Fear of a Changing World
For the privileged, this pandemic is the first time they've experienced world-bending trauma
Thanks for reading my last piece about New Zealand megachurch City Impact Church, and the way it’s been sidelined by the likes of Destiny Church.
A few things have happened since then, and I wanted to update you on them. Yes, I know Brian Tamaki has been charged by the cops. I’ll get to that.
First, Peter Mortlock.
Despite Mortz (my pet name for him) making it very clear to me in earlier emails that he hadn’t read any of my pieces, it appears that’s no longer the case. I am fairly certain he’s now read Webworm, because:
a) He blocked me on his social media channels
b) He has limited his comments on Instagram
c) He has issued an official press release:
Keep your tongue in your mouth, please.
Peter Mortlock’s Big Blue Statement
Pastor Mortlock’s press release was very big and very blue. Like his sermons, it went on for far too long. Its message can be summed up in the opening line: “City Impact Church has no official nor ethical stance on the use of vaccines.”
Putting it simply, this was damage control. Upon City Impact experiencing some rare scrutiny, it was there to clear things up:
“CITY IMPACT CHURCH takes no official nor ethical stance on the use of vaccines. Neither do we believe we are in a position to offer medical advice to others. We encourage individuals to make an informed decision based on personal conscience and the counsel of qualified medical professionals.”
The message was on behalf of City Impact Church, signed off by Peter Mortlock.
Ps Peter Mortlock
CITY IMPACT CHURCHES
But here’s the thing: Mortlock’s message for the public is a world apart from the message he’s been delivering to his congregation directly. I’ve been keeping an eye on his personal Facebook page and on August 29th, this was part of his video message about vaccines:
“And you know, if you do your research there are people that have died through “vaccine-related deaths” they call it, and there’s literally thousands. If you Google the Vaers — V, A, E, R, S — in America, the Adverse Vaccine Reporting System — and you can look up that, and find your own information.
So on one hand you have Mortlock publicly saying “City Impact Church takes no official nor ethical stance on the use of vaccines”, but on the other hand you have his consistent fear mongering about vaccines. Of course what he left out when mentioning the VAERS system was the the CDC’s disclaimer:
VAERS accepts and analyzes reports of possible health problems—also called “adverse events” — after vaccination. As an early warning system, VAERS cannot prove that a vaccine caused a problem. Specifically, a report to VAERS does not mean that a vaccine caused an adverse event.
Many of the adverse events listed via VAERS are ridiculous: Broken limbs, early retirement and baldness all feature. The data is very unvetted. And Mortlock certainly didn’t tell his congregation about this piece from Reuters entitled “Fact Check-VAERS data does not prove COVID-19 vaccine deaths exceeded 12,000”.
Of course, Mortlock couldn’t help going even further, also stating this back on August 29th:
“And even here in New Zealand there’s been some reported vaccine deaths.”
To be clear: there has been one proven vaccine-related death here in New Zealand. Not “some”. One. Perhaps counting beyond the number one isn’t Peter Mortlock’s strong suit. His strong-suit? Regularly spreading misinformation.
Going back to Mortlock’s public statement, he also made a song and dance about supporting public health measures:
“CITY IMPACT CHURCH has always been very supportive of, and endeavours to comply fully with, the public health measures implemented since the pandemic started.”
But what did Peter Mortlock really think? Because as I’ve previously pointed out, there is the public-facing Peter Mortlock (who refuses to say whether he’s been vaccinated or not) — and then there is the real Peter Mortlock.
And while there is a public City Impact Facebook page, each City Impact Church also has a members-only group. It’s on these pages that Peter Mortlock says what he really thinks.
And I have access to one of those private City Impact pages.
Public Peter vs Real Peter
It’s on this private City Impact page we very quickly see what Mortlock really thinks about public health measures — because it’s there he’s raining praise on Brian Tamaki, the man police have charged with breaking public health measures. Mortlock posted this yesterday:
“Well Church, there is never a dull moment these days! As you possibly have heard there is a petition to “charge” Bishop Brian for his gathering last Saturday. There were more people at the beach!
This is the injustice of trial by media and there are some very well organised groups in NZ who are very anti the church as you know. Due to the strictly controlled situation in NZ right now, sadly there are also some very angry people out there looking for a scapegoat at the moment.
