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Bishops' statement: pompous, pious, out of touch and verging on the heretical
by Graeme J. Davidson
, March 2004

On 27January 2004, Dr. Don Brash, the leader of New Zealand's National Party, the main political opposition party, gave a speech which touched a nerve in New Zealand. He stated that the nation's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi "should not be the basis for creating greater civil, political or democratic rights for Maori than for any other New Zealander. In the 21st century, it is unconscionable for us to be taking that separatist path".

Up until then the National Party had been languishing in the polls, well behind the Labour-led government coalition. After the speech, National shot to the front of the polls as the preferred government with the biggest turnaround in New Zealand polling history. The speech and subsequent reactions alarmed the Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops, who issued the following press statement for the 29 February 2004. The bishops' press statement is in brown typeface and my interleaved commentary is in dark blue font. The bishops' full press release can be viewed below.

Bishops call for Treaty debate not race debate
The bishops of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia meeting in Auckland on Feb 18 -19 and the Roman Catholic Bishops of New Zealand, issued this contribution to the current debate on the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in our national life.

The recent debates reveal the volatile state of popular feeling about race and ethnicity. We believe the Treaty covenant provides the best way of addressing that volatility. We call for a Treaty debate rather than a race debate.
As the 150-word Treaty was signed in 1840 between representatives of the British Crown and many chiefs of the indigenous Maori tribes, any debate on the Treaty will involve questions of ethnicity and race. It could be argued that the Treaty only applies to the iwi and hapu whose chiefs signed and not all individual Maori.

Although some people, including missionaries who brokered the Treaty and some of the Maori chiefs who signed the Treaty, view the agreement as a solemn or spiritual covenant (a permanent and inviolate agreement - maybe with religious overtones of being blessed by God), the concept of a "covenant" is not mentioned in Treaty documents. Nevertheless, the Treaty could be regarded as confirming the indigenous rights of Maori ("lands and estates, forests, and fisheries" and all their "taonga" or treasures) under international conventions in return for Maori recognising the British crown. Many have since perceived it as little more than an historical contract aimed at promoting a just peace between the early European settlers and Maori.

Various courts, constitutional lawyers and historians have described the Treaty as a "practical partnership" between iwi and the Crown based on trust and mutual obligation and underpinned by international law. Nevertheless, like any other partnership, the trust can be broken. Treaties can be renegotiated, rescinded, or ignored when they are no longer deemed pertinent. For example, the 1951 Security Treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States (ANew ZealandUS) unravelled when New Zealand took an anti-nuclear stance. This effectively meant that US war ships couldn't enter New Zealand ports when the US refused to confirm or deny whether there were nuclear weapons on board. The US has since regarded New Zealand as having reneged on the ANew ZealandUS agreement. Ironically, some of the anti-nuclear bishops who are now so keen on keeping colonial promises over the Treaty of Waitangi supported New Zealand flouting its promises over the ANew ZealandUS Treaty when the US wouldn't change its nuclear policy.

New Zealand has been debating the Treaty of Waitangi seriously for nearly 30 years. The result has been more understanding of Maori customs and New Zealand history. It has also created confusion. Although the New Zealand Government set up the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975 "to make recommendations on claims brought by Maori relating to the practical application of the Treaty and to determine whether certain matters are inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty" there is little consensus over the place and the meaning of the Treaty in New Zealand today. This has fostered a Treaty industry, which has been to the financial advantage of constitutional lawyers, historians and Maori advisers who have a stake in squeezing meaning that will benefit their clients out of a Treaty designed for New Zealand in 1840.

Many New Zealanders have had enough of paying out for the few in the Treaty industry to get rich while many local and needy Maori have yet to experience the benefits. Given the present mood of the nation, any general debate may well end with a majority of the New Zealand population wanting to scrap the Treaty once reparations for past wrongs have been made and maybe replacing it with a written New Zealand constitution incorporating Treaty principles and clarifying rights, privileges, expectations and legal processes for all New Zealanders. (New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world that doesn't have a written constitution. Instead, it relies on an unwritten constitution largely inherited from the UK.)

