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Is it Anglican to practise apartheid?
by Graeme J. Davidson, October 2005

Whisperings of discontent in the pews have erupted into open debate. Many New Zealand Anglicans want to scrap the way their church is split into three cultural strands: Maori, Pakeha and Pasifika. They say it’s unchristian, highly political, and doesn’t work.

In 1990, the South African Dutch Reformed Church repented of its earlier belief, which underpinned apartheid in South Africa, that the Bible sanctioned separate cultural development. It concluded, “That in the light of the Scriptures and Christian conscience, apartheid – and this would also apply to any other system which functioned similarly in practice – was unacceptable and, being sinful, should be rejected”.

Despite this and similar warnings, in 1992 the Anglican Church in New Zealand changed its constitution, creating three tikanga as equal partners, each with its own social organisations, language, laws, principles and procedure. Individuals are free to practise their faith in any tikanga.

The driving force behind the three tikanga was the bicultural Treaty of Waitangi and, by association, issues of Maori sovereignty.

Maori wanted to move out of the shadow of white domination and the erosion of their culture through assimilation. Pasifika (Polynesia) had no real axe to grind but was geographically separate anyway. Other cultural groups, such as Chinese Anglicans who have their own missions and pastors, didn’t get a tikanga.

Although there’s no mention of the Church in the Treaty of Waitangi, many argue that it’s “implied” and therefore the treaty is a religious covenant. They also say that because the Anglican Church acted as midwife to the signing of the Treaty in 1840, it has a responsibility to adopt it. There’s even a special church commission to strengthen the Treaty in the life of the Anglican Church and in the nation.

Roman Catholics, along with other churches in New Zealand, have not adopted the tikanga approach of the Anglicans. However, a media release from Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops last year stated, “We know the Treaty is a living document because alongside the Gospel of Jesus Christ it shapes our life as churches”.

That kind of nationalist thinking, which belongs to an earlier imperial age, leads to the church compromising itself for cultural and nationalist interests. It would be equivalent to US churches enshrining the secular US Constitution in their structures.

The main architect of the 1992 split, Professor Whatarangi Winiata, now President of the Maori Party, has the backing of many in the Maori tikanga when he argues that the Anglican constitution should serve as a model for our nation’s parliament. He wants two lower houses, one for each partner to the Treaty, who develop legislation within their respective tikanga, and a third upper house that ensures legislation is in keeping with the Treaty.

At pew level, the segregated church has resulted in the right hand not knowing what the left is doing.

There’s concern that some in tikanga Maori want to include Maori spirituality and traditional animist gods in their Christian faith, and leadership based on mana has clashed with Jesus’ call to humility.

Most lament the loss of the rich interaction of the cultures in parish life and fear that political correctness is dominating church affairs.

Only the few at the upper echelons of leadership, the General Synod, its committees and St. John’s Theological College in Auckland, meet, worship and talk shop with other tikanga. The church magazine, Anglican Taonga, often sits unread as it’s full of what the leaders in the three tikanga are doing – remote and unhelpful to Anglicans in the pews trying to be Christians in the world.

Recently, lay representatives at the Wellington Diocesan Synod voted overwhelmingly for the following motion: “That this Synod respectfully requests our General Synod representatives, at the next meeting of the General Synod in Christchurch in 2006, to put forward the case for the dissolving of the present three tikanga constitution, and to press for its replacement by an inclusive constitution that embodies the teachings of Colossians 3 that our collective identity in Christ takes precedence over our ethnic origins, blood lines and gender.” When put to the house of clergy it lost by only two votes, which means it will not be taken further this time.

Anglicans in the pews have an uneasy sense that they belong to a church that has instigated a benign form of religious apartheid, the three tikanga acting like church Bantustans. Instead of acting as a single coordinated body, they do their own thing, in their own way, under the control of their own bishops and a remote General Synod. There’s duplication of administration and clergy while overall church membership decreases and puts pressure on scant resources.

Despite plenty of goodwill, the three tikanga form of government isn’t working for the Anglican Church. It’s even less likely to work for the nation.

The bizarre trinity of the New Zealand Anglican Church
...Imagine the reaction if the Anglican Church in South Africa were to divide itself into three separate sub churches within the main church, and if it did it along cultural and ethnic lines – whites, blacks and coloureds. Even if worshippers had the right to choose whatever cultural sub-church they liked, it would rightly be seen as a throwback to the bad old days of apartheid and contrary to the gospel. St Paul does emphasise that there is neither race nor gender in Christ. Yet, since 1992, the Anglican Church in New Zealand has split itself into three separate ethnically-based cultural churches – Maori, Pakeha and Polynesia.
...For publicly criticising this bizarre trinity (This column below and also A three-ghetto church based on politics, I have been refused a licence to practise as an Anglican priest in the Waiapu Diocese, where I reside. I have been ordained 40 years and worked as a priest in the UK, USA and New Zealand. Obviously, the Anglican bishops of New Zealand wanted to make an example of me. They seem terrified of open criticism and debate on the benign form of apartheid they have created. Why? Is it because their agenda is more political than Christian? After all, the three tikanga or cultural sub-church model is similar to what the Maori political party wants for the governance of New Zealand. [added July 2010]



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