Monday, March 13, 2006

Claire Harvey: Pastors footed the bill but the parishioners still paid

Not many of the passengers on the Queen Mary II, the Cunard Line's most luxurious cruise ship, are impoverished Maori and Pacific Islanders - the kind of people who dominate the congregations of Destiny Church.

So in March last year, as the Queen Mary weighed anchor and prepared to fire up its "unprecedented cache of luxuries and innovations" to set sail for the Caribbean from New York, barely anyone recognised Brian Tamaki and his wife Hannah.

The Destiny leaders (or, to give them their correct titles, Bishop Tamaki and Pastor Tamaki respectively), were on a $40,000 holiday, visiting San Juan, St Kitts and St Maarten, sleeping in a two-storey suite worth up to $30,000 for the nine-day cruise, having flown to New York at a cost of several thousand dollars each.

But one or two New Zealanders were aboard. They knew who the Tamakis were, and they were not impressed - for there is something strange about seeing two self-proclaimed missionaries of Jesus Christ on a ship which boasts the only planetarium afloat, 14 decks of sports facilities including a basketball court and virtual golf, 10 restaurants, five pools, shops, bars, and lounges.

The trip was a gift to the Tamakis, to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, from the pastors of Destiny Church, who collectively are 22 of the Tamakis' greatest fans.

This trip, according to Destiny spokesman Richard Lewis, was "completely above board, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing secret. We see it as entirely appropriate. The Destiny network is fully aware that they went on the trip."

This trip was definitely not funded by the 10 per cent which parishioners were required to tithe to Destiny, he added.

"The pastors pooled their resources, and I'm talking about their own personal resources, to gift, and it was a surprise gift to the Tamakis as a thank you for all their years of service to the church. It was an arrangement made collectively, and collectively it's not too much of a challenge financially. The pastors receive wages as full-time senior ministers of their churches, and some have other sources of income; some of their wives have secular jobs too."

Brian and Hannah Tamaki like being rich, and doing the things that rich people do.

There is nothing wrong with money. But Brian and Hannah Tamaki are, together, heads of a church which preaches (along with the notions that homosexuality is sinful, multiculturalism is divisive and religious diversity is dangerous) the virtues of responsible spending.

Their wages, and the wages of the pastors who gave them this anniversary present, are paid by the compulsory donations of some of New Zealand's poorest people; people who could do with the money, and who might be able to spend it on something that doesn't involve snorkelling, seasickness, sun-lounges or organised fun on the activities deck.

The pastors could have given this money to charity, in the Tamakis' name. The Tamakis could have said, "Thanks very much, but we don't need this gift; the money's better spent on something else."

That's what makes this holiday rankle.

Brian Tamaki is only wealthy because he presents himself as a saviour to people who are vulnerable and needy.

Interviewing Destiny followers after the Enough is Enough rally, when they marched upon Parliament to decry homosexuality, gay marriage, transsexualism, secularity, tax, Helen Clark and other assorted works of Satan, I discovered it was clear that many believed Destiny had saved them from drug addiction, violence or alcoholism. It was also clear that they saw "Bishop" Tamaki (surely he must be ready for promotion to Archbishop by now) as a personal saviour.

Many of Tamaki's followers were so grateful that they voluntarily gave him far greater proportions of their income than 10 per cent - one man said he gave every cent he could spare, because he believed the money was going to help save other people, as he himself had been saved.

Destiny requires parishioners to give the church their money as the price of salvation. That's why it is so disappointing to see the church's leaders indulging in such ostentatious consumption; this money has come from the pockets of people who gave it, literally, in good faith.

The Destiny Church makes a virtue of aspiration - in fact Lewis says, "It is completely in line with Christian teaching and philosophy, that wealth is an outcome of living according to the path that God puts in the Bible."

Part of that path is learning the wisest way to spend and save money, Lewis says.

"We've got a social service network, a pastoral support team, we have a food bank, but we don't offer a handout service. We require that the members commit themselves to proper budgeting, getting debt under control, managing their money. We do our best to help people along, but in the end it is up to them."

That's a valuable message; one Brian and Hannah Tamaki would have had time to contemplate as they relaxed by one of the five pools.


Blogger duckenvy said...

Brian Tamaki awnsers his critics at

10:39 AM  

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