In recent years successive governments have been responsible for real progress made in resolving claims under the Treaty of Waitangi.
These are usually for Maori grievances over the actions of earlier European settlers, especially the actions of the early colonial government, who, through biased policies and law, frequently took the side of the settlers and forcibly settled land disputes by punishing Maori and confiscating tribal lands. Claims under the Treaty have not included inter-tribal grievances such as land and other treasures lost through tribal conflicts after the Treaty was signed. Nor has it included reparations made to descendants of any early settler families who might have suffered wrongs at the hands of some iwi and who were not recompensed at the time.

With regard to programmes relating to Maori health, education and welfare, it is our view that such programmes are generally need-based rather than being examples of ethnic privilege. If claims to the contrary are made, we would ask that they be tested in the light of facts and figures.
While it is generally true that Maori life expectancy, health and education fall behind that of the majority of New Zealanders, this is an ethnic-based comment rather than a Treaty issue of the sort that the bishops ask us to look at in their second paragraph. If ethnicity is to be an issue, then, as the bishops' point out below, the "facts and figures" point to the needs of other ethnic groups as well as Maori. For example, the health and welfare of Polynesian and other Pacific Island immigrants in New Zealand is also poor compared to the majority of New Zealanders, while white New Zealanders (along with white Australians) are amongst the most prone groups in the world to suffer from skin cancer. Should the limited government health budget be spent on skin cancer prevention, detection and treatment or on Maori health programmes using traditional Maori methods? A need-based decision might favour the skin cancer programme.

As Anglicans we are distinctively known and named as Te Haahi Mihinare, the Church of the missionaries who promoted and translated the Treaty. This gives us a vested interest and an historical responsibility to honour the Treaty our forebears helped to create. As Catholics working out of a different history, we share that same responsibility.
It doesn't automatically follow that because some of the early Church missionaries in New Zealand helped broker the signing of the Treaty that the churches these missionaries represented 164 years ago (Wesleyan, Anglican, Catholic) should continue to have a stake. It's like saying that because an interior designer helped your quarrelling family reach a decision about your home decorations the designer's descendents still have a "vested interest" in your family life and a right to comment years later. Most families would resent the intrusion. And some in New Zealand resent the continued intrusion of the churches in Treaty issues. The National Party Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee, in a recent national radio interview, called the bishops' statement "pompous, pious and out of touch".

Gerry Brownlee has a point. Church leaders frequently take positions that vary greatly from those of their church members. And politicians know this. President Bush ignored US church leaders opposed to his going to war in Iraq last year. That's because surveys showed that the regular church-going population in the US were more pro-war than the average US population. A survey of church members in New Zealand might well show stronger backing for Dr. Brash's views than the views of their bishops.

We know the Treaty is a living document because alongside the Gospel of Jesus Christ it shapes our life as churches. The Anglican General Synod used it to rewrite its constitution and reshape its ways of making decisions, spending money, learning, praying and serving the community together. The Treaty formed the way we walked together on the Hikoi of Hope. So we have to disagree with those who say the Treaty offers no blueprint for modern New Zealand, creates no partnership, defines no principles or constitutional relationship and serves to fuel separatism. Our experience contradicts those claims.
By a living document, it is assumed that the Treaty, especially the principles underpinning the treaty, is still relevant for today. This raises questions of how it helps solve many issues that were never dreamed of or mentioned in the 19th Century Treaty, such as whether the government should fund a Maori TV channel (which it has) or whether Maori should have the same rights to the airwaves as they have to their lands and other treasures. This has led to heated debate and some fanciful interpretations of Treaty "principles" that reflect current political attitudes, those who can hire the best Treaty lawyers and those who wield the most political clout, more than anything the Treaty says.

