Monday, November 28, 2011

NZ Aot Anglican church needs to reconnect with all Kiwis, not just the chosen minority

The election results at the weekend shout out to our leadership to connect with the reality of NZ politics rather than their perceptions of NZ politics. A few days ago I posted this provocation (or prophecy?) by one of our few Three Tikanga church officers,

"Christians can’t afford to vote National because if they do they will align themselves with the wealthy landowners of which the Bible speaks, and in doing so will alienate themselves from Christ’s love and presence."
You will not find any disavowal on the internet of this statement by any of our bishops, which is not to say any agree with it, but it is to say that they seem unwilling to check this kind of statement being made on one of our church's websites, as an expression of a viewpoint from one near the top of the administration of our church. I note on the original site of the posting that 159 people "Like" the posting, one of whom is another prominent leader in our church. I consider at least one of the commenters to the post who supported it to be another prominent leader of our church.

The statement above, being charitable, is simply an excessive expression of a viewpoint among our senior leadership over many years now in which the National Party and its approach to economic and social issues is always part of the problem not the solution.

In the citation above it is taken for granted that the National Party is solely and exclusively the vehicle of 'wealthy landowners'. But that is not how the people of Aotearoa New Zealand see the situation our country is in. I think John Armstrong of the NZ Herald is on the money about what happened on Saturday as he gives six reasons why National won the election. Reasons 2 and 6 are the important ones in this context: the economy, and concern about debt. (Incidentally, I suggest there is a seventh reason, which has turned out to be a bit surprising: appreciation for the way National has handled the quakes in Christchurch has led to a significant change in support for the National Party in this city - I wouldn't have picked that from the way the local media has constantly highlighted the negative aspects of the government's response to the earthquakes.)

In other words, to explain the fact that National increased its support in the election, gaining a stronger mandate, rather than lost support as many governments do in successive elections, we can only say that the people have determined that the best interests of our country have nothing to do with kowtowing to the wealthy landowners. The logical conclusion to draw is that the majority of voters believe our 'brighter future' lies in a continuance of the current approach to managing the economy.

Vague theories about the current approach lining the pockets of wealthy landowners and making impoverished peasants of the rest of us lack connection with the sense of the people.

We kind of pride ourselves as a church here on being the church of and for the people of Aotearoa New Zealand: all are welcome, we are inclusive. We sing that chorus again and again. Well, do we mean it? Are the 48% of voters, up from the 45% in 2008, who supported National, to say nothing of the 52.5% who voted National, Conservative, ACT or United Future welcome in our church? Or are we the church who really feel most comfortable with the 38% who voted Labour or Green? (I won't attempt to characterise where the 2.4% who voted for either the Maori or the Mana Parties, or the 6.81% who voted for New Zealand First fit in this reflection: do they increase the 'right, conservative' side of our political life or the 'left, progressive' side or sit otherwise in the political spectrum?)

But to read some comments from some of our clerical leaders over the weekend (e.g. on Facebook) the result is terrible! But what is 'terrible'? That the people have spoken? (Perhaps we prefer dictatorship?) That people have been duped? (One could scarcely call our media sycophantic to the right wing.) That the majority of voters do not understand what is at stake in the choices before them about economic policy? (An underlying presumption here seems to be that clergy know best about the economics of helping the poor, but what if the voters are saying that they believe a strong economy built on as little debt as possible is the best way to help the poor in the long-term? Will we listen?)

As a church which intends (rather than pretends) to be serious about being inclusive and welcoming to all, we may have a serious problem on our hands. To the extent to which we tolerate the kind of statement cited above we are cutting ourselves off from the majority of New Zealanders. If we are serious about inclusivity and welcome then we need to make peace with that majority, with a humble leadership which is willing to learn from the wisdom of the majority, and an open mind to engage in the reality of economics. The metanoia or repentance required may not be on the part of the people of NZ but on the part of the Anglican clergy of NZ!

The alternative is that our church presents itself to NZ society as the church for a chosen minority: what the gospel really means for social and economic life is an amalgam of Labour and Green ideas. Implicitly we actually think the minority of Kiwis - for the left-wing of NZ life on average through the decades constitutes a minority - are the ones really favoured by God. But a church satisfied with reaching out to a minority of a society is a sect not a church ...

Sect or church? For and of all the people or just the chosen few? Which way will our church go as it lives into the reality of life today?

For the record, on Saturday I did not vote for National on either the electorate or the party vote.


Father Ron Smith said...

'For the record', Peter, I did!

I do agree that Church Leaders have a duty to Church Members when they make comments about politics. Everyone knows that God favours the poor. It is a question of how best to address that policy within the parameters of our economic resources and potential growth - but not at the expense of the poor.

While I do not agree with Shawn, in his embrace of unbridled right-wing philosophy; I do believe that, for instance, the sale of a minority of the country's lucrative share in assets will save us from the danger of even more borrowing - a sure road to European -style devolution.

The truly right-wing party in this election were soundly defeated - the 'Conservative Party'. What we have now is a more equitable possibility for co-operation in government, that must be in our best interests. N.Z. has much to be thankful for - in that we have a choice of how we are governed, and by whom. That must be a blessing.

