The Church of Anti-Vax doth speak unto me

The pastor of City Impact writes to me about that decidedly anti-vax sermon he gave

Hi,

Recently I wrote about City Impact Church in Auckland, New Zealand — a megachurch which dedicated an entire sermon (sorry, “Special Message”) to promoting anti-vax rhetoric.

Peter Mortlock is head pastor at City Impact, and babbled on and on with all the catchphrases used by anti-vaxxers the world over (especially in America):

All those needles going into the arm, it’s like they’re trying to wear me down!

Others would say, not obviously all, would call this vaccine experimental…

We do know it has not been fully approved by the FDA…

Well last week I received an email that made me throw up in my mouth a little. It was from Peter Mortlock.

It was one of the most passive-aggressive, smarmiest, neg-filled things I’ve ever read. I mean, this is how the abysmal thing started:

Hi David, I read an article in our news this past week on how well you are doing over in the States — congratulations. In my ignorance of not knowing who you are ( sorry)  i read the article out of interest as one of my team mentioned to me that a David Farrier had recently posted some negative comments about me and the church.”

( sorry) Peter, but Christ you’re annoying.

Yes, the weird spaces (or lack thereof) and lower case is all him. It’s something these evangelical men of God all seem to share: an utter mystification with the shift key and space bar. I mean, this is how (self appointed) “Apostle” Brian Tamaki writes, too:

When I think of Brian Tamaki and Peter Mortlock, all I can picture is a raven nonsensically pecking away at a keyboard.

Anyway — it appears Mortlock had read the profile Steve Kilgallon had written about me a few weeks ago:

“He’s cracked some significant tales, including exposing the conspiracy theorist beliefs of the founders of Kiwi lingerie firm Lonely. Last week, it was writing about how the giant Auckland evangelical church City Impact had preached an anti-vax sermon to its faithful.

I assume that’s what pastor Mortlock had read. To be clear, that Webworm piece was not hard to find, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d read it. But for arguments sake I decided to take Mortlock at his word that he hadn’t read it — and so I wrote back, replying to his points.

This is what his email said, and how I replied (in bold):

“Hi David,

I read an article in our news this past week on how well you are doing over in the States - congratulations.

In my ignorance of not knowing who you are ( sorry)  i read the article out of interest as one of my team mentioned to me that a David Farrier had recently posted some negative comments about me and the church, and that you have quite a following.

Obviously while I appreciate people are free to have their opinion etc, ( and as a public figure i guess I’m a target) it seems a bit of a “stretch"  to make some assumptions of someone you have never meet.

As i have not grown up in the social media world, i have to confess that i have not personally read your comments, so forgive me in hearing things 2nd hand, if being incorrect about them.”

Here you go — just click this link and you can read my article: Worshipping at the Church of Anti-Vax.

The article is available for free, as I don’t think it should be behind a paywall.

My other material is mainly for paying subscribers (it’s a bit like tithing, but way cheaper!) - you can always sign up at webworm.co.

“But I just wanted to say - if you are ever back over here in NZ , I’d love to buy you a coffee, have a chat, not necessarily to get you to change your mind about me ( as that may already be made up ) but then you could write from a “ personal knowledgable perspective” if you wanted to in the future. ( not that i need or want the publicity - lol )”

lol! You are correct in that I’ve never “met” you in person, but I did watch a bunch of your “Special Meeting” sermon (and the PDF you have online) where you propagated a bunch of Covid-19 disinformation.

When I see people in positions of power spreading disinformation to people who might take it seriously, I form some opinions about their character.

You could really help me with my opinions by (for instance) telling your congregation the truth about Covid-19 vaccinations — or at least the Pfizer vaccination being used in NZ — which is that it is overwhelmingly safe, effective, and fully approved by our regulator Medsafe.

You could apologise for spreading disinformation in the community and the church that you’re meant to be leading.

And you could encourage your congregation to be vaccinated so they have a markedly lessened risk of catching a deadly disease. It would mean a lot to them, coming from you.

Do all of that, and I'll be happy to take you up on that coffee.

Fuck Peter, I'll even buy it.

“In the meantime all the very best.

Blessings

Peter”

Thoughts and prayers,

David.


He really does make me want to do a cheeky vomit. Pushing Mortlock aside for a moment, I wanted to say “thanks” for all the discussion under that City Impact piece. Many of you responded deeply to Josh’s piece about being a former evangelical. I think it took a few of you back. Makes me proud to have you all here. These are three comments I wanted to share:

“I am angry with religion and religious people who prey on the most vulnerable in our community — who offer prayer as an answer to depression and anxiety and sadness. They prey on people who sad and lonely and seeking answers – often people with mental illness and trauma. I understand that for some people religion can provide some solace, but on the whole, Evangelicalism is a divisive and damaging doctrine that causes individuals and communities so much pain. “

“This brings it all back so clearly. Reading the “Left Behind” series as a teen. Trying to hard to “get my friends saved” so that they would go to heaven and not hell. The speaking in tongues, slain in the spirit stuff that happened every week at my church. Being baptised. It’s so bizarre looking back - I’m a really smart person, and I didn't come into the church til I was 10 — how did I believe all that? But it was the church that drove me out, 16 and pregnant, and it’s the greatest blessing they could have given me. Because I saw who they were, and who I was, and who I wanted to become.”

