By Chris Trotter*
Brian Tamaki's feelings of disappointment must have been overwhelming. Looking down from the steps of the Auckland Museum at the 800-1,000 people who turned up to his anti-lockdown rally, the would-be national messiah’s most vivid impression could only have been one of empty space.
Where were they? The tens-of-thousands of angry Auckland citizens he had felt quite certain would answer his call? Where was the great sea of human-beings whose roars of support he’d imagined washing over him like the love of God? What had gone wrong?
It is important to remember when dealing with Tamaki that his political instincts are, like his Destiny Church, strong, few and poor. This is, after all, the same man who, in the run-up to the 2005 General Election, was absolutely convinced that his newly-founded Destiny NZ Party would receive hundreds-of-thousands of votes. In vain did more seasoned observers of politics warn him that anything over 1% of the Party Vote would be a small miracle. He was having none of it. God was on his side. What God gave him, however, was 0.62% of the Party Vote.
Most people would have drawn the obvious lesson from such a debacle – and quit while they were behind. But Brian Tamaki is not most people. After fifteen years, he and his wife, Hannah, were ready to try again. Predictably, to everyone except Mr and Mrs Tamaki, Vision NZ fared even worse than Destiny NZ at the ballot box. Its share of the Party Vote was just 0.15%. Across the entire country fewer than 5,000 people were willing to give Hannah and her visionaries the tick. God’s messages are nothing if not clear!
And still “Bishop” Tamaki perseveres. Still, the visions come of the masses answering his clarion call to rise in rebellion against the manifest sins of this fallen, godless world. (Of course, if the world truly is fallen and godless, then expecting a big turnout against its sinfulness is straining Christian hopefulness to its limits!)
It has yet to dawn on Tamaki that his eschatology is all wrong. If the gospels make anything at all clear, it is that, on the highway to Hell, the traffic is always bumper-to-bumper. In Christian theology, however, the off-road track to salvation has always required a spiritual four-wheel-drive – “and few there be that find it”. Rather than inspiring him, Tamaki’s dreams of huge crowds shouting his name should terrify him. Theologically, they are likely to hail (heil?) from a location well to the south of the Pearly Gates!
Ironically, it is precisely this Christian conviction that “many are called, but few are chosen” that salves the consciences of religiously-inspired anti-vaxxers.
As anyone familiar with the Book of Revelation knows, the imminence of Christ’s second coming is attested to by the rise and rise of an all-powerful totalitarian regime presided over by the Antichrist. More and more will be demanded of the Antichrist’s hapless victims – until they are wholly corrupted and damned. Only a tiny handful of believers will find the moral courage to resist Satan’s lies. Persecuted and martyred for their faith, they will be God’s chosen few. His soul survivors.
So, you see, it really isn’t that big a jump from the Book of Revelation to Facebook. From defying the Antichrist, to refusing to submit to Jacinda’s jabs. Especially when being a member of a tiny, irksome minority is not seen as proof of ethical imbecility, but of moral superiority. If only more people would “do their own research” then they, too, could be saved.
For those who prefer to stay out of rabbit-holes, however, Tamaki and his ilk pose some particularly thorny problems.
A great many Aucklanders watched their television screens with mounting fury on Saturday evening (2/10/21). Why were these people being allowed to break the Covid regulations with seeming impunity? What was the point of following the rules, and being a decent, conscientious citizen, when these fools were flouting the law under the very noses of the Police – and getting away it? Why were people being allowed to protest in a time of Covid?
The simple answer to that question may well be that, in a time of Covid, the Police are too thinly-stretched to shut down a large protest. Faced with the prospect of mass illegality, the usual Police practice is to bolster local numbers with officers drawn from other parts of the country. In a time of Covid, however, moving large numbers of people around the country is fraught with considerable epidemiological risk. With regional borders closed, the call on Police resources is further amplified by the need to maintain effective check-points. The Auckland Police were also required to maintain their presence at the city’s MIQ facilities.
Police Commissioner Andy Coster may have had no choice except to “negotiate” with Tamaki. Rather than open confrontation, he may have opted for shrewd calculation. If he could extract promises from Tamaki (such as maintaining social distancing and wearing face-masks) which his ill-disciplined followers subsequently failed to honour, it would play out much better for the Police than supplying protest organisers with disturbing images of Police officers forcibly detaining Tamaki, and others, which the “Bishop” and his backers could later exploit for propaganda purposes. After all, the public’s initial shock and dismay at Police inaction could easily be assuaged if, as soon as Tamaki’s followers were safely dispersed, the man himself was very publicly arrested and charged.
That barely 24 hours after his first, Tamaki was publicly promising to hold more rallies, strongly suggests that he and his advisers were, indeed, thoroughly disappointed with the outcome of Saturday’s effort. The low turnout (remove Tamaki’s loyal congregation, and the number of non-Destiny protesters plummets to around the 200 mark) indicates a population which, in spite of his own, and the Right’s, best efforts to stir-up mass dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of the pandemic, remains steadfast in its determination to keep the Covid faith.
Bruised and battered by events though Aucklanders (and now the people of the Waikato) may be. Frightened by the Delta variant’s stubborn refusal to lie down and die, though the rest of the country has become, there is much more evidence of Christian faith, hope and charity in Jacinda’s “Team of Five Million”, than there is in any number of false prophets, “Gotcha!” journalists, and “Let the Devil take the hindmost!” business leaders.
In the end, Tamaki’s disappointing rally was, curiously reassuring. Let’s not forget that the last time the Auckland Domain hosted a mass political gathering, it saw 20,000 Aucklanders turn out to reaffirm their Prime Minister’s “They Are Us” defence of New Zealand’s devastated Muslim community. While the latest Census figures confirm that New Zealand is no longer a Christian nation, its citizens’ refusal to be moved by sly political sophistry and cheap religious theatrics proves that they have not forgotten its founder’s redemptive message.
*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. He writes a weekly column for interest.co.nz. His work may also be found at http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com.