Although New Zealand may be viewed as a South Pacific country, part of Oceania, politically set within the Western world, in fact it is the earth’s most eastern country in respect to the measuring of the day: the sun’s rays of each new dawn fall first on our shores, at least according to the current convention of the international date-line. So it is appropriate that a report from New Zealand is heard as the last of an eastward reach of listening to a selection of examples from within the world-wide Anglican Communion.
I want to do three things. First, to draw out some hermeneutical reference points from the stimulating addresses given yesterday. The work of Fr Michael Amalados and Dr Sati Clarke will inform my later comments. Second, I want to give a contextual perspective to the mission and interfaith engagement of the Church in New Zealand. Third, I will attempt to give an illustrative flavour, rather than a comprehensive overview, of New Zealand engagement in interfaith concerns. In this regard I will note some formal structures and share some anecdotal examples, drawing out the links between these examples and the interpretive motifs of yesterday’s speakers. In that way I trust we will gain some insight about interfaith engagement and concerns in New Zealand.
From the work of Fr Amalados I take two main points. The goal of mission, he reminds us, is essentially that of enacting and enabling the “kingdom of God”, in respect to which the Church functions as both symbol and servant. The Church is to both present, and represent, the kingdom; and its life is to perform an enabling role in bringing about the values, incarnated dynamics, and lived reality of that kingdom.
Secondly, and by way of logical development from the foregoing, Fr Amalados draws our attention to a paradigm contrast, indeed a paradigm shift. On the one hand we have the traditional evangelical mission paradigm wherein the outworking of the kingdom necessarily requires the conversion of the ‘religious other’ as, otherwise, ‘religious opponent’. On the other hand a rethought paradigm focuses on the idea of the kingdom being expressed in and through the promotion of mutual conversion, or a mutual turning to, the all-encompassing Divine Reality, howsoever conceptualised. This certainly suggests a radical rethink of missionary motif and praxis, one which, of course, is well-underway. But the traditional paradigm persists within the wider Church, and predominates still in the perception of the Church as often held by our religious partners, our religious ‘others’ in many parts of the world. Where mission is identified with conversion, and conversion is perceived as a cultural threat, the Church faces understandable pressure, a pressure which can yield unfortunate, even tragic, consequences. This is especially so for a Church whose missionary praxis is premised more on service and the invitation to conversation.
Dr Sati Clarke provides us with a hermeneutical framework couched in lively metaphor. On the one hand religion—any religion—may appear and act as terrifying Beast: human history and recent experience reminds us that at times religion can and does sanction evil and violence even as it proclaims values asserting the opposite. On the other hand, religion can be the enchanting Beauty: religion can present as invitation to enter a world of transcendent mystery; it can evoke attractively winsome responses of devotion and commendable intentions to discipleship. It is the prospect of profound transcendent beauty that feeds the perennial spiritual hunger of humankind. This portrayal of religion in general applies also the Church of course: the beauteous and the beastly can both occur. We hope more for the one; at times we have to confront and overcome the other in our midst. Alongside this sobering hermeneutical analysis, the textile metaphor, which Dr Sati draws from scripture, yields a useful and insightful dynamic of the life and mission of the Church. In enacting kingdom values and meaning the Church may varyingly be the patch of relevance and coherence; the fringe point of compassionate contact; or the divided garment, scattered in, and available to, the world. Mission occurs in the context of multifaceted engagement.
When turning to the question of mission and interfaith engagement of the Church in New Zealand, some contextualising remarks are called for. New Zealand is a secular state with an embedded bi-cultural polity that now pervades institutional arrangements within society at large, as well as playing a defining role in the life of the Church. This bi-cultural basis is rooted in the 1840 Treaty signed between the Maori and the British Crown. The Treaty of Waitangi was important, at least in part, because it represented a less hostile means of establishing sovereignty than occurred, for example, in Australia. At its best the Treaty signals the desire for a peaceable coexistence of two races, under one governance structure, implying an ethic of independent yet mutual partnership between the two signatory partners. However, it is only in recent times that the partnership motif has come into clear focus and has been, since the 1980s, of particular concern to the life of the Churches.
However, even as the country—which often is referred to as Aotearoa-New Zealand to reflect its bi-cultural heritage and contemporary identity derived therefrom—the pressing lived reality of most people in New Zealand is increasingly multi-cultural and poly-religious. According to the 1996 Census results, European (or Pakeha) comprised 79.6% of the population with Maori at 14.5%. Polynesians numbered 5.6% with Chinese 2.2% and Indian 1.2%. The New Zealand Official Yearbook 2000 indicates a decline in religious affiliation so far as the major Christian denominations are concerned, but an increase of persons identifying with other religions overall. The 1996 Census figures, upon which the Yearbook information is based, show that an increased number of people claim no religious affiliation whatsoever. Indeed this category rose by one-third over the previous (1991) Census to a point where fully one-quarter of the New Zealand population recorded themselves in 1996 as having no religion. During the same period the numbers of Buddhists and Muslims more than doubled, while Hindus increased by about 50%. However, each of these groups comprised less than one percent of the total population, and most of the increment would be due to immigration factors.
