Destiny New Zealand is more silly than sinister. The huffing and strutting, the black uniforms and the vaguely threatening tone of its demonstration outside parliament will win only a tiny number of supporters. Its simple-minded religiosity will embarrass most Christians. And its narrowness and bigotry are out of tune with the mainstream, which on sexual matters is notably tolerant.
If Jenny Shipley can attend the Hero parade, and Don Brash can admit having committed adultery without any visible damage to his standing as Tory leader, the political prospects of fundamentalism are forlorn. It may even be that the appearance of Destiny has its positive side. Brian Tamaki’s followers have something in common with the Promise Keepers of America: they are black, stridently male, and narrow in their beliefs. But the Promise Keepers also represent an attempt to combat some of the ills of the American ethnic underclass; and Destiny, in its odd way, offers help for the Maori poor.
Its masculinist tone, glorifying the man as the head of the nuclear family, will repel many middle-class liberals. But the message about male responsibility is not all bad. If it adds to the social pressure against Maori men who beat their partners and their children, that can only be good.
Destiny has the strengths and the drawbacks of all social movements preaching salvation via the bootstrap (and the Lord). Its exclusivity offers a bizarre kind of comfort to those at the bottom of the heap: I may be poor, but at least I’m not gay. Its promise of prosperity appeals to impoverished social conservatives who think of themselves as sturdy individualists.
It offers solidarity and a feeling of family to the atomised and the alienated – even if the black-shirted emblems of this solidarity repel the more fortunate. Destiny, in other words, offers its own form of help to people who certainly need help.
Brian Tamaki, having led his flock into the political arena, must now expect to face the swords and arrows of the critics. Since he bills himself as a moral leader, he must expect to account for his own behaviour.
Destiny preaches sex within marriage and abstinence outside it, but it also admits that Tamaki fathered a child out of wedlock. Destiny says that that was then and this is now; the young Tamaki sinned, but the older man knows better. Voters will decide whether this is a convincing answer to the charge of hypocrisy. They will also make up their own minds about Destiny’s apparent tardiness in repaying a loan to an elderly Rotorua couple.
Americans are used to the politics of wealthy television evangelists; New Zealanders are not, and most will find the spectacle of a pastor growing rich off his flock rather distasteful.
Guru politics do not sit well with the usual New Zealand habit of treating political leaders with suspicion rather than adulation. In a democracy, that is a far better way.
Our economic and social problems are complex and difficult, and there are no easy solutions to them, whatever Destiny might think. Those who offer nostrums are offering no solution at all, and most voters know it.
Destiny wants to bring religion into politics and to turn political issues into black-and-white questions of morality. In both areas, it stands at a tangent to the secular political mainstream. The danger is that by latching on to lost causes, Destiny will sink itself.
Social Credit remained a sect for as long as it stuck to its central shibboleth of easy money. It grew when it embraced other causes and reached out beyond the believers. Destiny cannot do that without alienating its core. But as long as it remains socially intolerant and narrow, its appeal will be tightly restricted.
Destiny can marshal the faithful into an impressively large demonstration, and it puts on a striking if slightly creepy piece of street theatre – but, in the end, it is a narrow sect doomed to political irrelevance.
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