Friday, March 31, 2006

Richard Lewis: In defence of Destiny Church

Over recent years Destiny churches have become accustomed to adverse comment from various social, religious, political and media personalities. Claire Harvey's column "Pastors footed the bill but parishioners still paid" was no exception.

Harvey's article describing Destiny members as "impoverished Maori and Pacific Islanders ... the vulnerable and needy" is an unqualified assumption with no factual basis.

Destiny churches number many accomplished business people and career professionals who are highly successful in their own right. Many arrived at the church as such while others have aspired to greater levels of success during their tenure as members.

One example is a business within the church that recently won the Emerging Exporter of the Year Award, a fair achievement considering the challenges facing businesses in the export sector.

Harvey says: "Their [Bishop Brian Tamaki's and his wife Hannah's] wages ... are paid by compulsory donations of some of New Zealand's poorest people". Wrong again. There has never been a compulsory form of giving at Destiny Church. The tithe principle is purely voluntary and practised by many churches.

Unlike taxes, people apply the Biblical principle of tithing because they want to, not because they have to. And like many churches, Destiny's doors are open to everyone and anyone, including those labelled by Harvey as impoverished, vulnerable and needy.

However, these are not limited to Maori and Pacific people. We have a comprehensive social works programme fully resourced by the church and driven by thousands of hours of voluntary service to meet needs and provide a pathway to independence on every level.

Destiny also has a policy of zero unemployment that positively encourages members to fully participate in the workforce for their own well-being and that of their families and our communities.

Destiny members are not "New Zealand's poorest people", and if they come that way, unlike under the current welfare system, they rarely stay that way.

But the greatest affront comes in the form of Harvey's following statement: "Destiny requires parishioners to give the church their money as the price of salvation".

This statement is highly offensive because it implies that Destiny Church is a fraud.

I wonder if this would be the case if Destiny was a predominantly white church. It appears that some are still hung-up about the colour of our T-shirts despite the quality of our pro-family message.

I realise there are those who would prefer our Bishop to travel by pushbike, wait on tables and settle for the role of your traditional religious doormat. That's the picture of religion that has caused a generation to reject the foundation faith of our nation.

How long before a story is written based on the merits of a life changed for the better?

Like our member counselling inmates at a prison he formerly escaped from, the restored family that had disintegrated in pursuit of career success, the family of three generations rescued from a prominent South Auckland gang, or the unsolicited confessions to police from men who want to do things right.

Moreover, to understand that these people can celebrate their faith alongside peers with unblemished track records and without regard to ethnicity or perceived social status, this is the Destiny that I know.

Sure, our church is not for everyone, neither do we expect to be. But the simple reality is that the success of this movement, like any other, is relative to the quality and success of our leadership.

Based on four years of observation I find it interesting that successful people are generally very respectful of our Bishop. Then there are people like Claire Harvey.

* Richard Lewis is manager of Destiny Churches New Zealand.

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