In four years Destiny church will rule New Zealand, according to its charismatic founder pastor Brian Tamaki.
Tamaki is deadly serious about that date, even though the Destiny political party is rating 0.5% in the latest political poll.
But some former members of Destiny church have told TVNZ’s Sunday programme they have a different view of Tamaki.
They believe he has turned the church into a cult expert at extracting cash, more often than not from the people who can least afford to pay.
Destiny church made its presence known when it staged its ‘enough is enough’ march to protest the Civil Union Bill.
Around 5,000 people, most dressed in black, took to the streets to support Tamaki’s call to “uphold and protect marriage and the family”.
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They are people who take the bible literally; they believe God created the earth in six days, that abortion is a sin and homosexual sex an abomination.
“As far as I can tell it’s a cult,” says the reverend Doctor Phillip Culbertson, a lecturer in theology at Auckland University.
“It certainly fits the classic definitions of a cult.”
Culbertson points as evidence to the strong emphasis Destiny church puts on obligation, and the presence of a senior pastor “who tells people how to think….who understands himself as a particular agent or voice of God in some special chosen way”.
Tamaki says if Destiny church is a cult then 90% of the churches in New Zealand are cults.
“God does choose men,” says Tamaki. “He puts an authority on their lives whereby he uses them in a special way.”
Tamaki told his followers that New Zealand’s government will soon be upon the shoulders of Jesus Christ.
“It’s a government that shall govern this nation that is not like the governments of this world. It’s not a dictatorship, it’s not a democracy, it’s a theocracy.”
Cultwatch director Mark Vrankovich says Destiny church is what he would classify as an emerging mind control cult.
Cultwatch members come from a variety of Christian churches and they’re worried about Tamaki. Vrankovich says Destiny members talk about Tamaki a lot more than they do Jesus Christ.
There are no crosses inside the Destiny church, just pictures of the Tamaki family and other pastors.
Last year Tamaki told his followers: “I predict in the next five years, by the time we hit our 10th anniversary – and I don’t say this lightly – that we will be ruling the nation.”
On that same night Tamaki joined forces with Bishop Eddie L Long, senior pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, USA.
Tamaki said the self-appointed bishop was his spiritual father.
Long blessed Destiny’s vision that it will be ruling New Zealand before its 10th anniversary.
“He made a declaration that in five years you shall be ruling and reigning in this nation,” Long told the Destiny Church.
“That means you control the wealth, that means you control the riches, that means you control the politics, that means you control the social order, that means that you are in charge.”
Tamaki says his prediction is no slip of the tongue but a prophetic utterance.
Destiny’s vision is progressing. In just six years the church’s flock has grown to more than 7,000.
Destiny has planted or taken over churches throughout New Zealand and now has 20 outlets.
Each church has its own trust board, but Brian and Hannah Tamaki have an absolute veto over any decision those boards, which Tamaki describes as cumbersome, make.
Tamaki says his accountability is clear with God, his wife, his close leaders and with the Destiny International board.
“At the end of the day somebody has got to say this is the way, let’s go,” says Tamaki.
The church is reaching out through Destiny Television in New Zealand, the United States and on the internet.
Destiny’s headquarters is in a warehouse in South Auckland where more than 1,000 people turn up to church on Sunday mornings.
Members are expected to give at least 10% of their total income to the church, and those who don’t are considered to be defrauding God and could be cursed.
Former Destiny member Kerry Petera was tithing 10% of her Domestic Purposes Benefit, which meant $28 a week, until she realised her boys and baby were going without.
“You get to the end of the week and there’s not enough money to, you know, just top up on bread and milk and stuff like that,” says Petera.
Tamaki admits some people find tithing hard, but says he’s not taking from the poor.
He says most people come to the church financially broken and already in a mess and paying a tithe “is the first step in trying to get their financial work in order”.
Tamaki says those who give to the church will be blessed by God, but Petera says it was just too tough.
She believes they wouldn’t have allowed her to go to the church if she didn’t pay up.
“Every Sunday someone would give a message about tithing and the importance of giving the 10%.”
The millions tithed mostly goes into developing the church and paying for its pastors.
When asked by Sunday how much money he makes, Tamaki says enough to live and provide for his family.
He says he tithes 50% of his income but that “the bible doesn’t say you have to be poor”.
The Cultwatch people say they have spoken to at least 50 disillusioned former Destiny members, including Sabrina Whare, the daughter of a former Destiny pastor.
“They talk about family values but yet it’s so easy for them to turn around and hurt families and abandon them and brand them like they did,” says Sabrina.
Her family once belonged to the Tamaki’s church in Rotorua. They went to Brisbane when her father Tom was appointed pastor at Destiny’s new church there, but the Whares left after falling out with the Tamakis.
“(My father) was devastated because of the fact that he had given to this church for 10 years,” says Sabrina.
She believes Destiny’s wish is to take over New Zealand and for Tamaki to be sitting in Prime Minister Helen Clark’s seat.
But Tamaki says he doesn’t want to be a politician.
“I have a higher calling than a politician, I am a man of God.”