Friday 11 September 2020

Driving Out The Money-Changers Of Reactionary Christianity.

Den Of Thieves: They describe themselves, and the money-making rackets they dignify with the name of church, “Christian”, but these ravening wolves are no such thing. The essence of the Christian faith is the giving of love – not the taking of money. It is about opening oneself to the world and all its contradictions – not about imprisoning beaten-down individuals in narrow-minded sects. Most importantly, it is about allowing Love and Truth to set people free. 


THERE IS SO MUCH which passes unnoticed in our society. So much greed and exploitation: not only in factories, shops and offices, where we are accustomed to finding it; but also in the supposed sanctuaries of ordinary workers’ private lives. 

There are bosses who wring fat profits out of their employees’ poorly paid labour. But these are not the worst exploiters. That title belongs to those who prey upon the individual’s need for solace and affection in a heartless world.

The fat little pastors who strip their already poor congregations of what little spare cash is left to them and slip it to their own pockets. The petty tyrants who swathe their followers in ignorance and poison them with prejudice. The high-living preachers who rail against every manifestation of human happiness and pleasure. The ruthless commissars of a cruel and unforgiving dictator god.

They describe themselves, and the money-making rackets they dignify with the name of church, “Christian”, but these ravening wolves are no such thing. The essence of the Christian faith is the giving of love – not the taking of money. It is about opening oneself to the world and all its contradictions – not about imprisoning beaten-down individuals in narrow-minded sects. Most importantly, it is about allowing Love and Truth to set people free.

We learned today, from the Minister of Health, Chris Hipkins, that the congregation of the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Church numbers 332. From the NZ Herald’s veteran journalist, Simon Collins, we also learned that the collective contribution of these church members, many of them low-wage workers, for the year ended March 2019, was a “phenomenal” $1.8 million. Out of this sum, reported Collins, citing figures made available to him by former Massey University religious historian, Peter Lineham, an equally phenomenal $862,000 was distributed among the church’s two “key management personnel” and six “close family member employees of board members”.

Information of this kind and detail is new to most New Zealanders. To most Americans, however, there is nothing new or shocking about such a close relationship between religion and money-making. Indeed, in the United States, evangelical Christianity is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s “mega churches” – able to seat thousands of worshippers – are often located in economically devastated communities. The very same communities, in many instances, from which President Donald Trump’s most vociferous white, gun-toting, working-class followers are drawn.

Of course, it is not just among poor white Americans that these religious entrepreneurs rattle their collection plates. In the poverty-stricken African-American communities, also, the ruthless exploitation of desperation and despair is similarly rife. So called “store-front churches” are a common sight on the streets of the black ghettoes of America.

Like their white equivalents, the pastors of these African-American churches preach an ultra-orthodox version of Christianity – laying particular emphasis on the need to abjure the sinful ways of “secular-humanist” America. “Traditional family values”, by which they mean the unforgiving patriarchal values found in the books of the Old Testament, are promoted as a way of fencing-off oneself and one’s family from the very real dangers of crime, violence and addiction by which America’s decaying urban communities are beset.

Almost always absent from these money-making religious ventures is the radically progressive Christian theology exemplified by Dr Martin Luther King and manifested in the black civil rights movement he led during the 1950s and 60s. The life-affirming, justice-seeking, emancipatory New Testament messages of Jesus – most especially his rejection of material gain in favour of love-giving and truth-seeking – are essentially incompatible with the religious entrepreneurs’ business model.

It is not only in the secular world that the naked capitalist values of the neoliberal order have triumphed – putting to flight the “applied Christianity” of democratic socialism. In New Zealand’s churches, too, Mammon has triumphed over God. There are holdouts, still, of course: St Matthew’s in the City; brave officers of the Salvation Army; Pope Francis’s disciples in the Catholic Church. But, more and more congregations have turned inward: gnawing morosely at the dry bones of Leviticus; endlessly parsing the homophobic epistles of St Paul. Fundamentalist Christianity has gone into its closet to pray – and locked the door behind it.

It should not have taken the Covid-19 Pandemic to expose the tremendous danger posed to New Zealand society by this authoritarian, anti-science, anti-social and reclusive mutation of Christianity. The Left, especially, has been remiss in not assailing its gross exploitation of Maori and Pasifika believers.

