Sunday 24 July 2016

The demonic and the depressive (1 of 2)

City Impact's Mortlock
The New Zealand Herald has unmasked the worst demon-spawned sects that create havoc across the country's Christian landscape.

Of course, that's not the kind of language the august Herald chooses to use, nor that of the expert commentator they quote, but that's how I see it.

I'm using the term "demonic" and "demon-spawned" in a metaphorical sense. There are no fallen angelic entities that correspond to the literal definition many people still quaver in fear of. Demonic is still a useful descriptor, however, for high demand religious movements which mercilessly exploit gullibility through manipulation - and line the pockets of their leaders in the process.

Only one of these cults (and yes, I'm aware that in the academic realm where religious studies are pursued "cult" is a word avoided at all costs) is not a "prosperity gospel" franchise; the faux-Amish Gloriavale community. Gloriavale is however perhaps the most controlling of these entities, especially if you're a woman or someone with any kind of thirst for independent thinking.

Not surprising to find "Bishop" Brian Tamaki's Destiny Church on the list, nor City Impact Church led by Peter Mortlock. The others include C3, Victory, Life NZ, Equippers and Arise.

"Combined, the religious charities have amassed assets worth more than $214m."

That won't sound like much by American standards, but New Zealand is a small, overwhelmingly secular nation with a population of under 5 million. 

What's the appeal of groups with rubbish theologies and narcissistic leadership models? Peter Lineham of Massey University, whose background is Open Brethren, notes:

"All of these churches hold to what we call the ­prosperity ­doctrine - which argues that the sign of God's love for you will be that you become rich and that you will earn God's love by the generosity of your gifts to the church."

Frankly, you'd have to wonder how stupid someone would have to be to embrace this kind of abuse. Yet many do, and with great enthusiasm. At that point abuse also becomes self-abuse.

But where are the prophetic voices in the more mature Christian community? The voices calling out the prosperity gospel and exposing it for what it is? Where are the prominent Baptists, Presbyterians and others who are willing to decry these caricatures of churches? For God's sake, surely this calls for - at the very least - a measure of indignation.

The silence is deafening. The truth is probably that the virus has infected their denominations too, and that any attempt to effectively address the issues would have catastrophic consequences in low-energy denominations which try and project a smiling, non-threatening, irenic face to the world.

And so the "demons" go unopposed.

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