Destiny Church isn't the Problem
Giant white megachurches are getting away with far more than Destiny - but no one cares. Because they're white.
Over the weekend in New Zealand there was a large anti-lockdown protest — and as you can see from these headlines, the focus was all on Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church:
You get the idea. And this isn’t the first time Destiny Church has been taking up headline inches.
To be clear — it’s really fun to write about Destiny Church. I certainly have, in Meet My Favourite Batshit New Zealander. Self appointed Bishop Brian Tamaki is an easy target: he blames earthquake on homosexuality, dresses like a member of the Village People, and has either tattooed or beaded his eyebrows (I don’t understand eyebrows, you tell me):
Brian Tamaki is masterful at getting media attention — whether he’s flouting lockdown laws, launching various failed political parties, or just generally acting like a cult leader with a penchant for pig hunting (gross).
But there’s another thing that sets Destiny Church apart, and I’d argue it’s the fundamental reason it’s constantly appearing negatively in the press: The congregation isn’t white. A large proportion of those making up Tamaki’s church are Māori and Pasifika. They’re brown — and it fits the very tidy ongoing narrative in New Zealand that they’re the bad ones.
Now don’t mistake me here — Bishop Tamakis is a massive prick. But he’s not the biggest prick, and the media focus on him has allowed other, much more powerful New Zealand churches to quietly get on with their bullshit — generally out of the general public’s eye.
Enter Peter Mortlock and City Impact Church
I’ve written about Mr Mortlock before — in Worshipping at the Church of Anti-Vax and The Church of Anti-Vax doth speak unto me— but I’m writing about him again.
Because while the New Zealand press was collectively losing their shit over Tamaki leading the 1000-odd person anti-lockdown protest over the weekend — other forces had also been at work. Namely, a giant New Zealand megachurch full of white people. A church that dwarfs Tamaki’s in terms of size and influence.
And City Impact isn’t exactly subtle about it. The day before the protest, senior pastor Peter Mortlock did a sermon encouraging people to go to Brian Tamaki’s lockdown event. His words perfectly captured the way he operates: He’s smart with his language, always couching things in “it’s your choice” and “I’ve taken a back seat”. But his message is clear: This Protest Is Good And I Stand By It:
“On Saturday, this Saturday, there is a gathering — and it’s about freedom — and it’s in the park in town, and a lot of people are going over to it - and it’s your choice if you go or not — I know there will be all sorts of controversy over it — but it’s under the Freedom and Rights Coalition - you can find it on the website […] I was asked to be involved in it way back and I’ve taken a back seat in it, but enough to say if you want to go I just want to let you know about it. I think sooner or later we are going to have to make a stand — a stand for our rights, the way our freedoms are being stripped away.”
More on that word “freedom” soon.
Salesman turned Salesman
Who is Peter Peter Mortlock and what is City Impact Church? Well, he’s a cookie cutter of most megachurch leaders in New Zealand, Australia and America.
Like Hillsong’s Brian Houston, Mortlock is happily married and makes sure you know about it (family values), loves having nice cafes inside his churches, and is big on church bands playing uplifting music.
Peter subscribes to a breed of Christianity called Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism is big on speaking in tongues, divine healing and getting baptised. As Joshua Drummond wrote in this Webworm essay, it’s not very far removed from Evangelical Christianity — which explains why the likes of Brian Houston and Peter Mortlock idolise bonkers Evangelical churches in the United States.
Mortlock founded City Impact in 1982, the year I was born. Their main campus in Auckland seats 2000 people, but they have other churches in Auckland as well as in Tauranga, Invercargill and Queenstown. Following Hillsong’s lead, they’ve attempted to go international — opening churches in Canada, India, Mexico and the Phillipines (it’s unclear how big these are — some of the addresses listed just point to generic office spaces).
Before he was a Man of God, Peter Mortlock was a real estate agent. That made him very good at selling. Before he sold God he sold his Whangaparaoa mansion for $1.88 million in 2014. He now reportedly lives in a mansion in Coatesville that is worth a lot more than $1.88 million.
Because he teaches prosperity gospel, all his riches are seen as a hugely good thing to his flock. His congregation is urged to tithe 10% of their monthly income (EFTPOS machines are available during service) and they do so, happily. They aren’t annoyed their leader is massively rich. He is aspirational to them. His congregation thinks that if they give to God (ie: City Impact Church) then God will give back to them (spoiler alert: God won’t).