The Treaty was used to shape the Anglican Church into three seats of power or tikanga (cultural streams). These are Maori, Pasifika (Polynesia), and Pakeha (the rest, who are predominantly white with a sprinkling of other ethnic groups). Each tikanga is an equal partner in the Church's governing body, the General Synod. Each exercises missions and ministry within its own culture.

That the Treaty shapes the life of the churches verges on the heretical. Although the bishops have avoided saying the Treaty is equal with the Gospel, they clearly imply that it is not only the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit working through the Church and its members that shapes the churches, but the Gospel and a colonial nationalist document. By the same reasoning, the churches in the former communist states could have adopted the Communist Manifesto alongside the Gospel and let that shape their churches. The US churches could adopt the US Constitution and let that shape their church organisations, and so on. That kind of nationalist Church thinking belongs to an earlier imperialist age. It's dangerous as it leads to the Church compromising the Gospel and the first of the 10 commandments for nationalist interests.

What happens if there is a conflict between the Treaty and the Gospel? This happens when Maori want to include traditional spirituality, such as animistic gods like Tane (god of forests and birds), Tangaroa (god of water) and Tawhirimatea (god of winds and storms), within church theology. In an article in the 2nd of September 2001 Sunday Star Times entitled, Maori Gods Find Church Approval, many Christians were shocked when they read, "The head of the Maori Anglican Church, Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, said he believed there was no incompatibility between Christian teaching that there was one God, and Maori beliefs that there were many. 'I think any other gods are emanations from the one God. That's what we are saying in Maoridom,' he said." Some commentators have suggested that this means that there is recognition in Maoridom of spiritual forces analogous to angels. Nevertheless, it does raise unease among non-Maori as to where this kind of theology might lead.

Using the Treaty as the basis for the Anglican constitution has been an experiment that has failed for all but the general committees and upper echelons of the Anglican Church. Some who train for the ministry at St. John's seminary in Auckland complain that many of their studies are now focused on the Treaty to the point where the seminary is more like a liberal arts college. At pew level, the segregated church has resulted in the right hand not knowing what the left is doing as there's a lack of interaction between tikanga. It also means those in the pews feel they have little influence over the direction of the Anglican Church.

During the Hikoi of Hope five years ago, many Christians and others throughout the country marched on Parliament over issues of poverty and justice in New Zealand. When the then Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, invited a Church delegation to discuss their concerns, several of the tikanga Maori representatives hijacked the meeting when they launched into a discussion of Maori sovereignty for which they had no mandate from those who walked on the Hikoi. Many felt disappointed and betrayed that Maori sovereignty dominated the presentation. Disillusioned Anglicans raised the question whether Maori sovereignty was the key agenda for tikanga Maori.

We acknowledge that issues of sovereignty were begged [sic] by the differences in translation between the two versions of the Treaty. Maori never intended or imagined they were giving away their rangatiratanga under Article 2. Working out those issues, especially as they apply to land and seashore, is an ongoing task.

The Treaty can't be ignored or made to disappear, enshrined as it is in the law, very clearly since the 1975 Act and in at least 32 subsequent pieces of legislation. Equally important for us, the document forms a spiritual covenant through promises made by our forebears and never forgotten by Maori. To break those long standing promises is to erode the moral foundation of the nation and undermine the ethical basis of Pakeha settlement in New Zealand, along with all sorts of other agreements, covenants and contracts. The Treaty properly honoured provides us all with a cornerstone that is the envy of other nations.
Many urban Maori feel they have little in common with their original iwi and feel embarrassed by the special treatment given to them, as recent letters to newspaper editors and radio talk show comments from some Maori would indicate. Dr. Brash has also pointed to two recent surveys of Maori, one by the Christchurch Press and the other by Massey University, which he says back his views as they have shown that the majority of Maori are not in favour of special treatment.

