On a whim and rush of adrenalin (or the last vestiges of gin coursing through our veins from the night before), myself and a friend decided to check out the grand opening celebrations of Destiny Church's new "City of God" in Auckland.
For my overseas friends - Destiny is a large pentecostal church in New Zealand that has had its fair share of flack for many years. Over the last year or so their numbers have been dropping and then last December, the leader's right hand man did a runner and opened his own church just down the road.
So anyway, the pastor, Brian Tamaki, made himself a bishop a couple of years back (for real) and of course refers to himself as an apostle. Most of the elders are family and he runs a VERY tight ship.
I've only ever read the odd article about them and seen the news reports, and must confess I haven't even read the book that was written about him last year by Peter Lineham, who I know, very slack of me, sorry Peter!
To be fair, they actually do a lot of good work in the community and have great programs for helping the poor and needy, and their motivation certainly seems pure.
So we found comfy seats, which, by the way, were "movie theater" seats - plush thick purple padded things with armrest, just no drink/popcorn holder - and settled in for the show for around 1000 people. And what a show it was!!
Every cliche in the book, the loud pumped up rock/R&B worship music, the pep talks and emotional dynamics (which I know soooo well cos I used to lead worship myself). The stage is a wonder to behold with the country's largest LED screen in place extending 24meters across the back of the stage, floor to ceiling, and very impressive light shows to complete the polished performance.
Then there were the offerings - yep, 3 all up. Tithes AND gifts (which they passed around the seats for, and a special seed faith offering which everyone had to take to the front of the church and put in a couple of big baskets, which were then lifted up in the air and prayed over.
There was a performance (a Maori Kapa Haka) put on by the Destiny school kids (yes, they have their own school) that told us how amazing the school is and how it was only so good because of Brian.
We had Stan Walker singing beautifully, and finally the Bishop (no one calls him pastor, let alone Brian), gave us the sermon. Apparently God specifically told him to not preach what he had planned but instead to give a very blunt message on "Wolves in the fold" which he informed he was "winging it" at the last minute - despite the fact that the big LED screen operator seemed to amazingly anticipate his subject headings and scripture references while he was preaching.
So anyway, the whole point of the sermon seemed to be damage control after the recent split, with very strong and unambiguous references to wolves coming among the sheep to destroy them. There was plenty of out of context and misquoted scripture, lots of mocking and patronising, large servings of emotional manipulation and fear mongering, and most importantly, unquestioning and unswerving allegiance to himself and the elders.
This was preached in no uncertain terms and he said that only he had the most powerful anointing to discern these wolves, and the elders had the next most powerful. Everyone else were just silly happy sheep who couldn't be trusted to discern these things for themselves and had to completely trust the leaders, who would decide who are wolves and who are sheep. No one could be trusted and he even encouraged wives to not trust their husbands and to be prepared to ignore him if he started getting slack about going to church and his allegiance to the Bishop.
This was all the most wonderful display of a narcissist in full flight. Incredible control and manipulation through fear and mistrust, using the indigenous cultural values of the Maori and pacific islanders to threaten the breakdown of their families if they didn't follow his advice.
It was the kind of thing you don't really believe unless you actually hear it. My only hope is that it will not survive the recent split and the people will come to their senses and see the depth of this guys deception. I think that at the heart of even his best social work initiatives is the need to feed his narcissism, to be held and worshiped in his position of complete power, to have the adulation of those he can coerce to give him the love that will never satisfy.
We can only hope that the fallout, when it eventually comes, will be small and those who end up hurt won't fall for the same thing again.
There is also a special ring that men can buy for $600 when they become one of Brian's spiritual sons. They sign a covenant pledging loyalty to him.