There’s a lot of understandable rage being spewed in the direction of Brian Tamaki yet again following comments of his in a recent sermon that has been made public. Those comments connected bits of Genesis and Leviticus to earthquakes in Aotearoa New Zealand and blamed such natural disasters on the actions of people. When people have lost their livelihoods and loved ones in those disasters, such comments are raw and cutting.
I won’t regurgitate much of what has been said in reaction to the sermon clip. What I’m interested in responding to is the interpretation of the passage in Leviticus that I think he is referring to. Please be aware that I am not seeking a wider discussion on all the passages in the Old Testament that people (including myself) find difficult to understand. I just want to hone in on Brian Tamaki’s interpretation of this particular passage in Leviticus.
My interest in the passage relates to the mention of ‘land.’ For a concise explanation of how Christianity relates to the mosaic laws of Leviticus, see Graham Cameron’s post – Leviticus, Earthquakes, and Brian Tamaki’s Lust for Punishment.
The specific passage that is most likely being referenced is Leviticus 18:24-28
24 “‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
The mention of defilement relates to a number of prohibitions talked of in the passage.
In this particular passage the ‘land’ – the nation the Israelites were about to take over – has been poetically personified and given human attributes. The same was done in Genesis 4 with the story of Cain and Abel that Tamaki also mentioned. In that passage sin ‘crouches,’ Abel’s blood raises its voice to cry to God, and the ground opens its mouth to receive Abel’s blood. The metaphors are quite stunning and they paint a dramatic picture. Trying to develop a theology of the land that literalises such poetic metaphorical language is obviously problematic.
In the Leviticus passage there are two things to consider that call into question how Brian Tamaki has interpreted the passage:
- When it talks about ‘land’ it’s not referencing the soil or ground in the same way the Genesis 4 passage does. The Leviticus passage is talking about the area – the nation that the Israelites were to inhabit. The writer did not have anything that could be interpreted as tectonic plates in mind.
- Verse 24 talks about nations being driven out before the people of Israel and in verse 28 it threatens that if the Israelites ‘defile the land’ they’ll suffer the same fate. The nations referred to were driven out by war, not earthquakes and volcanoes. The same happened for the Israelites in their own gut wrenching exile from the ‘land.’
So when this particular passage talks of the land vomiting them out it is talking about how they will be driven from the area they live in. It’s not talking about natural disasters. It’s using dramatic poetic language to paint a picture and drive the point home.
I do want to make note that I wholeheartedly believe in a connection between how we collectively live and the health of the earth – a connection beyond what I can fathom. There are passages in scripture that can be pointed out to make that case. In the beginning of the sermon clip that Destiny put on its Facebook page, Brian Tamaki shares a thought around this before expanding and specifically hitting Christchurch with thoughts I disagree with.
We’re connected to the planet. There are reasons that the mosaic law stipulated a Sabbath rest for the land (Lev 25:1-7). What I can understand is that as Christians we have a mandate for creation care and to challenge the overuse and destruction of the earth’s resources, but that is a different case from the one made in Brian Tamaki’s sermon comments about Christchurch and it is different from what is being said in the passage he alluded to.
Update: Dr Mark Keown, a lecturer in New Testament studies at Laidlaw College (and an all-round good guy), has a post on this that is worth reading. He’s much smarter than I am, so I suggest you read his post, Seriously Bishop Brian!
Having now seen the petition doing the rounds to try and have Destiny’s tax exempt status removed I wish to say that I understand the emotion and the thinking behind that call, but I do not support it. I disagree with Brian Tamaki on many things and Destiny is very different from my own practice of Christian faith community, but the implications of having their charitable status removed go beyond what many people are considering and would set a troublesome precedent, especially if it is driven by public sentiment. The fallout would be much broader than most people anticipate. By all means, rigorously test that they continually meet the criteria but calling for their status as a charity to be removed over this rebuffs others values that we as a nation hold to be important.