No more objectionable legacy of colonialism exists than the alien repressiveness imposed upon the indigenous peoples of the Pacific by Western Imperialism’s missionary scouts. The social conservatism which missionary Christianity has entrenched, along with the political quietism and ruinously competitive piety it has encouraged, have stood, unrebuked by left-wing activists for far too long.

When Simon Collins asked a member of the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Trust (which runs the church) if he had anything to say in response to Health Minister Hipkins’ comment that members of his church “don’t accept, or haven’t previously accepted, the science involved here”, the trustee replied: “What would Trump say?” It is hard to imagine a more startling indication of just how deeply the deranged ideas of American far-right evangelism have penetrated the desperate communities of South, West and Central Auckland.

The Left has for too long accepted the argument that any Pakeha criticism of the reactionary versions of Christianity (and Islam) embedded in immigrant communities is ipso facto racist. For the members of the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Church who have tested positive for Covid-19, and for the broader Auckland community put at risk by the dangerous, American-sourced, misinformation spread by reactionary Christians, the Left’s self-imposed ideological reticence has been singularly unhelpful.

Progressive New Zealanders of every hue should not hesitate to become missionaries for Love, Truth and Freedom – the emancipatory cause to which both genuine Christianity, and genuine Democratic Socialism, have always been committed.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 11 September 2020.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

As someone who has for years followed the "nonreligious" blogs on the Patheos website such as the Friendly Atheist I'm well aware of the parasitic nature of – particularly fundamentalist – churches on the poor. One thing you didn't mention Chris's and they do all this while not paying a skerrick of tax, because they traditionally agreed not to get involved in politics. Now of course they are telling all their adherence to vote for Trump, because voting for Biden would be a sin, and people who do so are Satanists. This latter from a convicted felon who was actually imprisoned for defrauding his followers – a rare event indeed.
And we only have to look at the lifestyle of the self-proclaimed "bishop" Tamaki and his family to realise that it takes place in New Zealand. There are some PI people who have spoken out against this leech like behaviour, but it's difficult for them, because fundamentalism demands that people who criticise the church are punished. And given the close-knit nature of PI families this is doubly difficult. Not that I've actually looked mind you, but I haven't come across anyone criticising critics of parasitic PI churches as racist. A link would be nice.

petes new write said...

And charity status need to be proven. We have had another so-called church ripping off the country through a self-styled bishop who buys Harley Davidson motor-bikes and flash cars and property obtained through his parishioners.

Andrew Nichols said...

Progressive New Zealanders of every hue should not hesitate to become missionaries for Love, Truth and Freedom – the emancipatory cause to which both genuine Christianity, and genuine Democratic Socialism, have always been committed.

That's me. Christian Evangelical free range organic left progressive Green voter. We do exist!

oneblokesview said...

and yet they still have tax free status?

Like Tainui/Seventh Day Adventists who have a multi multi million dollar businesses.
Why do they get taxfree status.

Come on Socialists. All for one, one for all

Wayne Mapp said...

You are completely ignoring the solace and strength the families find in belonging to this church. It is the same with Destiny and many other fundamentalist churches in the Pasifica and Maori community. Sure, they are not your kind of church, the reason being they exist in their specific communities

Unfortunately, your item comes across as condescending (even if that is not your intent) just because they don't conform to your view of what christianity should look like.

For me, Gloriavale is much, much worse the way it cuts people off from the wider community.

As Duncan Garner says, the members of the Mt Roskill Church are good people, and I presume he means the leaders as well as the congregation.

I have seen in several cases how these churches have helped people through real strife. It may not be the same as traditional middle class pakeha New Zealand, but it works.

Mark Wahlberg said...

In years gone by I have been in the congregation of a Polynesian church where those in authority have pitted parishioners against each other to see who would donate the most money by way of the passing plate. People struggling financially would beggar themselves to earn praise from the pulpit.

I am also aware of community parish priests warning their flock against reading certain books written by credible authors who criticize the word of their God. The work of the devil they claim.

I live in a small rural service town which has, from my calculation, 9 churches of different denominations. Apart from the local dairy industry, One church, as an organisation, would be one of the largest employers in the district.

Individuals I once considered rational beings, go to church on Sunday to have the word of God bestowed on them by people I have long believed to be Dingbats.

I on the other hand, dance to the devils music and go my own way.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if "Amen!" is appropriate here, but it should be. From a Kiwi marooned in Oklahoma, I can tell you that the inward-looking self-serving screed that is foisted upon these congregations is unbelievable. They tell me that it is "their body and their choice" when it comes to a wearing a mask, yet see no irony in using that slogan. It is always easy to tell the pastors in town, by the car that they drive.....