Of the Christian denominations, Pentecostals were the only group to experience significant growth—55%—in the census period 1991-1996. In the mid 90s Anglicans, comprising about 18% of the total population, were the single largest religious group, followed by the Roman Catholics on about 13%; Presbyterians on 12.5%; Methodists at 3.4% and Baptists on 1.5%. The Mormon religion, which has attracted a significant Maori constituency, accounted for a little over 1.1% of the total population of New Zealand. The major indigenous Maori Christian Church—Ratana—was fractionally over 1%. Although some details have since changed, the overall religious demography would today be much the same.
In 1990 the Anglican Church in New Zealand enacted a major piece of constitutional restructuring to produce a three-way institutional arrangement of ecclesial autonomy within a form of federal relationship. The Church today is, constitutionally, The Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Using the Maori term tikanga (meaning ‘path’ or ‘way’, and referring to diversity of customs and practices), the Church created three semi-autonomous independent entities to embrace, respectively, Maori, Pakeha (or ‘European’, which as an ecclesial category is inclusive of all other ethnicities who simply belong to that branch of the Church), and Polynesian. New Zealand society certainly contains a significant Polynesian population, and the city of Auckland is indeed the largest Polynesian city in the world. By way of explanation of the Church’s action, one bishop has remarked:
The idea of a several tikanga church seemed to the General Synod at the time to be a concrete expression of the gospel principles of unity in diversity and partnership between cultures, rather than an ecclesial arrangement that was simply driven by ethnic issues alone. The development was initiated by ethnic issues, but we found that we were dealing with an Acts 15 dynamic where we needed to discover what freedom of cultural expression and cultural vision meant, without the inevitable smothering effects of simple democracy, where, in our case, the white majority could and often did pursue a mono-cultural vision. The Book of Revelation speaks of the gathering of many tribes and languages around the throne of Grace, implying eschatalogical realities where cultural identity and cultural self determination are intrinsic to the goal of the Christian vision. Some would say that the tikanga based church is therefore an anticipation of the vision and cannot be judged by a confessional or doctrinal statement that did not take this vision into account as being at the heart and the future of the gospel.
Thus each of Tikanga Maori, Polynesia, and Pakeha functions as an Anglican episcopal unit, rather like a province, each with their own bishops and institutional arrangements such as dioceses etc. Each tikanga may shape its own life and work, but within general parameters as laid down by General Synod, “which remains the governing body of the whole and has powers to overrule any other episcopal unit”. Every two years they come together in a General Synod to make determinations in respect of all three being members one of another comprising a single Church identity within the world-wide Anglican Communion, and to advance the question of the inter-relationship between the three tikanga. Anglicans, in other words, are pursuing an internal ecumenicity and intra-religious dialogue across an ethnically sub-divided partnership which itself was effected to shift ethnic relations from a context of mission to that of ecclesial co-equality.
We are now in a position to turn to the matter of New Zealand engagement in inter-faith concerns. The first thing to say here is that, largely because of the recent history and focus of the Church as outlined above, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa-New Zealand is any formal sense yet to engage directly and intentionally in interfaith concerns. Individuals, both clergy and lay, and some congregations, are certainly finding local ad hoc avenues of engagement, and there is some limited formal involvement by way of representation of the Church on interfaith bodies at least in some parts of the country. But, arguably, the traditional paradigm of mission as adumbrated above would predominate in the Church at large and acts as a sheet-anchor, if not mill-stone, to aspirations for better—indeed any, really for most situations—interfaith engagement
More broadly, however, interfaith relations are given a measure of expression through the existence of Councils of Christians and Jews, found in at least three of the major cities, and also Councils of Christians and Muslims in perhaps one or two more. There have also been occasional attempts in recent years, with mixed success, to create wider interfaith groups. An attempt to create a Wellington-based national interfaith council is presently underway. But let me give something of the lived flavour on interreligious interactions in the New Zealand context as I have directly experienced or observed.
Some years ago, in my town, a ‘Civic Diary’ for the year appeared. It contained useful information, contact addresses and so on, of organisations, sports clubs, and so on. But there was no mention, under ‘R’ in the index, of religions. And under ‘C’ I found but a very limited reference to a couple of charismatic churches. Christianity was not alone in being marginalised by an apparently secular publication meant to be of useful communal purpose. On inquiry I discovered the publisher, a fundamentalist Christian, not only was reluctant to be open to acknowledging the breadth of Christian traditions resident in our town, he was most certainly reticent about giving any sort of de facto credence to the presence of world religions. And this is a town which had, at that time, the first Mormon Temple in the Pacific, the first Sikh Temple in the country, a thriving Muslim community of diverse ethnic make-up, a vibrant Hindu community, two different Buddhist Associations, two Bahai groups, a Jewish community and association—though no Synagogue—to name some. But the view that other religions are ‘opponents’, in respect to which it is the Christian’s duty to preach the Truth and win conversion, that motivated the publisher’s non-acceptance of the right of the other to be simply present within our community, would be no isolated perspective. It alerted me then to the first task of interfaith dialogical engagement: the intra-dialogical task of educating one’s own community.