Although invited to be, neither City Impact Church nor myself were involved with the planning or organising of the event. I did personally let people know (via social media)
[FARRIER’S NOTE: He “personally let people know” during his sermon]
that the gathering was happening, as I know there are people who are concerned about their freedoms being stripped away and would want to support it.
Bishop Brian had consulted with the Deputy Police Commissioner and believed there was no objection to the event proceeding. The gathering was very peaceful, people were strongly encouraged to stick to their bubbles, keep masks on and socially distance (some individuals may have chosen not to). Remember there have been other “protests/gatherings” etc under “lockdown” restrictions which have not had ramifications. Irrespective of your personal views on Destiny Church and Bishop Brian this is a wider issue.
To me, this is very similar to the book of Nehemiah where Sanballat and Tobiah tried to hinder the rebuilding of Jerusalem by writing to the King. Please take note that if we lose our voice in this day, our freedom as a democracy, the right to protest if one wants, we are going to have a very different NZ to the one we grew up in.
Below is a link to a petition that has started late yesterday in support of Brian — I hope you will support it and stand together for Freedom’s sake and circulate personally the best you can.
[FARRIER’S NOTE: I am not going to link to the petition]
Let’s stay strong and united at this time.
So — here you have a man who is publicly saying he is “very supportive” of public health measures, but at the same time is privately urging his congregation to sign a petition to help a man charged with violating those public health measures.
As to Mortlock’s state of mind? I’d like remind you of paragraphs like this from Mortlock’s last sermon:
“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?!”
“I think Fauci knew about the funding of the lab in China…”
Be assured, creation of God: Mortlock is well and truly down the rabbit hole.
Sanballat, Tobiah and Freedom?
Look, to be honest I’m no Bible scholar and have no damn clue why Mortlock was banging on about Sanballat and Tobiah earlier.
But the “freedom” thing is interesting — because it’s at the heart of Peter Mortlock’s paranoia. And it’s the same message being preached at other megachurches around the world. And yes: a lot of white churches.
Youth Development Worker and Christian A.J. Henry has been doing some incredible writing around this, and I’d like to share some excerpts from his very self-reflective piece “Hey Christians, have we made an Idol of Individual Freedom?”
His main point is that many Christians have been panicking about “freedom” for fucking ages. It’s not new.
“Many Christians have been afraid for years that we have been losing our place in this world. That the Government is coming for us, and that if we don’t stand up for our rights, we’ll lose them.
I remember when I was a kid and the Government were enacting what were, I guess, quite significant social reforms of the day, the anti-smacking bill, the prostitution law reform, the introduction of civil unions, the arguments were the same. We were told that we were losing our freedoms, our personal liberties, that our rights were all being taken from us.
The fear within some Christian circles was palpable.
What I find the most confusing about this focus on liberty, freedom, and individual rights, is that these values are not the fundamental values of the Christian faith.
In fact, they seem to have more in common with the values of the American Empire, than they do with those of a poor, impoverished indigenous man, who was murdered for speaking Truth to Power, sacrificing his own rights and freedoms for the sake of the collective.”
Fear of a Changing World
I think this outcry and panic from the likes of City Impact Church has to do with this overarching fear of a changing world. They felt it when the marriage equality bill was passed. They felt it this year over talk of banning conversion therapy for the LGBTQI+ community.
(And you might not like the next bit, but stick with me)
But for many white people (including white Christians), this pandemic has been the very first world-altering, reality-bending trauma they’ve truly experienced. There has been no escape, no relief. We’ve all had to feel this trauma deep in our bones. The fear. The terror.
As one of the world’s whitest people, I’ve never felt my world fundamentally shift before. I’ve always been okay, safe, Top Dog. I’ve never been a minority and felt unsafe. I’ve never been judged for my appearance. My boat has remained unrocked.
Even when there was discussion in the media about my sexuality back in 2012, my entire adult life has been lived in a time when being me has largely been accepted. Sure — I get flack, and we have a way to go — but I’ve never had to worry about losing a job, struggled to access basic services, or got kicked out of my home.