Mike Grimshaw said...

The problem is Chris, all religions are true for those within them - and usually viewed as false by those outside them. Yours is a claim of faith not truth, but then religions are faith statements and faith communities.
Is there a true essence of Christianity? Yes if you want to claim it as true for you as individual or a group but not in any singular way. All churches and Christians will proclaim their own truth or own essence- and always have. The same goes for the claim of a genuine religion or theology over and against those classified as not so.

If we think of religion as 'a claim of an alternative' then we need to consider what is the alternative that the Mt Roskill church is proclaiming? It is the alternative of the sect that turns from the world and from the universalism and compromise of the church.

Sociologically, this group and others view themselves as the elect and are called upon to suffer the anger and dismissal of a fallen world for their proclamation of truth; that is, for their proclaimed true essence and genuine Christianity.

The question is why already marginalized groups seek to further marginalize themselves? Here we can go back to - and modify- Marx. In a welfare state such as NZ, such groups expose the limits and racism of the welfare state. Such groups are the opiate of the marginalized masses- especially as the cry of distress vs the pain of existence.

The answer to such groups is not theological,it is socio-economic. The welfare state and capitalism combine to create their own opiates for the middle class in a status quo of and for the middle-class (mainly white) suburban elect- whether liberal (Jacinda Ardern as the totem/idol) or conservative.

Yet the rise of other forms of prosperity gospel among the striving, aspirational suburban population ( such as those who voted ScoMo into power in Australia) show the limits of the welfare state as well... NZ should take note of the suburban prosperity gospels growing in this country, not just concentrate on the Mt Roskill type sects. Christopher Luxon and his cohorts are in the end far more of a danger than the Mt Roskill church

Frederick Thomas Retter said...

Yes Chris, I believe the public is finally catching on to what these pop-up fundamentalist churches are all about. A doctrine imported straight from the Bible Belt of the USA which believes that they are the only true church. Usually led by some charismatic charlatan whose real talent lies in fleecing the hapless members of his congregation.

Their congregations seem to become more and more insular and in fact if seriously challenged (i.e. Jim Jones, Waco etc.) can go disastrously off the rails.

Kimbo said...

Yeah, nah.

There is an unspoken compact between Labour and the Pacific Island community. The former don’t directly lecture the latter on their supposedly regressive social attitudes and practices, and the latter temporarily forget when they vote that Labour MPs usually favour abortion, euthanasia and other socially liberal shibboleths. And maybe grumble when anti-smacking legislation, for example, is enacted.

Most migrant communities initially vote Labour, or in the USA, Democrat. Makes sense as many migrants are poorer, marginalised and vulnerable so they need a political champion that will specifically look out for their needs. But migrants also usually have more drive, ambition and upward mobility than the established population, hence it is not that long before they are opening small businesses and sending their kids to University - to study STEM subjects, let it be noted. All of which mean they are on a longer-term trajectory to vote National, or in the US, Republican.

The Pacific Island community in NZ is one of the few migrant groups that have remained “loyal” to their original political guardian. Some might ask if they have really gained out of that. As with the Foreshore and Seabed Act that woke Maori up, at least for a season with the success of the Maori Party, to the fact Labour will likely throw them under the bus if it really came to an issue that would scare the horses of white middle class New Zealand, Pacific Islanders in the right circumstances could reach the same conclusion.

So if Labour want to risk being cast in the role of neo-colonisers lecturing to supposedly unsophisticated and ignorant brown people, or worse, be seen to be waving a big stick to curb the freedom of (admittedly highly marginal and likely harmful) religious belief and practice, rather than letting the Island community do the job

....then maybe, just maybe more Pacific Islanders will conclude Labour has taken them for granted as fixtures on their electoral reservation/plantation for years. After all, if you are looking for a conservative Bible faction in New Zealand politics, there is a clear option with the Christian wing of National. As typified by Alfred Ngaro (who is not a “fat little pastor/ravening wolf/religious entrepreneur”, btw, and has worked hard to create an unlikely yet genuine constituency) who may give Phil Twyford the run of his life this year in working class Te Atatu.

Desperado said...

A little rich though, coming from Chris, a communist, who believes if you just give all your money to the 'right' people, they'll spend it for you. Tax is love, thithes are for fools I guess.