“I think, ironically, a lot of this stems from certainty. While many of us have certainty that the vaccine is perfectly safe, that Big Pharma isn’t trying to fuck us once again, and that Fauci isn’t some reincarnation of Satan — many people have certainty that the virus isn’t a big deal, that Big Pharma is trying to get us, that Brian Tamaki is looking out for us.

And sure it seems to us like one party is 100% more reasonable than the other, but a lot of where human Certainty comes from is completely non-scientific or objective. It’s all about the community (virtual or otherwise), the culture, and ones foundation that provide people certainty. Its so so easy for someone in a different place, with a different background, to latch onto something else. And no one *actually* has a choice about that.

I think it’s really important that people, society, governments understand that the root of these things is far more fundamental than just “people being nuts”. It’s something far deeper and more systemic than that.”


There’s something else I wanted to acknowledge: not all churches are lead by dropkicks masquerading as brave truth-tellers like Peter Mortlock. There are a tonne of church leaders who care about the community and their congregation.

While many evangelical movements are obsessed with purity, guilt and what sexuality and gender you are — many churches want to do what Jesus suggested and just be kind. And to grasp the concept that in their view of the world, maybe God in his infinite wisdom gave us scientists who can help us fight against a pandemic.

With that mind, I asked Dr Helen Jacobi — the vicar of St Matthew-in-the-City in Auckland, New Zealand — to give her take on the stupidity we’re seeing from certain church leaders. She’s cool, and I’m very happy to throw over to her:

Dr Helen Jacobi on Conspiracy Culture in the Church

I am perplexed and worried by the number of church “leaders” who discourage their congregations from getting a covid vaccination and who participate in crazy conspiracy theories.

Once upon a time clergy were seen as leaders by virtue of their education and wisdom. Now some clergy show their unbelievable lack of education and wisdom for all to see.

I found Joshua’s article really insightful. He pointed out that conspiracy theories get reborn through the ages and some that we know from medieval times and earlier are reappearing. He nails it, I think, when he says that this is part of “the Evangelical fundamentalist worldview — that the World is itself suspect”.

This worldview filters everything through a delusion that the Bible can tell you everything you need to know for 21st century living and that the Bible and Church is good, and the world is bad

It is this kind of worldview that also believes that women cannot lead in church; that homosexuality is a sin; and that you should check your brain at the door of the church along with your coat. 

I am still surprised to find women’s leadership not allowed in some of these churches; it can be very subtle and you have to read the “beliefs” section of their websites carefully — like this one from a church down the road from St Matthew’s:

“14. We stand by women having a ministry role in the teaching and training of other women. We believe that any congregation has the right to financially support these women in the ministry (how nice of them).  We also recognize their value and influence in the lives of men in the church (1 Corinthians 9:5, Titus 2:3-4, Acts 18:24-26, Romans 16:1-15).” 

(The italics were mine.)

To save you checking the references, Titus 2:4-5 says “encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.”  

Really?! In 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand?!

There is a continuum of issues that are all about patriarchal control of the leader in the lives of a congregation. Whether it is the role of women, homophobia, or the latest Covid conspiracies, leaders of these churches want control over the lives of their followers — and fear and anxiety play into this very nicely. 

In engaging with friends and family who we are worried about in relation to Covid conspiracy theories, maybe we can have a wider conversation with them about why they would check their brains at the door when they attend church in the first place. 

Instead find a church that encourages debate, is not afraid of questions, and listens to the world, rather than shutting it out. 

-Reverend Dr Helen Jacobi, September 2021


Helen is a great follow on Twitter. She also blogs here. And I’m really glad she wrote this for me with about 24 hours’ notice. She’s a good one. I know there are some Christian readers of Webworm, and I wanted to be clear I do not lump you all in with the Mortlock’s of this world. That would be dreadfully unfair.

As for that reply I sent to Peter Mortlock? It was the equivalent of sending it to that raven again. He started with this:

“If you listened to it all of the meeting,  I would hope that you would hear a number of times that I mentioned it was not an antivax meeting, as I am not!”

Jesus H Christ. He’s in another dimension.

And to be clear — yes, he literally believes in another dimension where an eternal spiritual battle is being waged between good and evil; angels and demons. So of course he’s going to preach an anti-vax sermon and then just go down the “I’m just asking questions” route.

I mean, this is a man who really sees himself as the shit, telling his Instagram followers: “As a pastor I have a responsibility to my flock. When people get sick of course they go to the doctor, but they also come to a pastor to pray for them. And obviously we’re in the healing business as well.” Yep, doctors and pastors. Same thing. Of course.

I think I’ll leave him there — I’m not giving his email any more air.

David.

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PS: Wanted to share these photos I took on a walk in the hills around Malibu as the sun went down and the mist and clouds descended. I’ve uploaded them here if you wanna use them for a wallpaper or something!