As I’ve pointed out in earlier newsletters, City Impact is tax exempt. That didn’t stop them getting paid out over a million dollars in Covid subsidy payouts from the Government:
I am never going to understand how entities like City Impact are tax free, their leaders living in multi-million dollar homes. Like many things in life — my brain is too small to grasp things so fundamentally out of sync with how I feel the world should operate. But the world sucks, it’s on fire, I get that.
Yes — they do some work in the community and so they qualify for being exempt from paying tax. And like all megachurches, their annual returns show expenditure often meeting or exceeding their income:
Which isn’t all that surprising when you look at something like their most recent return, with that $13,419,399 in outgoing costs.
Read the report, and you can see that over $8 million of that ($8,069,266) goes to “employee costs”. A cool $2,020,901 is listed as “Other”. And they have over $22 million tied “non current assets” like property.
It pays to be a church. Or more specifically, a church leader.
“For Sparta, for freedom, to the death!”
Regardless of what charity work City Impact does, their main purpose seems to be paying their pastors money to say completely idiotic shit.
Because today Mortlock released a new sermon to his faithful — Special Meeting Part II: Freedom. With naming convention like a Fast and Furious film, this was the sequel to his first Special Meeting, which I documented here.
Spoiler Alert: Part I was riddled with disinformation:
“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…”
I’ve watched the 1 hour and 20 minute Special Meeting Part II: Freedom so you don’t have to. Like most sequels it was more rambly than the first. Mortlock’s tongue darted in and out like a lizard throughout.
He mispronounced and slurred words. He rambled.
“The media tells us what they want us to hear!”
“Civilised countries are built on the 10 Commandments!”
His main message appeared to be rallying against unvaccinated people being penalised in any way. He appeared horrified they may not be allowed to fly or eat at restaurants. I kid you not: Between that message — and darting his tongue in and out — that was the entirety of his near-90 minute monologue.
“Science is changing all the time!” he cried, in an attempt to undermine the medical response to the pandemic. He continued to use talking points of the anti-vax movement. At around 52 minutes in, he was on the “When there is a Covid death, they don’t often say if it’s an elderly person or whatever” train. Toot toot, all aboard to anti-vax town.
Oh, and conspiracy theory town is definitely the destination. This, at about an hour into Special Meeting II:
“I don’t believe in the government right now, I don’t believe the media right now, and I’m sorry but I don’t trust Big Pharma either! Why is that? Well, if I mention the name Bill Gates or George Soros or Anthony Fauci — and it’s not about conspiracy, it’s just about plain facts, right?!”
Seven minutes later: “I think Fauci knew about the funding of the lab in China…”
And all the way through, he does what he always does — couching every other statement with an “I guess” or a “maybe”. A get out of jail-free card. These four statements all happened within about 10 seconds of each other:
51’48”: They ram home what I am saying, I guess…
51’54”: You can expect more articles, whether it’s true or not…
51’59” And that may be so…
52’03” We know that that is possibly only half the story…
He ends his sermon — and I’m not kidding — with a prayer, and a clip from Fox News.
City Impact is Very Politically Involved
So while the media continues to point the finger at the relatively obscure cult of Destiny Church (it appears bigger than it is thanks to excess media coverage of their every move) — City Impact — and churches of its ilk — continue to go on, unchecked.
In a large part because their leader is white, and it’s less weird when white people are surrounded with wealth and property. His members are largely middle class white people. They are harder to portray in the media as being taken advantage of. They don’t fit the stereotype of “idiotic religious person”.
And City Impact’s impact reaches far beyond lockdown protests and anti-vax rhetoric.
One thing churches like City Impact are very good at doing is turning their flock towards political causes. Their congregation generally have good jobs and good lives. They have the leisure time available to them to fill in forms and sign petitions.
So in 2014 Peter Mortlock was turning his flock towards blocking “gay marriage”:
“Peter Mortlock, head of Auckland’s City Impact Church, has emailed his flock asking them to rig a New Zealand poll on marriage equality by casting multiple votes.”
And earlier this year, Mortlock actively encouraged his congregation to vote against New Zealand changing its law in regards to so-called “gay conversion therapy”.
He personally appeared before the Parliamentary Select Committee, making an oral submission. He began with chastising barbaric practices (while at the same time calling these barbaric doctors “sincere”):
“We know in past history there have been many injustices done to many people. For example, medical experiments. Even though I am sure that many of the Doctors were sincere in their endeavours of practising medicine…”
From there, he said that was all okay anyway, because it doesn’t happen anymore:
“However I will say that these practices are not being practised today anywhere in New Zealand…”
He closed by hinting he’s (un-barbarically) converted plenty of sexual deviants who are now “happily married”:
“As a pastor I have had countless number of people, from all walks of life come to me for guidance.
