By Michael Duncan
Yet again, Destiny Church has been splashed across the front page of the NZ Herald. Several years ago it was over their march to Parliament with their “enough is enough” call. This time, it was Garth George, a columnist of the Herald, who broke the news that 700 men in the Destiny Church had pledged themselves to Bishop Brian Tamaki. What then to make of Destiny, Tamaki and the media splashes?
When Destiny marched on Parliament several years ago in their black attire with clenched fists and yelling in unison “enough is enough,” some in the media likened them to Nazi storm- troopers. Academics like the much-respected Peter Lineham more than hinted that in Destiny we have an emerging cult.
This time round, George has also used ‘cult’ like language to describe what is happening and Lineham made mention of money, which I feel borders on implying that Destiny is descending into a cult controlled by a leader who is simply intent on getting rich at the expense of his members.
I think both George and Lineham are right to signal their concerns and warnings. I too am worried by some of the developments. However, I am disappointed with the way both George and Lineham have engaged the issue. In a sense they have come out with pointed and wagging finger, the very thing they feel Destiny wrongly does.
And secondly, both George and Lineham have entered the debate about Destiny in a most unthinking manner, which is surprising given that the former is a journalist and the latter an academic.
Where Lineham is helpful is in his describing the Destiny Church as a working class church. Therefore, it is my contention that to understand this church we must also try to understand the working class culture. I feel middle class journalists, middle class church leaders and middle class academics have, in their comments and criticisms of Destiny and Tamaki, demonstrated they have not done this interpretative work.
David Kibble, a teacher in the UK, has researched and written about the working classes and Christianity. He makes the point that how the working class do church will differ from how the middle class will do church. For example, a lower class church is essentially a verbal culture rather than the paper culture of the middle class.
Therefore, it’s more about saying what you mean than getting your position down in a sophisticated document.
Secondly, working class culture is marked by collectivism whereas excessive individualism seems to best describe middle class culture. And so what working class folk prefer is the coming together on a very regular basis to band together and act in unison.
Thirdly, in terms of power dynamics, working class people are more pyramidal or hierarchically orientated. More often than not, they are employees who week by week report to employers. The middle class is more circular and therefore pushes for a more democratic and participatory way of making decisions.
Even in terms of anger, there are differences. To put it rather crudely, a working class culture prefers to “spew” out their rage, whereas the middle class are more intent on bottling up their rage.
A final differentiation has to do with the money issue. Working class people who make it and are successful tend to display the symbols of their wealth be it with black suits, gold rings or Harley-Davidson bikes. Middle class people are more prone to hide their symbols and only let their closest and dearest see what they really have.
If these markers are right, and as generalisations I think they do hold, then is Destiny simply being the working class church that it is? Is what is happening in Destiny, in part at least, a commentary on their socio-economic class, and not just on their becoming Nazi storm troopers or a cult?
And have the middle class journalists, church leaders and academics who so pride themselves on being cognisant of all the issues failed to do the needed cerebral work, and have simply let their middle class biases dictate the debate?
I suspect so. I write this not as a member of the Destiny church, nor as a fan of it. Like I say, I too have my very real concerns. But in the expression of these I first of all want to at least attempt to understand the context, culture and class of Destiny.Instead of reacting to what is happening, let us intelligently interact with what is happening. Hopefully this will engender a more compassionate and understanding response to what we hear and see.