Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cult or Cultural Differences? My two cents on Brian Tamaki's article today

To be fair to Brian Tamaki and Destiny Church, I think this must be considered:
I do not feel able to state my stance on Destiny or Brian Tamaki based on my personal lack of knowledge of his actualy ministry being a cult or church.
At the same time, I do believe that the NZ herald article attacked him somewhat unfairly today.

Two initial suggestions from an outsider looking in:
1. Don’t take the NZ herald as always completely objective. I have received a lot of flack for bias news reporting in the US, but it surprised me on the flipside how easily accepting some of my friends were of the NZherald's article and criticism against the church as being objective and not possibly slanted.
2. Don’t underestimate the multicultural setting in NZ. Even though the different cultures have to mix at school and work and in NZ life, people still often underestimate the strong personal differences in beliefs and lifestyle that are determined by their cultural background.
European descent= more industial culture
Maori/Polynesian=more tribal culture
Click to Enlarge

Although this chart does not clear up all of Tamaki’s teachings or sayings, I believe it says a lot. (it may look tedious but its worth the read!) If you realize the writer and probably you as a reader come from an industrial background and that Destiny church seems to be mainly a tribal culture with elements of the peasant culture your opinion might change a little. If you reread the NZ herald article after reading this cultural differences chart, a lot of the issues in question at least partially involve cultural differences and the actions don’t seem so much cultish but rather a different culture that we may not completely understand. It looks to me like the NZherald reporter is criticizing a more tribal culture model based on his industrial point of view.

In light of Destiny Church being predominantly Māori and Polynesian and Māori at heart it is probably coming from a more tribal culture. Do you know what a large church based more on a tribal model would even look like? Whelp, Destiny church just might be it.

Let me pose a few questions:
1. How easy would it be for an nzherald reporter from an industrial mindset to express his cultural point of view against a tribal culture church to a country that has around 78% European descent coming from a predominantly industrial culture?
2. Could it be that there are NZ churches who have formed their beliefs about church and their interpretations of the Bible based from their industrial cultural point of view and projected it universally unfairly to churches around the world or even a tribal church model on their backdoorstep?

No culture is perfect and it is obvious cultures have theological issues, but the rule of thumb in in cultural studies seems to be that no one culture is good, evil, inferior, or superior in and of itself. Its a given that you can’t completely separate yourself from your culture so this doesn’t undermine having an opinion coming from your own cultural point of view, but I do think it brings into question the legitimacy of one judging another culture's way of doing church from your different cultural point of view of God. It would be very easy to work on the assumption that your way is right and that other cultures can't be different and as equally right.

Please once again note that I am not as much invested for or against Tamaki in this conversation as much as the possibly slanted media coverage that is being treated as objective.


BJ said...

Its a good question. Peter Lineham, a church historian, said this a few years back:

"Destiny has huge potential because it is unique in its appeal to Maori and Pacific Islanders. It is “black power”, shaped in the American black pentecostal mould. ... Some of the black-shirted marchers looked like former gang members, and probably were, for the church is a new gang.

...This breed of religion makes sense in Maori terms. Sectarian Maori religion has almost always encompassed a political dimension. From the days of Te Ua Haumene, Te Kooti, Te Whiti and Rua, Maori have expected that the God of the Old Testament would move in vengeance against the apostate Europeans who represent Egypt, the false people. And Tamaki is very Old Testament."

However, I would say this in terms of process: culture does not critique the gospel, its the other way round. Gospel always critques culture. And in this case the covenant seems out of step with the gospel:

"5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness."

B said...

I guess my push back would be that their might still be a tint of tall poppy syndrome in that response, Brett. I completely agree that a leader must be a servant, but even though Jesus didn't want to be called teacher at one time and said the greatest must be servants, he still called his disciples to follow him and did not only ever back down from leading them, but also called them to a high and costly level of discipleship.

I believe a tribal point of view could run under the view that a "tribal chief" would be put in a position of leadership for the good of the tribe and the tribe would not only be okay with that but desire that. Not in the place of God, but as a central figure. His most scary statements are the ones that he infers He is God... if this can be affirmed as his teaching from a source that i believe would have an honest first hand account of this i would have major issues. but there are central figures that God has lead throughout the Bible and uses at different times to lead the church (Moses-Israel, David-anointed king, Peter-Rock of the church)

It seems inferred that all central figures=danger and bad motives. For sure there is a huge danger and i believe that is why God warns the rich on some level, but i believe God does place and use people in powerful positions at times.
I don't feel like people are quick to conceeded that point because they see all of the damage of power hungry leaders who have abused that privilege. It is a warning flag, but i don't believe it should determine the belief.

So i would still say that there you still mays be using your cultural view assumption in quoting only Phil 2:5 and that in fact most of us would agree because we come from a culture that values informality rather than respecting leaders.

I had a professor who in uni presented two extremes people had taken to share the message of the cross. One was the glory and power of God through big cathedrals and the other was the humility such as a monastery. He proposed that both had their place for bringing good and bad in representing a part of the BIble.

The tendency and pendulum here is moving away from the formality of the cathedrals and high mass originally put here, but i propose that it may be a pendulum shift that may come back around or have another side rather than a set way of viewing the truth without actually having given the other cultures approach a fair chance.

Tamaki is definitely borderline, but is he more borderline because we haven't really taken into account that different cultures can express the gospel differently?

BJ said...

No. I look to Jesus as my model of leadership. Jesus as discipler is consistent with Philippians 2 (its a blog comment not a sermon, so you shouldn't read too much into one passage!) But I am not Jesus. A critical point. That's not tall poppy - that's appropriate humility.

One of Tamaki's problems is that he is doing exactly as you suggest - looking to OT models of kingship as appropriate structural models for leadership in the Christian church. So there is still much to learn from Moses and David but not through a misplaced application of OT kingship models.

I'm not discounting what you suggest regarding cultural expectations of leadership and I am not anti leadership nor anti authority in the sense that God ordains authority. Culture may well help us to understand how best to shepherd and I think thats where Lineham is coming from. But I say again: you need to start with the gospel and let it critique culture. Culture does not trump the gospel whether its mine or Tamaki's.

To be really precise this is the bit that I think is demonstrably out of step with the gospel:

"...proof of a man's covenant with God is how they submit to God's chosen man ... We are blessed through our spiritual father..."