This particular change in the world due to a pandemic, and this idea we might have to — God forbid — experience real discomfort, and change how we do things, is terrifying. And that’s a big part of the pushback we’re seeing. Why all these cries for “Freedom” are emerging from a certain set of people. Donald Trump. Fox News. Peter Mortlock (who literally plays Fox News’ clips during church service).
The fact is, these cries about “FREEDOM!” are coming from the richest, most privileged people in our society. The most free. They haven’t experienced this before. This feeling of threat. And sorry, but a lot of them are white. And religious.
I’m already bracing myself for my inbox filling up. When I suggested that part of the reason Peter Mortlock had avoided open criticism was the fact he and his congregation were largely white and didn’t fit the stereotype of the gullible, ready-do-be-taken-advantage-of-brown person, a lot of people weren’t happy.
Hatespeech. Christphobia. I was a “disgusting piece of prick” for suggesting such a thing. I went on Radio New Zealand with Jesse Mulligan to expand on my thoughts, pointing out that while Brian Tamaki is a master at courting media attention, there is a disproportionate focus on him, compared to much whiter churches like City Impact who are doing very similar things.
Stuff republished my piece with my permission, but others in the media weren’t so ready to hear my critique: A journalist at the Herald and another from Newstalk ZB appeared to start subtweeting me, minimising my point about race’s place in the media’s ongoing 20-year obsession with Destiny Church:
The Twitter comments in response to my republished Stuff piece took things further. The message from white people was clear:
Just a fact check here in, New Zealand: white people are at the top of the food chain. We are statistically much better off in literally every way. And fuck me — white people will defend their privilege:
“What about the brown churches?”
And I’m going to go a little further here — and it might not be fun to hear. Christianity is riddled with White Supremacy. I’m not saying that all Christians are white supremecist’s (clearly they’re not — but see also: Crusades; colonialism), but I’m reminded of another passage from AJ’s piece:
“The Christian Faith, at its core, with all the Imperialism, White Supremacy, and abusive, coercive power structures shoved to the side, is about radical care, love and inclusion for those who have been pushed to the margins, those who have been considered the least.”
If only the Mortlocks of this world could remember the latter.
A message from two different Christians
As well as angry tweets and DMs about my Peter Mortlock stuff, I also got a lot of emails. My email address (email@example.com) is pretty public, so it was to be expected. I wanted to two share two of those emails.
One of them was from a member of City Impact, titled “Response to attack on Peter Mortlock.” It was written in a tone that reminded me of, well, a member of City Impact. It began:
“As a concerned reader can I ask you please to check your facts, lose the expletives and take up that personal invitation to get to know a man you clearly have no idea about…”
They’d read my article, but saw no problems. And, well — all power to them, I guess.
“It seems the only genuine things you can find to criticize are as follows:
He is white.
He is happily married.
His members are largely middle class and don’t fit the stereotype of ‘idiotic religious person’.
His churches have nice cafes and bands that play uplifting music.
His church is Pentecostal.
He founded City Impact in 1982. (Wow 39 years, maybe something he’s doing is actually working.)
Before he pastored the church, he was a real estate agent.
He sold a house.
He owns a house.
His congregation tithe 10% of their income. (News flash, this is something the Bible instructs, not Peter Mortlock.)
He pays his staff.
His church does work in the community.
He is concerned about unvaccinated people being penalised for their choice.
He makes written and oral submissions to parliament on issues and bills that concern him.
He ends his sermon with a prayer. (Wow this is astounding – what church leader would do such a thing?)
He responded to your attacks against him with an invitation to meet with him in person.
Seriously David, is this the best you’ve got? But I understand, it’s hard to dig up dirt on someone when there is none.”
This will be a common feeling amongst City Impact’s flock. They won’t see any issue with anything their church or leader is doing. And that’s fine. But I’m reminded of a comment therapist Paul Wilson made under my last piece:
“High control groups are hard for the public to understand. Why do people join such groups? Why do their leaders behave the way they do? Why do the members stay and put up with them?”
The psychology of the leaders at the centre of such groups means they actively resist any accurate understanding of their own nature. They don’t want to know themselves (self-denial), they don’t want those on the outside to realise and they especially don’t want those caught inside and subjugated to know.
Psychotherapist Daniel Shaw terms such leaders “traumatising narcissists” who build controlling communities with them at the centre which Shaw calls “relational systems of subjugation”.
