Monday, April 28, 2014

The politics of Jesus (Monday 28 April 2014)

The politics of Jesus in NZ got quite interesting last week! Unexpectedly Shane Jones, a leading Labour MP, not only announced that he was leaving parliament at the end of May but that he was likely taking up a government South Pacific fisheries role. Time will tell whether this torpedos Labour's already slim chance of leading the next government after our 20 September election. For a flavour of punditry on the matter, read Vernon Small here.

Small's point, which we gather was also Shane Jones' point as a "right-winger" within the Labour caucus, is that to win elections in NZ (and, it would seem, in most Western democracies) one needs an approach to policy more shaped by pragmatism than idealism. The pragmatism, that is, which asks what the broad middle ground of voters are likely to support. With the exception of utterly extraordinary times (e.g. 1933 in Germany), voters do not vote for the idealism of communism, fascism, monetarism, or (thinking of the USA currently) the "ism" which drives the so called Tea Party forward which I understand to be "let's have virtually no government at all." Voters in Western democracies vote for a little bit of change, this election perhaps shaped by keenness to see the poor assisted better but next election maybe influenced by the promised growth for the whole economy and enlargement of personal spending money through slightly reduced taxes. The classic binary switches between Republican/Democrat, Conservative/Labour (UK), Liberal/Labour (Oz) or National/Labour (NZ) are hardly ever made because one party is promising to turn the world upside down!

For Christians thinking about, even getting involved in politics through party membership, engaging with the necessary pragmatism required to win elections can be very tough. Our default setting is idealism. The vision of radical discipleship in the context of communist community life in Acts 2 and 4 says nothing about 'middle ground' or 'shifting the centre a few percentage points in the polls'!

But the Shane Jones' resignation, with Vernon Small's article in view, challenges Christians in another way. If the major parties were once 'broad church' parties then a ready explanation for how a reasonable number of Christians made their way into parliament is that their views as Christians were able to be accommodation in these broad churches. But if the Labour Party here is becoming less of a broad church, even taking on a form of political sectarianism, are Christians destined to belong to the National Party only or to never stand for parliament?

Incidentally, Shane Jones is an Anglican Christian. On the one occasion in which I met him, we were both members of our General Synod in 1996!


Michael Reddell said...

If Shane Jones is still a practising Anglican, I do hope he hears the call to repentance. The story in the Herald yesterday of his current relationship, and his very ill wife, left an unpleasant after taste.

Not sure why you would think National is a more comfortable home for Christians than Labour. Both parties are comfortable with state provision of all-but-unrestricted abortion, and there seems little difference on issues like gay marriage. As I understood it, David Cunliffe is an Anglican too (of the St Matthews variety).

NZ makes quite a striking contrast to Australia, where the new premier of NSW once studied at Regent's College, and much of the Federal Cabinet are serious Catholics.

Peter Carrell said...

While not aware, Michael, of all the 'difficulties' in Shane Jones' much publicised 'private' life (and do not normally read the NZ Herald), I am aware that what a journalist might call 'colourful' aspects to his life, theologians would call 'sinful.'

To the extent that National remains a 'broad church' party, one which does not seem intent on hounding people out who do not follow certain agenda, then Christians may, as we move forward from last week, find National more congenial than Labour. But the key word is 'more' and you rightly point out some reasons to belong to neither party.

Chris Nimmo said...

"NZ makes quite a striking contrast to Australia, where the new premier of NSW once studied at Regent's College, and much of the Federal Cabinet are serious Catholics."

Not serious enough, however, to alter their ruthless policies against asylum seekers. Christian politicians will always disappoint us!

Michael Reddell said...

Last time I checked, the refugee convention required people to claim refuge in the nearest country, or first country they arrive at, after leaving the home country. Anything else looks a lot like economic migration - I point I imagine the Australian ministers would make.

Caleb said...

What was it when the Europeans invaded and systematically eradicated the existing peoples, Michael?

I think you've swallowed a mainstream media narrative too easily, Peter. I don't see how someone who leaves his party (partly) because he's not willing to work with his party's biggest potential ally represents "broad church." I think it represents a man stuck in a 2-party mindset unable to accept the "broad church" implications of MMP coalition governments, as well as someone in the wrong party... NZ First would have been a better fit... he could have been Winston's heir-apparent.

It does seem that Labour's membership and (to a lesser extent) its leader are keen to move Labour back a bit more to where they used to be pre-1984 - in other words, make them a left-wing party again. The caucus, however, seems divided. I think for the forseeable future there will be a lot more diversity of perspectives within Labour's caucus than National's. But I think it's the unproductive kind of diversity (more infighting than cooperation and no coherent vision) rather than the productive "broad church" kind (people from different perspectives uniting behind a common vision) that we see in the Greens or National. (At least National at the moment... After Key leaves, who knows what will happen - the most obvious next leader has destroyed all her credibility in the last few months... And major parties in opposition are usually a bit of a mess - cf. National in the Clark years or Labour in the Key years)

Michael Reddell said...

economic migration

(not, mind you, that there was any systematic eradication)

Caleb said...

It's more accurately called genocide.

Janice said...

It's more accurately called genocide.


There is a review (published a couple of days ago) of a book titled "The Black War: Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania" written by Nicholas Clements, and based on his meticulous PhD research. Henry Reynolds has described it as, "a work that will end the history wars".

From the article:
Clements argues (as did Reynolds) that “genocide’’ is an inappropriate term to apply to the Tasmanian conflict, because colonial authorities did not have a deliberate policy aimed at destroying the Aboriginal population.

