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Cultic? Controversial NZ Bishop Plans to Build 'City of God,' Complete With 3 Schools & a University

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"He wants to be mayor or king of this 'city.'"

Image Credit: (3news.co.nz)

Destiny Church, a fundamentalist, Pentecostal movement based in New Zealand, may not be well-known to many Americans. But the Christian sect is making international headlines after Bishop Brian Tamaki, its founder and current leader, gave an address at the church's annual conference last Friday evening.

According to Fairfax NZ News, Tamaki encouraged followers to leave their lives behind and to join him at a "City of God" that he's constructing in South Auckland, an area of New Zealand. In asking believers to join him, he purportedly encouraged them to leave behind their families, homes, jobs -- everything important in their lives. Fairfax NZ News has more:

At the church's annual conference in Rotorua on Friday night, Tamaki spent his entire two-hour sermon talking about how God had told him to build the city and why his followers had to lose their "parochialism" towards their home areas, even if it meant leaving behind loved ones.

Cult expert Mark Vrankovich said the speech was designed to "soften up" Tamaki's followers and the real pressure to move to South Auckland would come with one-on-one sessions with local pastors.

"Saying that the church family is more important than your physical family, that you must go with the spiritual family, is a classic cult idea. This will put great pressure on families and break up families."

Vrankovich was also concerned that Tamaki appeared to be encouraging people to sell their homes. "They'll be pressured to give the money from the house sale to the church, and they'll never see it again. He's extracting money from people for his dream, and something that he will effectively own. He wants to be mayor or king of this 'city' so he's softening them up to get them to move [to Auckland] so he's guaranteed not to be losing money on the deal."

But others, particularly those with ties to the church, disagree with this stance and claim that the movement isn't cultic at all. When it comes to the allegation that the bishop asked his flock to essentially give up their lives, one long-time church member -- Janet Wepa -- said that Tamaki's words are being minced. She also fiercely defended her faith.

"I get a bit cross when we get called a cult," she said. "There is no coercion, no one makes you stay and lots of people come and they go. They have choice."

Tamaki, too, took to his Twitter account to claim that media accounts of what he preached last week simply aren't true:

At a New Year's Eve service this year, Tamaki announced that the church had gained permission to build what he calls a "new Jerusalem," an area complete with schools, a university, an auditorium and more. The church is apparently so serious about its plans that it has put its current property up for sale in an effort to raise the funds needed to secure this new locality.

The Daily Post has more details about the plans for "City of God":

Destiny plans to buy up a large block of land to expand the "City of God" beyond the new site in south Auckland. On Saturday night Tamaki unveiled plans for a three-storey, modern complex sprawling over 4ha. The site will include a massive ground floor church auditorium, recording studios, and a performing arts and science centre.

A model showed the complex would house a boxing gym, bookshop, atrium, cafe, early childhood centre, three schools and a university as well as a library. The church would fund the development itself.

Tamaki said the church needed "people power, economic power and generational power".

While building a university or other Christian facility isn't uncommon, many, like Vrankovich, see these plans as a grander-scale attempt to build something more structured and -- potentially cultic in nature. Tamaki, though, believes he's on a God-ordained mission, as he says that the Lord spoke to him and instructed him to build this new city through the Book of Hebrews.

ReligionNewsBlog.org has more about its perspective on Tamaki and his movement.

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