or at least blight, the lives of glbti people and those close to them in order to keep the tithes and 'first fruits' and assets of those who worship him rolling in. Hatred is the ammunition, gays are the victims and personal greed is the motivator. It's an interpretation Lineham's book does not dispel.

It would be at least a little understandable (but not at all forgivable) if Tamaki's vehement and frequently hypocritical anti-gay pronouncements come from a core of truly-held belief. But nowhere in Destiny: The life and times of a self-made Apostle, does Lineham consider the alternative. As a committed Christian himself he takes it for granted that when Tamaki (and his ilk) feel the call of God, it is genuine and real.

Is Tamaki's homophobia, or even his entire religious persona, the product of God, or of Tamaki himself? And if it's all his own work where is the line between faith and artifice?

Destiny: The life and times of a self-made Apostle is well worth reading. It's easy to read, well-structured and nicely pitched between being 'scholarly' and 'popular.' It's rich with detail about Destiny and its leaders, about the evangelical and apostolic movements, it explains much of what goes on behind the sleazy hairdos, cheesy suits and over-manipulated imagery and dogma, the thuggish henchmen, the bling and the fragile people attracted to them.

But Lineham doesn't shed enough light on where Tamaki's pronouncements against the evil sins of homosexuality come from. It's my only quibble, but for glbti readers I believe it's an important one.

I suspect there's a companion book needed here, someone with a more objective eye when it comes to testing the motivation and core values of one of the most charismatic and successful new age Christian church leaders in New Zealand.

- Jay Bennie

Jay Bennie - 5th September 2013

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