Leviticus, Spewing, and Tamaki

Reverend Francis RitchieBible16 Comments

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  • Pingback: Earthquakes & End Times – Rhett Snell()

  • Stan Goodvibes

    Well that was a great discourse on how God doesn’t bring calamity on people and that Brian misinterpreted Leviticus to imply that He caused the earthquake. That must be a great comfort to those caught up in the earthquake trying to just get on with their lives and being unfairly judged because of someone else’s religious beliefs.

    I can’t wait for part 2 where you bring comfort to the other victims of Brian’s speech by explaining that Brian also misinterpreted the Old Testament to imply that God hates gay people. Because the LGBT community are the real victims here and you totally omitted them from this post, so I assume you are saving them for their own separate letter of comfort in this blog. As you pointed out natural disasters are entirely natural and no-one is to blame, so to make NZers who suffered in the earthquake feel that they somehow deserved Gods wrath is poor form, but to then single out a minority group of society and point the finger at them is the very antithesis of how Jesus responded to the outcasts he met along the way.

    Good on you for standing up for the these people persecuted by Brian, when so few other churches are voicing their disapproval.

    • Stan Goodvibes

      p.s. well said about the push to revoke charity status for Destiny. There is an argument that the modern church is no longer engaged in charitable works and exists solely to assuage the guilt of the while middle class and the ginormous inequality they enjoy over the poor (prosperity gospel – brilliant!), but regardless of what you think of Tamaki, Destiny does reach a lot of lower class NZers who are predominately Maori, including many at-risk young men. Without Destiny many of these men might look for a place to belong elsewhere – in a gang perhaps. The savings to the NZ taxpayer in policing, courts, and prison for just one of these men is substantial. It’s difficult to estimate the net savings Destiny provides to the NZ taxpayer, not to mention the social benefits, of all these young men it attracts. Given that they seem to be the only church (apart from the Sallies) who are actually reaching these people at the lower end of society they are probably more deserving of charitable status than most other churches in NZ.

  • Mark Keown

    Hi. Thanks for the promo. Not smarter my friend, just another person trying to make sense of this crazy world and the stuff going on in it. You are awesome. Great post. You too are an all round good guy. 🙂 Mark.

    • Thanks mate. Sadly we now have that petition floating around that is gaining steam quickly. I think what Tamaki said was deplorable, but the petition has wider ramifications than just dealing with a bad piece of his sermon. Hopefully the powers that be stop and think before giving into it.

    • Mark Keown

      Galatians 6 states that we reap what we sow. Sadly, he is reaping it. He will likely interpret this as persecution of the righteous. To be honest, I wouldn’t blame the government for doing this.

    • It’ll be entirely understandable, just sad and it will set a fascinating precedent going forward.

    • Rosjier Hall

      I take it nothing happened Re: the petition ?

    • Obviously not yet – but there is clearly a section of public sentiment for it and a few politicians sympathetic to the idea. So it’s worth keeping an eye on.

    • Rosjier Hall

      Thanks

  • Reece

    Hi Frank. A good response. The only thing I would add is the covenantal understanding of Israel’s relationship with God and the ‘land’ introduced at the beginning of Leviticus 18.

    • Good point, Reece. There’s a good discussion to be had about the expectations placed upon the nation of ancient Israel within that covenant as compared to gentiles following Christ. Trying to create direct applications across those two very different context’ creates problems.

  • Jay Matenga

    A reasonable response Frank. Just one observation -Māori by and large would not read the Bible as metaphorically as you suggest in your post that it should to be read. Yours is a particularly Western overlay of the text. I would posit that the Israelites would also accept the meaning as more literal than metaphorical. Not literal in a scientific sense but certainly more cause and effect than you indicate. For indigenous peoples, it is not just the way humans treat the planet that has an effect on the planet. It is well understood (amongst indigenous peoples and widely reported within anthropology) that indigenous people view human relationships as affecting the environment in more ways than directly. Rev. Maori Marsden speaks of broken relationships ‘ripping’ the universe apart and reconciliation weaving it back together. The Bible supports this view and although I don’t subscribe to the extreme interpretation Bishop Brian draws from the text, Christians need to better understand the spiritual significance of human interactions manifesting physically on creation in less direct ways. After all, it’s not for no reason that “all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.”.

    • Thanks, Jay. We’re in agreement I hold to that view more than my post gives indication of when discussing that particular passage. There are other passages that would make that more obvious if I was to get into them – but to try and expound on that further would have made the post too long – plus, I’m not sure I’m qualified enough to give a larger explanation of that view. I have much to learn from others in that area.

    • PS – this is why I think more commentaries are needed from indigenous peoples and they need to be widely accessible to those who do biblical studies and theology. Such cultures are likely to be closer in worldview to the writers of the Bible than modern westerners such as myself 🙂

    • Rachel Shaffett

      ThankU so much for sharing Jay! I couldnt agree more! Avatar film may be fiction but as a part Maori myself; our inter-connectedness desperately needs a lot more awareness, honour & respect! Bring it on, Lord!!! Wake us Sheeple Up!!! Oxoxoxo Shalom