Nick J said...

I have never been blessed by solace in God so on matters of people's beliefs I'd rather not judge. The only line I draw is that they don't judge me or act upon that judgement.

On the wealth garnered by pastors you are looking at an old old story. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers. A millennium later Francis did the same by the example of poverty and service. Yet the Church still became and remained hugely wealthy, it's leaders commanded vast wealth. Churches and faith dogmas always contain the contrasts of earthly and heavenly promise as to who gets what, where and when.

In criticising the "Tamaki syndrome" we ignore the great secular materialist dogmas of our time. Socialism, which promises heaven on earth. Capitalism that also promises heaven on earth. Party apparachiks live so much better than the proletarians they "serve". Corporate CEOs and the managerial class receive so much more than the rest of us. Yet we invest faith in these dogmas that only deliver to the "chosen". Not any different to these churches you criticise Chris.

Tom Hunter said...

Interesting comments but there is one point not touched.
The Left, especially, has been remiss in not assailing its gross exploitation of Maori and Pasifika believers.

The reason the Left has not assailed this is that the Pasifika communities are solid supporters of Labor. Those South Auckland seats have saved Labour's bacon time and again.

Given that many Pasifika followers of mainstream Christian churches vote Labour despite being social conservatives on things like abortion and gay marriage, it may be possible that some of these more extreme sects also do so in the secrecy of the voting booth? They separate out Sunday from voting, whatever hellfire and brimstone sermons they listen to.

It's not as if conservative parties have not tried to exploit this strange and obvious division, but to date they have failed.

From Labour's perspective then it's been best to just not rock the boat in these communities.

Jens Meder said...

All of which - regardless of what we desire, imagine or believe in - does not alter the basic fact, that we humans cannot create anything on the material level out of nothing, and that therefore without profitable capitalism we would be still cave dwelling hunters and gatherers.
There=fore - instead of moaning and groaning about poverty and injustice - what about a constructive effort to get everyone to participate in capitalism for achieving at least a minimally meaningful level of personal capital ownership (i.e. potential home ownership value?) eventually ?
Hard (useful) work alone without saving and profitable investment delivers only hand-to-mouth welfare in primitive - have-nothing - conditions, and leaves one at instant have-nothing (starvation) level poverty from the moment there is no income.

greywarbler said...

Thithes are for fools. Simple thrust, but nothing in life between humans is simple, easily labelled and pigeonholed; Communist bad, Capitalist good for instance.

Sam said...

All those people who have mortgages on holiday homes that rely on rent and who called them "cash flow positive" and "assets." They even called themselves "Homeowners." How wrong they were.

Brendan McNeill said...


The Christian church is a soft target. It is filled with fallible human beings that constantly fall short of Jesus example. It regularly gets diverted from its core mission, wanders off track, and yet… and yet…

It is the vehicle God has chosen to express the good news of his amazing grace, love, and forgiveness, with the hope of redemption to a hurting and rebellious world. It is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. If it were me, I would have delegated this task to angels, to beings more trustworthy than mere man.

However, the Bible tells us that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27

And again, the prophet Isaiah reminds us in chapter 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As Peter said to Jesus “Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68

We may be embarrassed by the church at times, but just like Peter, those of us who are Jesus followers have learned to live with it.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

An interesting statement to make Brendan without actually defining what you mean by the "Christian church". I presume you mean your church whatever it is. Do you include Catholics in that church Brendan? Mormons? Jehovah's Witnesses? Westboro Baptist Church?
The reason why it's a soft target Brendan, is because it contributes so much to the evil in the world, but this is usually swept aside by broad generalisations like "diverted from its core mission, wanders off track...."
But all those people who – in your opinion – have wandered off track have been stealing poor people's money, selling quack cures, spreading the Trump virus, covering up child abuse, torturing young gay people in the name of "conversion therapy" and producing monsters like mother Theresa. All in the name of your Jesus Christ.
But of course it's okay, because they can ask for forgiveness, accept Jesus Christ as their personsl saviour, and get into heaven anyway. You should be embarrassed by the church Brendan, because it is not a force for good.
Gandhi, who was himself by no means perfect is alleged to have said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” One of the reasons why he rejected it as a false religion.
But Christianity is also rife with hypocrisy, and you are a pretty good example of that, considering you once told me I wasn't "theologically qualified" to criticise Christianity, and yet you regularly criticise Islam, when helping the least bit qualified to comment on that. But thank goodness, religious belief is waning, and waning faster in the US than anywhere else in the world apparently. There is yet hope then.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

On a lighter note, but this does illustrate some of the problems of Christianity at least the 40,000+ Protestant sects.

