‘Bishop’ Brian Tamaki has raised the stakes with his Destiny Church followers, exhorting them to leave behind houses, jobs – even family members – to join him at a “City of God” he is building in South Auckland, New Zealand.
At the church’s annual conference in Rotorua on Friday night, Tamaki spent his entire two-hour sermon talking about how God had told him to build the city and why his followers had to lose their “parochialism” towards their home areas, even if it meant leaving behind loved ones.
Cult expert Mark Vrankovich said the speech was designed to “soften up” Tamaki’s followers and the real pressure to move to South Auckland would come with one-on-one sessions with local pastors.
“Saying that the church family is more important than your physical family, that you must go with the spiritual family, is a classic cult idea. This will put great pressure on families and break up families.”
Vrankovich was also concerned that Tamaki appeared to be encouraging people to sell their homes. “They’ll be pressured to give the money from the house sale to the church, and they’ll never see it again. He’s extracting money from people for his dream, and something that he will effectively own. He wants to be mayor or king of this ‘city’ so he’s softening them up to get them to move [to Auckland] so he’s guaranteed not to be losing money on the deal.”
Tamaki announced at a New Year’s Eve service that Destiny Church had permission to build schools, a university and a massive auditorium at a property in Wiri, which he calls the “new Jerusalem”.
The church has put its Mt Wellington headquarters up for sale to help fund the move, which is due to happen in December. It hopes to get more than $5 million from the sale.
It is unclear if people would live on site or nearby.
Mark Vrankovich is the founding director of the Auckland-based international organisation Cultwatch.
Sociologically the church has cult-like issues as well.
Tamaki, who calls himself the “tangible expression of God,” demands cult-like devotion. He has proclaimed himself the church’s “spiritual father” and designated the male members of the church as “spiritual sons”. In October, 2009 about 700 male members of the church swore a “covenant oath” of loyalty and obedience to Mr Tamaki and were given a “covenant ring” to wear on their right hands.
In October 2008 New Zealand’s TV 3 reported that Destiny Church plans to create a ‘holy city’ Tamaki’s followers never have to leave.
Many critics refer to Destiny Church as a cult.
Tamaki’s emphasis on money is of special concern. The preacher is a proponent of the so-called ‘prosperity theology,’ in which a Biblical concept it twisted beyond recognition and essentially turned into a scam.
Prosperity teachers claim tat God wants you to be rich (and/or healthy), but that He can not bless you unless you first demonstrate your faith by donating money (also known as a “seed-faith offering”). Naturally the money must be send to whichever televangelist or teacher tells you about this scheme.
Destiny Church said its members are going to have to donate a lot of money to build a new site in South Auckland.
The church, which is currently located in Mt Wellington, will take possession of a three hectare block of land in Wiri this September.
Leader Brian Tamaki said at a conference in Rotorua last night he wanted to take the church to “another level”, making it 10 times bigger than its existing site, to attract more members.
“This is no ordinary church, this is taking it to another place, another level.”
Tamaki said he did not put pressure on Destiny members to donate money, but said the expansion project would “need a lot of pennies” to build.
“I can’t make people give. I encourage people, but people want to give.
“We don’t encourage people to borrow or give beyond their means. That’s not part of our type of teaching or ministry.”
Mr Tamaki says it will be around six months before the development starts being built, but already he’s asking followers to sell up their homes and leave their jobs.
Mr Tamaki says God told him to build the multi-million dollar city.
“Because of the demand for our ministry that helps people, genuinely and permanently helps them, we give them hope,” says Mr Tamaki. “We give them a future.”
Auckland councillor Dick Quax says Mr Tamaki’s ambitious plans should be praised.
“He’s looking at educating people, helping people with social problems,” says Mr Quax. “No problems with that whatsoever.”
Locals agree it could help the proposed neighbourhood.
“I think it may help some of the places around here,” says resident Aaron Wihongi. I was just going to collect my young fellow and he’s bored. There’s nothing around here for him.”
But the new city also has its sceptics, who fear the church is targeting donations from those who can least afford it but will feel pressured, in the name of God.
Destiny Church plans to create a ‘holy city’ followers never have to leave
Destiny Churches must be treated as a cult of Christianity; Heresy taught by Brian Tamaki
Note the differences between the sociological vs. theological definitions of the term ‘cult.’
What is a cult of Christianity
More about Destiny Church