The controversial Destiny Church is under fire for using children in a campaign against gay marriage and other reforms it claims are ruining society.
Destiny, a nationwide conservative evangelical church that also has political ambitions, was behind the “enough is enough” rally in Auckland last Saturday that attracted 1000 angry marchers, many of them children.
Another, larger demonstration is planned outside parliament on August 23 to protest against legislation such as the Civil Union Bill and prostitution law reform.
Critics say it is exploitative to use children for political purposes, but church leaders say they are marching with their parents and it is part of the church’s message of protecting the “next generation”.
Right-wing think tank the Maxim Institute has also been criticised for involving children in the civil union debate. It distributed a template of a submission on the bill that students could send in, which included the following: “We feel it is important for the government to say it is best for children when parents are married . . . we would hate even more the idea of having a second mum in the house, pushing dad out of the way. Some of us are also very confused. We thought it was good to get married. But now the government seems to be saying that marriage doesn’t matter.”
Maxim’s communications manager, Scott McMurray, said the template was sent out in response to repeated requests from young people for advice on how to make submissions on the bill.
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Last weekend’s rally was led by Destiny leader Brian Tamaki on a Harley Davidson and involved leaders of Destiny New Zealand, the political party that will contest the next election.
One 12-year-old who took part, when asked why she was marching, said: “Umm, we’re standing up against the bad people, aren’t we?”
Dr Margaret Mayman, a Wellington Presbyterian minister and spokeswoman for Christians for Civil Unions, said it was exploitative to take children to the event. Mayman will join a human rights rally organised to counter the Destiny demonstration next week. Her group, including gay people with children, will not be involving their kids.
“We are concerned children are going to be brought to parliament and used to make a point about something that they don’t really understand,” she said.
“Whether (Destiny) likes it or not, a significant portion of those children will grow up to be gay or lesbian. It really is a very dangerous and damaging message that they’re sending. I just hope the children become aware the people on the other side (of the debate) are human beings with families who share a lot of the values they (Destiny) purport to represent.”
Dr Leonie Pihama, director of the International Research Institute for Maori and Indigenous Education, said she had no problem with children being involved in such rallies, as there was a long history of people taking their children to protests. “The issue for me is the underpinning philosophy they carry . . . that is far more damaging. The preaching of homophobia, the preaching of conservatism.
“It’s harmful because if you return to that kind of conservatism you return to an idea that a colonial, Victorian nuclear family is the only way that family can be and it’s not a reality.”
The president of Destiny New Zealand, Richie Lewis, said there was nothing wrong with involving children in the rallies.
” ‘Enough is enough’ is about the next generation and the well-being of children so it’s entirely relevant. It’s a family message . . . the last thing any parent in their right mind would want is their child walking down the pathway of prostitution.” Asked what would happen if one of the young marchers struggled with their sexuality later in life, Lewis said: “I can’t see those children struggling with those issues because their parents are together in their marriage and their commitment to each other, and are leading by example.”
Anne Williamson, a spokeswoman for “enough is enough” and manager of the Destiny Church primary school, which has 22 pupils, said it was up to parents to decide if they wanted to take their children along. “These issues are about the next generation and if their parents feel that strongly that they wanted their children there, then great.”