We have seen a number of people and many of whom are in my church today that are living a completely different lifestyle today to that of their past; now happily married, with children.”
I don’t want to get into it here — but I had Christian leaders actively try and tell me to bottle up and change my sexuality and it really messed with me. Still sorting it out. So yeah, for me — this stuff is personal. But Peter Mortlock sees no issue with it, proudly posted his submission on his Facebook — but limiting the feedback pretty darn quickly:
Receiving an email that makes you want to take a shower immediately
I was annoyed by all this, and I sent Peter Mortlock a very simple email:
You and Brian Tamaki — you honestly couldn’t even write this stuff.
His reply was exactly like the one he gave me last month: gormless and gaslighting, containing the grammar and spelling I’ve come to expect. It was an email from a utter gimp:
I am not sure what “stuff” you refer to.
In trying to communicate reasonably ie below, if that offends you - I’m sorry.
As mentioned, having never meet you, I’m not sure why you are so upset, and i am sure you must have better things to do with your time.
As mentioned - sincerely happy to coffee sometime and endeavour to communicate better than what email etc can do.
So i wont write again, as obviously it can lead to further misunderstanding, ( so no need for yu to write - as mentioned Im sure there are better things to do for you).
Not sure how you can get do upset with someone you have never meet.
But - i do wish you well and trust that you enjoy the life you have.
He added a PS:
PS - someone mentioned to me that you have written some comments on my FB / inst page - to be honest - i don’t look at it nor read it- hence i don't reply to anything -
I had posted on his Instagram page, and urged others to do so as well. I wrote “FREEDOM!” Dumb and sarcastic, it just seemed funny to me at the time.
And he’d definitely read them, because I was watching them getting deleted in real time. It was at the pace of an old, confused man — who after a few hours figured out how to block people, and turn off the comments altogether.
But his “PS” demonstrates his attitude: denial, feigning ignorance, and the complete and utter disregard that comes from a old rich white man who knows he’s utterly untouchable. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him or his message, because the tithes keep rolling in. He’s in heaven.
Some of you wrote to me with the emails you’d sent Mortlock over all this. They were reasonable, well articulated and to the point. This is one of them:
“I am disappointed to see that you encouraged people to go the lockdown protest event at the domain today. I am frustrated that you would sabotage public health, our students exam preparation, the health of the vulnerable, elderly, compromised, and those under 12 who can’t be vaccinated yet.
Use your pulpit for good like Jesus would have wanted. Encouraging people to break public health guidelines is not using your pulpit for good, but sabotaging our efforts to get out of level 3. Disappointing.”
This is the reply he sent to the email above. It’s the same reply he sent to everyone who emailed him. Like with me, he feigned ignorance and serenity:
“I apologise that i have offended you, for whatever reason.
I trust the best for our nation, and i also trust that life goes well for you.
I invite you to come and meet me sometime when the nation opens back up,
Email, etc I don’t think is not the best communication to get to know someone.
So till then,
It’s the kind of email and language that makes you want to take an immediate shower afterwards. I know I did.
The sad thing is that while churches like City Impact remain free from the burden of paying tax, they’re not going anywhere. Sometimes these leaders fall, and the schadenfreude is healing. Hillsong’s Brian Houston is in trouble yet again for covering up his father’s sex offences. It’s good to watch him squirm.
As for Peter Mortlock — I wish the media would drill into him and his white masses like they drill into Brian Tamaki and his congregation. I really do.
In the meantime, there is a lot of unintentional comedy in Peter Mortlock’s latest sermon. At one stage (16’25” into his talk) he’s prattling on about other Christians who have a different outlook to him:
“I’ve had a number of pastors and doctors write to me and one pastor said to me “Jesus would get vaccinated” and I thought “he’s a good spokesperson for Jesus isn’t he?” [laughter]
And what a thing to say, really! And another person said “Love your neighbor”, quoting scripture: “Getting vaccinated is the most loving thing you can do for them”.
And I think quoting scripture to justify these things is one step too far.”
Quoting scripture to justify these things is
Can you fucking hear yourself, man?
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christ, that last part about quoting scripture. does he really not see the hypocrisy?
thanks for another great piece David. You and your readers might be interested in this blog from AJ Hendry who also writes in this space and works amongst young vulnerable folk.