In the wake of Brian Tamaki’s claims about earthquakes being linked to homosexuality, Associate Professor Mike Grimshaw, takes a closer look at the origins and problem with Tamaki’s world view, prejudices and beliefs, and why, in Brian Tamaki’s world, every event is the result of divine action.
One of the great concerns when the Bible was translated from Latin into the common language of a particular people was that individuals would come to believe that that by reading the text they could interpret it for themselves. This has been a central tension for protestant Christianity in particular for over 500 years, as literacy spread throughout societies and individuals picked up their bibles and believed it gave them direct, unmediated access to God.
As the long history of biblical scholarship proves, the Bible is anything but a simple book. In fact it is not a singular text but rather a collection of texts composed by humans across varying times and places, never intending that their texts would be collated together into a single document we call the Bible. Furthermore, there is no singular, definitive text we can call “the Bible” – and there never has been.
Each Bible translation and version is an interpretation of the scholars who put that particular version and translation together. Also, the Bible used by Protestants is seven books shorter and organised differently to the Bible used by Catholics. Protestants divide what are 24 Old Testament (Hebrew) texts in the Catholic Bible into 39 texts and also do not include seven extra texts from the Septuagint (a Greek translation from a different Hebrew authoritative collection or canon).
We then have to acknowledge the different genres, or literary styles of writing contained in the what we now term the Bible; be able to acknowledge the centrality of the Jewish intellectual and theological practice of interpretation, argument and commentary; be aware of Hebrew and early Christian history including the process by which myriad texts and versions of texts were circulating and then chosen from to form canons of authoritative texts; the intellectual tradition of biblical criticism and scholarship and then the wider, disputatious traditions of intellectual theology. This is why the Christian Church and the Jewish people have both placed theological and textual scholarship as central to the practice of their faiths and traditions.
In short, there has always been the acknowledgement that religious texts – including most centrally what we came to call the Bible – were too complicated, problematic and difficult to be properly engaged and understood without the guidance of learned religious scholars and teachers.
Brian Tamaki represents a different tradition within the histories of Judaism and Christianity. In particular, he is the personification of what can be termed the protestant problem: the literate individual who, on reading their Bible, believes that they have a direct access to what they claim is divine truth.
In the fundamentalist world, there is only literal truth in the Bible, a literal truth that is in fact a mixture of selective texts and reading reinforcing existing fears and prejudices. The fear is two–fold; on the one hand it is a fear of the modern world, a world that challenges their identity, prejudices and beliefs. On the other hand they fear God, they fear that if they do not speak out against that which they fear then God will also punish them. Tamaki’s comments about the connection of earthquakes and sin is a continuation of his obsession with and fear of homosexuality. It is evidence of a crisis of masculinity and identity for him and his followers.
In Brian Tamaki’s world, every event is the result of divine action. How to explain the catastrophic events of an earthquake? It is simple: God must be very upset about something and so has decided to use creation to express his displeasure. What is God upset about? The answer is sin. What sin in particular? The sin that Tamaki is obsessed with, that of homosexuality. How can this be expressed? By selectively reading the Bible for passages that can be seen to speak of divine displeasure being expressed through earthquakes. As we can see, there is a particular simplistic, personal logic at work here.
We also have to understand that Tamaki sees himself as a prophet whom God has called – and rewarded. For this is religion as morally and socially conservative, religion claiming the right to offend, to discriminate and to experience godly-given material rewards. We must also be clear that Destiny is not a cult for it does not seek to shut out the world; rather it seeks to radically engage with the world on its own terms. Disconcertingly for New Zealand, it is a political church of charismatic leadership and Apostolic authority. It is also the church of the socially, economically and culturally marginalised. This is why it is a church that takes an interventionist, providential God very, very seriously.
It is very clear for all of us who disagree with him that Brian Tamaki is wrong in his science, his theology, his biblical knowledge and understanding, and his prejudices. But we have to understand two things. The first is that he does not care and the public outrage is just confirmation that God has called him as a prophet to correct an ungodly society. This is the easy thing for us to understand.
What is far more important for us to remember is that Tamaki’s homophobia and prejudices (if not his selectively literalist, wrong-headed science) and discrimination are in fact widespread in mainstream Christian churches and also in other religions – and, let us not forget, also amongst those who are unchurched. For it is too easy – if understandable – to just get outraged by Brian Tamaki; let’s not forget the homophobia, prejudice and discrimination that happens elsewhere, every day.
UC Sociology Associate Professor Mike Grimshaw has previously taught theology and specialises in issues of religion and contemporary and popular culture.