There are now a number of both Theravadin and Mahayana Buddhist communities in New Zealand, including one derived from a Tibetan lineage with a retreat centre in a beautiful rural New Zealand setting. A daughter of mine attended a retreat there recently. (Inter-religious dialogue can be so often an intra-familial phenomenon). So too did an Anglican priest colleague, who has since determined to join the community in an attempt to live out a Christian-Buddhist inter-faith engagement, and to join with the Buddhists in the quest for common service to humanity. The local Anglican bishop (not the Priest’s bishop), however, has led prayers of opposition to the very presence of a sacred Buddhist space within what is taken, presumably, as de facto Christian space. New Zealand harbours a ‘God’s own’ myth. The religious other is an invader to be repelled if not assimilated. Here we see enacted the paradigm contrast highlighted by Fr Amalados, and also something of both Beauty and Beast, and, in the Priest’s action, perhaps something of the Divided Garment metaphor at work.
During the course of last year there occurred an eruption in one of our geo-thermal regions. With a backdrop of spectacular moonscape proportions, where previously there had been verdant native bush, the Television interview of a scientist was juxtaposed with the interpretive narrative given by a local Maori elder, a kaumatua. The scientist calmly spoke of geo-physical forces, of blocked vents and build-up of steam pressure with its inevitable results. Scientific narrative proclaimed its truth of the matter. By contrast the Television’s portrayal of a Maori perspective, which is inherently spiritual and relational, presented the indigenous viewpoint without context as quaintly atavistic and amusingly simplistic. A valid religio-ecological narrative, illustrating a particular religious meaning, was apparently dismissed as an untruth in the face of scientific explanation. The issue of narrative responses as varyingly explanatory and meaningful, highlighted by this incident, is an arena of interreligious concern, not just a case of science versus religion. In our country the question of both inter- and intra-religious dialogue between Christianity and Maori Spirituality has not had a good profile and has yet to be taken with any lasting seriousness, despite a few recent attempts.
A few years ago, in the late 90s, the newly-built mosque in my town was fire-bombed. It was reported in World News headlines. It sent shock-waves throughout our community, and indeed the country as a whole. Among the first on the scene were some representatives from the Jewish Association: Jewish memory of similar events in the life of that faith had been invoked afresh. Not far behind were Anglicans and Methodists, both of whom had lost wooden Churches to the arsonist’s torch in recent years. An experience of solidarity through loss, if not suffering, was underway. The wider community also weighed in such that the mosque—which had been gutted, but not destroyed—was not only refurbished out of insurance proceeds, but additional finishing touches, including proper fencing and a security system, were provided by funds donated from other religious groups and the wider community. Nevertheless, there were some Christians who rejoiced in the burning and had hoped that it would mark the end of the mosque. One even declared a preference to drive a circuitous route rather than pass by the mosque, which was prominently placed at a major intersection. Beast and Beauty juxtaposed. And yet the Church could be seen to be enacting a fringe point of compassionate contact, and being a servant and symbol of a kingdom wherein rejection and destruction have no place.
Finally, and again with reference to my own town, an example of the so-called ‘dialogue of action’ occurred with respect to the building of a Casino. Opposition to this project, which became a protracted and expensive exercise—the resources of Mammon know no limits—was led by a coalition of Anglicans and Muslims, Methodists and Mormons. While the cause was lost (and the irony that the General Manager of the Casino Company is an Anglican was not unnoticed), the exercise galvanised local interfaith relationships and bore witness to the prospect of the Church viewing its mission in wider than normal terms. Again the motif of symbol and servant of the kingdom come to the fore, along with the enacting of the revised paradigm of mission: that of mutual conversion to the ways of God in respect to social issues and action. And, in many respects, such a living and engaged dialogical mission expresses also the motifs of the textile metaphor of the Church: a patch of relevance; a hem of compassionate contact with the real world; rending itself from being a cloak of holy aloofness to be available in and to the world.
As I said at the outset, I can give no exhaustive overview, only share some personal flavours. But I trust it is enough to indicate that there are hopeful signs for the cause of mission and interfaith concerns within the Anglican Communion in my part of the world, and for the prospect of interreligious relations and dialogue more widely. Progress is slow, yet there is an emerging consciousness of the issues, and growing willingness to engage. The challenge ahead is to nurture and develop that.
Rev Canon Dr Douglas Pratt
1.See, for example, Douglas Pratt, ‘From Missionary Paternalism to Bicultural Partnership: aspects of Anglican and Methodist experience in Aotearoa-New Zealand’, International Review of Mission, Vol. LXXXII No.327, July/Oct 1993, pp. 305-315.
2. Source: Statistics New Zealand 1996 Census.
3. At the time of compiling this information the results of the 2001 Census were not available on the Statistics New Zealand Web-site.
4. David Moxon, Bishop of Waikato, personal correspondence.
5. Rev Dr Ken Booth, personal correspondence.