Brian Tamaki's new "covenant" with male church members crosses a dangerous new theological line and tilts towards a messiah complex
Language matters; always has, always will. That's especially true in things theological. So Destiny church leader Brian Tamaki's use of the words "spiritual father" is even more ominous than it appears at first glance.
The New Zealand Herald has reported today that 700 male members of Destiny church took a "covenant oath" at the church's annual conference at the weekend. The oath, the paper notes, was Tamaki's idea. Garth George has got his hands on the words sworn by the exclusively male oath-takers and they are disturbing. Tamaki, who calls himself a bishop on no authority but his own, is named as the "Spiritual Father" and those taking the oath are his "spiritual sons".
Under the promise made the men must never openly disagree with Tamaki, talk while Tamaki is talking or tolerate criticism of him. The paper continues:
The oath also requires Tamaki's "sons" to stand whenever the "spiritual father" and his wife Hannah enter a room, surprise the couple with gifts and, when dining with Tamaki, to begin eating only after he has started.
In Christian tradition, the metaphor of the parent-child relationship is typically used to describe the relationship between God and "his children". According to the trinitarian view, God is in three parts: father, son and holy spirit. In the gospels, Jesus (the son), usually uses the word "abba" to describe God, abba being an affectionate term for a father, something akin to the word 'daddy'.
The phrase "spiritual father" doesn't appear anywhere in most translations of the Bible, but the Contemporary English Version does use the phrase in a verse from Hebrews. Any guesses who the "spiritual father" is? Yep, God.
Catholic orthodoxy describes the pope as the "holy father", with the belief that the pope as God's representative on earth carries with him God's infallibility.
Tamaki's use of the word father suggests he's edging towards the same claim. This is a messiah complex in writing. The document explicitly states that Tamaki is human and makes mistakes, but the implications of the text push against that. They come as close to declaring his infallibility as possible without actually doing so.
The oath-takers are required to "NEVER intentionally expose his weakness" and "...consistently hold him in the same high regard no matter what you here".
Simply put, those are promises in utter contradiction of biblical teaching, which is pretty clear about the virtue of humility and servanthood and the importance of recognising and facing up to your own weaknesses. Heck, that's what repentance is all about. In John, Jesus is quoted is saying that "the truth will set you free" and He often has a crack at the "hypocrites" who put themselves up as religious leaders.
The use of the word "covenant" is equally loaded. In biblical tradition, a covenant is between God and God's people, not between two people. By initiating a covenant, Tamaki hinting at a level of divinity.
But perhaps the core lie of the oath is revealed in its obsession with the messenger, rather than the message. Bizarrely, the oath is not about church members' relationship with God, which is meant to be the prime concern of any minister, but about the members' relationship with Tamaki. It is about obedience to Tamaki, not to Christ. The lines are getting very blurred here.
Tamaki is creating for himself a bubble of superiority and that verges on infallibility, and that crosses a line from wacko to dangerous.