Because of intermarriage, the question of who is a Maori and how far indigenous rights extend adds confusion to the debate. Although he has white skin, legally, my son has sufficient Maori blood to call himself Maori and is proud of his Maori heritage. That enables him to apply for all sorts of special educational grants and help. But he has no ties with any iwi. It seems strange to think of him being treated separately from me for an arbitrary reason. He can show that his mother had a great great grandparent who was Maori and that he is one sixteenth Maori. Showing that you're one sixteenth Chinese or any other nationality doesn't qualify under the Treaty, which raises questions of fairness rather than need.

If, after the debate on the Treaty that the bishops and political leaders have called for, the government decides to scrap the Treaty, Treaty laws are rescinded or amended and a new constitutional arrangement is produced which is acceptable to most Maori and other New Zealanders, does that automatically mean that the moral foundation of the nation has been undermined? This could easily happen if New Zealand were to become a republic. That would mean the 1840 Treaty between Crown and iwi is no longer applicable as there would be no Crown. Or would the bishops insist on New Zealand retaining its anachronistic ties with the British monarchy to avoid nullifying the Treaty? What is meant by 'properly honoured'? Does it mean coming to the same conclusion as the bishops?

Self-determination is the issue, not ethnic privilege. Government schemes giving preferential treatment to Maori account for less than 2% of the national budgets on health and education. The evidence for such preference being effective in addressing huge socio-economic disparities is overwhelming, compared to the failure of policies that treat everyone the same. Many groups other than Maori including Pacific Islanders enjoy special access in order to achieve equity and advancement. To reduce the needs of the most needy in such ways is in everyone's interest.
The bishops do not mention the affirmative action measures undertaken by the New Zealand Government and other organisations for Maori. These include setting up government ministries and other organizations dedicated to Maori concerns, committees that require Maori representatives or iwi input, and a requirement that local authorities consult with local iwi on issues that may affect them including details such as the naming of streets and building permits for sports' group club premises. This can prove costly, bureaucratic and time-consuming. It also gives undue power to the small group of Maori who represent iwi and Maori interests.

Like many affirmative action campaigns, the remedy for past injustices (of which there were many) can create new injustices. It leads to an overzealous politically correct culture, especially in government, health and educational jobs, where to be Maori is seen by many as an advantage for job recruitment and quick advancement. Some have also argued that this kind of affirmative action is patronising to Maori.

Self-determination was also the cornerstone of the South African apartheid policy for Bantustans. The New Zealand Anglican Church seems to be practising a voluntary benign form of religious apartheid with the three tikangas acting like church Bantustans - doing their own thing, in their own way, under the control of their own bishops and a General Synod that is remote from those in the pews. Other churches in New Zealand have not adopted the Anglican model of government and, judging from how it has worked for the Anglican Church, it would make a poor model of sovereignty for the nation's government and certainly not the envy of other nations.

Hobson's words at Waitangi "He iwi tahi tatou - We are one people" needs [sic] to be translated with great care. There are always several peoples, sometimes working as one, even within Maoridom. We live respectfully and creatively with differences of status, responsibility, history and culture. To argue we should simply be one people begs the question - which people? And on whose terms?

In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul called on Christians to be one people in Christ. There is "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus". The New Zealand Anglican Church's constitution seems to work against this. So also, do their views of self-determination and special treatment for Maori within the wider New Zealand community.

Media Release 28 February 2004
Embargoed to: 12 noon Sunday 29, 2004.

Bishops call for Treaty debate not race debate
The bishops of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia meeting in Auckland on Feb 18 –19 and the Roman Catholic Bishops of New Zealand, issued this contribution to the current debate on the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in our national life.

The recent debates reveal the volatile state of popular feeling about race and ethnicity. We believe the Treaty covenant provides the best way of addressing that volatility. We call for a Treaty debate rather than a race debate.