He also argues that “if you call it genocide, you really neglect the agency and resistance of the Aboriginal people. Aborigines in Tasmania had the simplest technology of any known modern humans. And yet they put up a stronger resistance than any indigenous peoples in 140 years of conflict on this continent. That in itself is a remarkable feat."

You can find the article here but if you get blocked by the pay wall you could try searching on the title of the article which is, "Beyond black and white". That often works.

And, Caleb, I'm still waiting for your thoughts on what are "unearned privileges" and what are "current inequalities". I really do want to know how you define these. I'm starting to think that these could be just two more feel-good terms (like "social justice") that people throw around when they're doing a bit of moral posturing. So far I've been unable to find anyone who can define "social justice" with any precision in which case the term, connoting too much, becomes meaningless. We had a fellow from Anglicare visiting us recently and he spoke about "social justice" but when I asked him what he meant by that he said a few things but didn't give me an answer.

Kurt said...

I read the same review in “The Australian,” Janice. Call it genocide or “just” ethnic cleansing, these acts against the Aborigines were crimes against humanity. And remember, Nicholas Clements’ book has yet to be formally released so many other scholars in the field have not yet had an opportunity to read and weigh in on it.

Of course, Professor Henry Reynolds’ opinion is significant, since he is well-known as a proponent of so-called “black armband history.” He believes that up to 3,000 Euro-Australians and over 20,000 Australian Aborigines were killed as the result of frontier violence during the white settlement of Australia. But, remember, he was Clements’ mentor, so obviously he would be favorable to his student’s research.

As an American I’m of course struck by the parallels with our own settlement of the continent. And as a white American who is part Cherokee, I have empathy with both sides of these conflicts.

I must admit, though, I’ve always been struck by the relative lack of armed conflict throughout Australian history. Compared to many other countries, including my own, Australia’s history (thus far) has been fairly placid. Even Castle Hill/Vinegar Hill (1804) and Eureka Stockade (1854) would barely qualify as major riots in America or Europe, let alone “battles.”

According to Clements, about 200 colonists and 600 Aborigines died in Tasmania from 1824-1831. By contrast, for example, in Pennsylvania at the Battle of the Monongahela (1755), in one three-hour engagement near Pittsburg, the British redcoats and American colonial forces lost nearly 1,000 in killed and wounded against the French and Indians, who had fewer than 100 total casualties.

Clements’ book, however, does demolish the central thesis of Keith Windschuttle, which has been a favorite rallying point for Australian conservatives for over a dozen years.

Oh, and Janice, if you are really interested in what constitutes “unearned privileges,” I suggest you check out the new book by French economist Thomas Piketty which is being discussed in all our universities and colleges now. Here he is at the City University of New York Graduate Center a couple of weeks ago:

And there is an important new study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page on how America is now an oligarchy:

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Caleb said...

Janice, cherry-picking one position from within the Australian "history wars" doesn't disprove other positions. Of course, it could also be said that I'm only representing one view from within those wars.

So I'll amend what I said... Instead of saying "It's more accurately called genocide" I will say (borrowing some phrases from Kurt) "There is a lot of debate about whether Australian colonisation amounts to genocide or not. It should be noted that casual racism and atrocity-denial are rife in Australia so the truth is unlikely to be a simple central point between the various extremes. The acts were clearly 'crimes against humanity,' whether we call it 'genocide or "just" ethnic cleansing.'"

As for inequality, I don't think it's worth my time saying anything more than I already have; you seem pretty firmly set in your views. Kurt has provided some useful links... his second one reminds me of this article which I'll add to his suggestions.

Janice said...


I don't know how you get from me asking questions of you to you assuming I'm so firmly set in my views that it's not worth your time answering those questions. Matthew 7: 1-5

I read your linked article and found some things I agree with, some I don't agree with and some I don't know enough about to judge. It seems to me that the arguments about inequality have gone the way of post modernism theory. Foucault had some good ideas but his followers took that train of thought and stretched it beyond what is reasonable. So whereas it is true to say, as Foucault did, that people raised within a culture understand it best, it is not true to say, as Foucault's followers and popularisers did, that other people can't understand it at all (and therefore have no right to speak about it). This is the sort of thing I watched happening in Australia in the late 90s, early 2000s, in relation to indigenous disadvantage. It became obvious that the things that needed doing would never be done unless and until advocated by a strong indigenous leader. So I thank God for Noel Pearson.

Going back to inequality: when I was studying public health we were told of a town in America, the name of which I've forgotten, where the rate of heart disease was much less than in surrounding towns despite the residents having the same demographic, including socioeconomic, characteristics. In the post WWII period, however, their rate of heart disease increased until it matched the rate in the surrounding towns. This occurred in the context of rising prosperity.

On investigation it turned out that they had a new priest who, unlike the old priest, did not condemn displays of wealth. So instead of sitting on their front porches and chatting with their neighbours, they retreated to their new backyard barbecues and pools, bought flash new cars and travelled away for holidays. Now, I can't remember if it was the people who didn't get rich who got the extra heart disease or the people who did get rich or if heart disease was distributed equally across both groups. If it was those who got rich that argues against the idea that you should make not so rich people richer to improve their health. If it was the not so rich then, considering that nothing else changed for them except that they didn't see their richer neighbours so often, that argues against the idea that income inequality, per se, promotes heart disease. If it was everybody who got more heart disease then, plainly, income inequality, per se, is not the problem. The problem is not financial but spiritual. It is not to do with how much money you have (or don't have) but what you do with it (or how you respond to how others use their wealth). Luke 3:14, Philippians 4:11, 1 Timothy 6:7-9 Hebrews 13:5