With that in mind, I also heard from a member of another church. I liked her more than the first.
“I attend a tiny local church.
I am a most inconstant and inadequate Christian.
But I get great pleasure from putting books in the rather lovely book exchange we’ve built — doing a roaring trade under lockdown — and my kids plant the community garden which charms many local small people.
Tamaki and the white derivative (Impact) are a curse. In every way. Not least because they diminish the incredible contribution that kind little churches integrate into everything they do.
Reaching out. Feeding hungry people. Not being judgy. Not soliciting money. Just building a community instead of a cult.”
Humble, kind, honest. The stuff Jesus spoke a lot about, but what is largely ignored by modern megachurches.
The thing that sucks? None of this stuff I’m writing is going to cut through to those that actually need to hear. Peter Mortlock will never listen to me, or any critic, because he believes he’s right. He’s God’s man on earth. The elected leader.
And Mortlock really has the perfect life going. He’s clocked it. He can fleece his flock all he likes and because of prosperity doctrine, they’ll thank him for it.
On top of this, he’ll be loving the negative attention he’s getting because of the whole “martyr” complex his breed of Christianity is obsessed with. Coming under attack is seen as a good thing, as it merely cements the fact that he’s doing the right thing in God’s eyes.
The sad thing in all this is that Peter Mortlock will be loving every second.
PS: If you are playing catch up, here are my previous three pieces on City Impact Church:
Worshipping at the Church of Anti-Vax
The Church of Anti-Vax doth speak unto me
Destiny Church isn’t the Problem
And you can read all my conspiracy theory coverage here — it’s all listed for easy reference.
And don’t worry — Webworm hasn’t become an exclusive Megachurch newsletter. Regular programming will resume.
Being white is playing the game of life on easy mode. Being white cis hetero male is like having all the cheat codes. It's about time pakeha people (myself included) recognised their privilege and started dismantling it - not by making life harder for ourselves, but by making life easier for others. Decolonising our minds, our lives, our state - it's the least we owe tangata whenua.
This really is the biggest shake that most white people have ever had to their lives. IT's not time to get insular. It's time to work on making things right for Māori and every other person in Aotearoa.
We live in times unprecedented in most living memory. Let's make some unprecedented moves, restore the sovereignty of tangata whenua, and let them lead us out of this mess. Or at least, you know, if we can't be that revolutionary, give them an equal seat at the table to steer our path.
Let's follow in the footsteps of that brown revolutionary Jesus, not the American Jesus. Let's tear to shreds the moneylenders in the temple. Let's sit at the table with the "undesirables". It's what the whole of the New Testament was originally founded on - radical change.
This pandemic is the second time I’ve felt this kind of trauma. It’s like a complete loss of control over the future, it’s not as defined as it was before.
The first time was during and after the earthquakes in Christchurch in 2011. The initial shock of the earthquake, watching as my walls turned to literal jelly as I stood in a doorway, knowing there was absolutely nowhere I could run. Then for months afterwards, there were the necessary restrictions (water, no go zones etc ).
I was fine. I joined the Student Volunteer army for a few days and helped to shovel silt from peoples homes and saw the destruction through the eyes of people who had lost everything.
This pandemic brings me back to those feelings for the few months after those shakes in Canterbury, but it’s never ending. Now, instead of one ridiculous “Moon Man” causing people needless grief and pain (I’ll always be thankful to John Campbell for his righteous anger as he interviewed him), we now have a whole industry intent on causing as much harm as possible to the most vulnerable, alongside a media who slavishly bullhorn their dangerous and uneducated takes.
I ran the “Anti vax Wall of Shame”, a page and group on Facebook (and a short lived website) for about ten years. Friends and family constantly asked why I have a shit about anti Vaxers. They are a minority, they would say. Nobody takes them seriously, they would tell me. Myself and a core group of people (who I am proud to call friends to this day) who work in medicine, academia and people (like myself) who were concerned laymen - knew what would happen if a pandemic should hit. These people have seriously ruptured the fabric of society, and their numbers have only grown.
Thanks for the work on do on this substack David. The light you bear is far brighter and reaches far further than the little lighter I held for those years I was involved. Thanks for doing what you can to help sew this fabric back together.