In recent years successive governments have been responsible for real progress made in resolving claims under the Treaty of Waitangi. With regard to programmes relating to Maori health, education and welfare, it is our view that such programmes are generally need-based rather than being examples of ethnic privilege. If claims to the contrary are made, we would ask that they be tested in the light of facts and figures.

As Anglicans we are distinctively known and named as Te Haahi Mihinare, the Church of the missionaries who promoted and translated the Treaty. This gives us a vested interest and an historical responsibility to honour the Treaty our forebears helped to create. As Catholics working out of a different history, we share that same responsibility.

We know the Treaty is a living document because alongside the Gospel of Jesus Christ it shapes our life as churches. The Anglican General Synod used it to rewrite its constitution and reshape its ways of making decisions, spending money, learning, praying and serving the community together. The Treaty formed the way we walked together on the Hikoi of Hope.

So we have to disagree with those who say the Treaty offers no blueprint for modern New Zealand, creates no partnership, defines no principles or constitutional relationship and serves to fuel separatism. Our experience contradicts those claims.

We acknowledge that issues of sovereignty were begged by the differences in translation between the two versions of the Treaty. Maori never intended or imagined they were giving away their rangatiratanga under Article 2. Working out those issues, especially as they apply to land and seashore, is an ongoing task.

The Treaty can’t be ignored or made to disappear, enshrined as it is in the law, very clearly since the 1975 Act and in at least 32 subsequent pieces of legislation. Equally important for us, the document forms a spiritual covenant through promises made by our forebears and never forgotten by Maori. To break those long standing promises is to erode the moral foundation of the nation and undermine the ethical basis of Pakeha settlement in New Zealand, along with all sorts of other agreements, covenants and contracts. The Treaty properly honoured provides us all with a cornerstone that is the envy of other nations.

Self determination is the issue, not ethnic privilege. Government schemes giving preferential treatment to Maori account for less than 2% of the national budgets on health and education. The evidence for such preference being effective in addressing huge socio-economic disparities is overwhelming, compared to the failure of policies that treat everyone the same. Many groups other than Maori including Pacific Islanders enjoy special access in order to achieve equity and advancement. To reduce the needs of the most needy in such ways is in everyone’s interest.

Hobson’s words at Waitangi “He iwi tahi tatou - We are one people” needs to be translated with great care. There are always several peoples, sometimes working as one, even within Maoridom. We live respectfully and creatively with differences of status, responsibility, history and culture. To argue we should simply be one people begs the question – which people? And on whose terms?

John Paterson Primate/Presiding Bishop and Bishop of Auckland
Te Whakahuihui Vercoe Co-presiding Bishop and Anglican Bishop of Aotearoa
Jabez Bryce Co-presiding Bishop and Anglican Bishop of Polynesia
John Bluck Anglican Bishop of Waiapu
George Connor Anglican Bishop in the Bay of Plenty
Thomas Brown Anglican Bishop of Wellington
David Coles Anglican Bishop of Christchurch
Derek Eaton Anglican Bishop of Nelson
Penelope Jamieson Anglican Bishop of Dunedin
David Moxon Anglican Bishop of Waikato
Philip Richardson Anglican Bishop in Taranaki
Richard Randerson Assistant Anglican Bishop of Auckland
Cardinal Thomas S Williams DD Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington
Leonard A Boyle DD Roman Catholic Bishop of Dunedin
Denis G Browne DD Roman Catholic Bishop of Hamilton
Peter J Cullinane DD Roman Catholic Bishop of Palmerston North
John J Cunneen DD Roman Catholic Bishop of Christchurch
John A Dew DD Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Wellington
Owen J Dolan DD Roman Catholic Coadjutor Bishop of Palmerston North
Max Takuira Mariu SM DD Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Hamilton

For all media enquiries please contact:
Julanne Clarke-Morris Media Officer for the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
Tel: 03 385 3484/Mobile: 021 348470
mediaofficer@ang.org.nz

 


 

 

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