Anonymous said...

Extremely well said Peter. You have given voice to my own thoughts on this issue.


I do not embrace "unbridled right wing philosophy", I embrace Libertarianism, which does not fit easily onto traditional notions of the "right - left" spectrum.

Anonymous said...

Most churchgoers are conservative-inclined people because they understand the importance of: traditional marriage and family life, associational solidarity (which the church and other voluntary societies are), the virtues of academic achievement as the route into the professions, hard work, thrift, the avoidance of chemical stimulants, and the deferment of pleasure in pursuit of larger goals.
They are also more generous than the population at large in giving voluntarily to the poor, and they believe that the route out of poverty is often more complicated (and personal) than simply expanding government spending, which in any case has become unfeasible in the debt-ridden economies of the western world.
I have never run a business and have enormous respect for people who do, as well as providing employment for others, putting in immense hours each week and shouldering many financial burdens. Perhaps more church functionaries should try their hand at private enterprise before they pronounce too easily on the matter.

Mark Baddeley said...

I think you're on the money here, Peter. It amazes me how much better thought through Roman Catholics are in their practice on this than Protestants. From what I can see, you just won't find a Catholic bishop tell people who to vote for or against. They might stress that (for example) you shouldn't vote for someone who is pro-abortion (or anti-life), but they won't name names.

That seems the more Christian way - they articulate the fundamental Christian principles as they see them, that's the role of a teacher. But they leave the decision as to how that looks to the person who has the responsibility as a citizen.

I liked how Tony Payne put it:

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Mark
To be fair to those who I have read as saying something: (a) I haven't come across any bishops saying anything (except about supporting one of the proportional voting systems in our referendum; (b) what has been said could be construed as 'don't vote for X' rather than 'vote for Y'.

Anonymous said...

What is the response from Anglican bishops to your good points, here and in other posts? How can you see who “liked” the linked post? Who is the other prominent Anglican leader?

The suggestion that the Conservative Party was soundly defeated is strange. It was only registered two months ago, and polled about 2.8% of the vote, making that the 5th largest vote, in front of United Future, ACT, the Maori Party and the Mana Party!

The attack on it and, repeatedly here, on NZFirst fits in with the Anglican Church one-issue perspective. When was the last time abortion was discussed at a synod in NZ? When was the last time an Anglican bishop spoke about abortion? Point to a blog post on this site about abortion.

Family First has Conservative and NZFirst as the only two parties with right to life for the unborn child. They are both rated above 80% by Family First. No other parties get above 50%.

Young people do talk about these things. And vote with these things in mind. Meanwhile Anglicans only talk about one issue (certainly on this site) – except, perhaps, those who “like” on that other site.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Dave,
I would be surprised if any Anglican bishops read ADU - they are assuredly too busy.

On the Social Justice website where Anthony Dancer writes, at the bottom of his column, is a line about "X and 159 people Like this", that being (I think) a link from Facebook. Now to make matters confusing, I have seen on the internet two versions of his posting with two different comment threads, but I cannot find my way back to one of them. It is on the other that I saw an "X" who is a very prominent, but non-episcopal leader in our church. However if you go to the site it could be that the line is now "Y + 167 people Like this" ... Facebook etc is a bit of a mystery (I find) ...

I stand by my negative judgement of NZ First, without apology. The "leadership" of Winston Peters since he held the country to ransom after the 1996 election is a blot on our political landscape. There have been other blots and bit by bit voters have removed them. I am coming to terms with the fact that 6.8% of voters in a democratic election have voted this blot back onto our landscape. Blots can have policies we agree with, but I can assure you that in this case this blot is not in parliament to promote the policy you agree with on abortion.

You would need to ask the many clerical and lay members of synods up and down the land why none of them have felt like introducing a motion on abortion to a synod. Speaking for myself, I do not think legislation on abortion is the primary area of interest for Christians wishing to protect life. Our primary interest is in promoting respect for life in society.

The law surrounding abortion always has a vested interest in preventing the past of back street abortions and the like coming back into our society. There is always consideration of reforming the current law in part, but I wonder if that is a complicated matter to put into a synodical motion (because life is complicated around men and women, sex, women carrying babies their men take no responsibility for, etc) and Anglicans want to acknowledge the complexity of life in wider society even as we wish no abortion ever happened and all lives in every womb were safeguarded.

One thing to note when asking why no Anglican seems to bring a motion to synods these days about abortion is that means neither the most conservative nor the most liberal not the masses in between are bringing such motions to synods.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, that's now a couple of comments you've made questioning the reason why no Anglicans have made moves towards the restriction of abortions in this country. Well, you, yourself could make up that deficiency - if it appeals to you to do so.

However, some of us Anglicans in New Zealand, and around the world, believe that there is a case for abortion - in certain circumstances - where the 'sanctity of life' for the mother is a primary consideration.

However, the conservative case against the use of contraception does have a role to play in this argument, which even you might acknowledge. I'm prepared to argue further - if that's what you really want on you blog.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Right now I am not particularly wanting to talk about abortion: it is a subject I would have to work up to; and that would take time which is at a bit of an Advent premium at the moment. But feel free to comment yourself: I will post them!