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."

"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.

"Well, there's so much to live for!"

"Like what?"

"Are you religious?"

He said: "Yes."

I said: "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"


"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"


"Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"


"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"

"Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"

"Reformed Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"

He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."

I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.

Emo Phillips

Kimbo said...

“....those of us who are Jesus’ followers have learned to live with it.”

“Us”??! Speak for yourself! 😳

Kimbo said...

@ Brendan McNeill

We may be embarrassed by the church at times, but just like Peter, those of us who are Jesus followers have learned to live with it.

"Us"??! Speak for yourself!

sumsuch said...

Religion is a strange business. A non-existent god settles things. Rationalism is the only thing now. Have you seen the boiling nonsense of those who oppose our facing our challenges? I see it too fucken much.

Brendan McNeill said...


Thanks for your reflections on my comments. While I have an opinion of what constitutes Christian orthodoxy, and likely some of the groups you mention would fall outside of that framework, the good news for everyone is that I don’t ‘keep the books’ and therefore don’t get to decide who is ‘in’ or ‘out’.

You appear to have a very anaemic understanding of the considerable impact for good that Christianity has had upon the formation of Western civilisation. Perhaps you could read Tom Holland’s recent book ‘Dominion’ to gain a more rounded understanding. Tom is not a Christian, but rather an historian. But without reading the book, think about who it was that started Schools, Hospitals, cared for the poor, sick and dying, and ask yourself why we in the west care about the poor, whereas countries animated by other religions simply view poverty as ‘karma’; a just outcome for a sinful past life. It is an inescapable fact that our compassion for the poor is just one of many residual artefacts of our (declining) Christian heritage.

It is also the source of our liberties founded upon the dignity of the individual – a uniquely Christian concept. Collectivist atheistic societies (for example) depreciate the value of the individual, and consequently deny the freedoms we presently enjoy in the west.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

But without reading the book, think about who it was that started Schools, Hospitals, cared for the poor, sick and dying.
Who started schools? Quite possibly the Chinese 2000 years before Christ. There were also schools in India by the fifth century BC. There were schools in Athens about the same time. And in ancient Rome about a century later.
If however you mean universal public education, then some of the impetus did come from Martin Luther, but some came from industrialists who wanted better workers. They wanted punctual people who would obey orders, and get used to long hours of tedium – which the early schools certainly gave them.
Now having exposed your "anaemic" appreciation of the history of education I will move on to poor relief. (Thanks to prof Chin, who is probably now long dead but never mind.)
There was poor relief in Sung China, Buddhist, private, and governmental. Both Confucius and Mencius were in favour of it. I don't think either of them were Christian? The Buddhists in particular were from the time of the Tang dynasty providing free food for poor people, financed out of the revenue from lands donated to their monasteries, very similar to the Christian tradition of donating land to monasteries except I think the Buddhists were a little more generous. The government also played an active role, particularly after it suppressed many of the monasteries. Unfortunately I never studied Indian history, but I do believe that poverty went up under the British "Christian" administration.
But closer to home, there was poor relief in ancient Rome way before Christianity. And the British governments in Tudor times realised that churches and monasteries weren't coping with poor relief and decided that the government should take a hand.
Not that this was necessarily a result of Christian charity and love. It was more that the upper classes hated and feared the lower classes, particularly the "undeserving" poor, who they regarded as potential rioters and rebels.
So I might see if I can get hold of Tom's book, but to be honest, just digging out a few university assignments is enough to blow your Christian charity stuff out of the water. Luckily I have, somewhat obsessively, kept them all.

sumsuch said...

I judge Christians by the evidence of their acts, since I grow dead foreheaded at their grim theologising. Which somehow leads to other folks taking over God's role. Most of all, God, I'm so glad there aren't the number of christo-botherers here as in the American Plutocracy, as I've said to my appalling relatives often.

I think we all have equal amounts of unsupported opinions so many christians are better than secularists. I just think the passion of religion is in inverse ratio to the truth -- why my favourite church, Anglicanism, is pure non-god-believing kindness, and will die first.

It's all trash.