Cringe communication #3: Cult of personality?

3 September, 2014 — 4 Comments

This is another post in a series where I give some real-life true stories of what I call cringe communication from the church. Click here for the introduction to this series where I suggest we can improve the communication of the church by eliminating cringe communication.


One church in New Zealand that often features in the media is the Destiny Church led by Bishop Brian Tamaki. I want your feedback: do you agree that my example below in this post is bad communication? If not why not?

When Destiny Church is exposed by the media, it is usually when something counter-cultural to New Zealand society occurs. One example of this was in 2009 when 700 men in the church swore an oath of allegiance to leader Tamaki and paid $295 each for a covenant ring. Quoted in the New Zealand Herald newspaper, Professor Peter Lineham criticised Destiny:

There’s huge amounts of social control going on. The oath creates a community where you don’t have to think for yourself. At its heart it makes it difficult for anyone to raise concerns about the direction the movement’s taking. There’s no room to hold him [Bishop Tamaki] accountable, and that’s the scariest thing.

When the general public read about this or see it on the television news, I suspect their opinion of it would be similar to mine, which is to cringe at the cult-like nature of the church being represented, and to perhaps, assign those characteristics to “the church” in general.

These actions of Destiny Church, which are made public, communicate.

Care in what we communicate?

The nature of this communication is, in my opinion, through my own observation and understanding, at odds with the kind of communication that could be successful with people outside of the church, or at least done in a way that shares common ground and understanding.

Notwithstanding my criticisms here, I do not necessarily doubt the sincerity of the Christian beliefs underpinning the communication I am taking issue with: I am sure that if I were to have open conversations with Brian Tamaki he would have well-intentioned reasons backed with passionate commitment to the cause of his interpretation of the Christian church and tradition, that justify the need for men to buy covenant rings.

Counter-culture: what’s ok?

I believe there is supposed to be something counter-cultural about the church, such as the way we love one another (John 13.35). The counter-cultural aspect of getting male church members to buy covenant rings and pledge allegiance to the denomination leader is foreign to me and I don’t understand it.

Am I missing information? Could Destiny Church have provided an explanation that sat alongside the media exposure on this issue, that perhaps attempted to generate some common ground, allowing for more constructive and successful communication?

Can you think of other examples, perhaps even in your own church community, where strange or misunderstood actions end up harming the communication process rather than enhancing it?

Other posts in this series

Cringe communication #1: Student survey tricksters.
Cringe communication #2: Same-sex marriage “a failure of democracy”.
Cringe communication #4: Billboard bashers.

Image: A Cult of Personality, by Jari Schroderus on, Creative Commons.

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  • Mark Day

    This conundrum really piques my interest. How do we distinguish between counter-cultural church practices that are detrimental to communication on the one hand, and on the other, practices which are weird in the eyes of the wider society but which we should nonetheless maintain? There is something unashamedly weird about the Christian message- “foolishness to the Greeks” and all that. There’s something odd about Christians too, “a peculiar people.” So while I’m keen to reduce ‘cringe communication’, I sometimes wonder how effectively we can do that without reducing the message, which is already weird.

    One part of the answer is to ask how closely the weirdness of the practice resembles the weirdness of the message we’re trying to communicate. Is the cringe worthy behaviour something which is weird in the same way the Gospel is? Or are they both just coincidentally weird? For my money the Destiny/Tamaki/covenant ring example is cringe worthy precisely because it departs from he Gospel at a pretty clear point: that is, the exaltation of a leader.

    A counter example: Baptism and Eucharist are in my opinion weird and should stay weird. We can change the details how we do those things as they are the mode not the object of worship, but I think the essential character of those practises is weird exactly because they’re attached to the weird Christian message.

    • Hi Mark. I think you’ve answered your own question!
      You do highlight a tension, which I think requires wisdom including an understanding of the times…
      Baptism is pretty strange! So yeah, what makes me ok with that and not covenant rings?
      According to my recent post about “some Christians do amazing good”

      – that too is perhaps pretty weird: people having a concern for justice, inequality, poverty, etc and hooking that into an everyday no-frills expression of Christian faith = weird, but to me intuitively seems like the right thing to be “communicating”.

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