The bicultural Baptist journey

The bicultural Baptist journey

In 2014, during the conclusion of our annual Baptist gathering at Waitangi, we committed ourselves to an incarnational engagement within biculturalism. As a union of Aotearoa New Zealand Baptist churches (ANZBU) and missionary society (NZBMS), we began the journey of becoming and being dynamically bicultural—in corporate identity, not merely in practice.

What is bicultural identity?

It is more than concept or activity; it is owned identity. Bicultural identity is the condition of being oneself regarding the combination of two cultures, whereas ‘biculturalism’ is the interactive and mutually engaged presence of two different cultures in the same country or region. Biculturalism is dynamic—it works. We must work at and within it.

What are bicultural dynamics?

Key to being engaged in a dynamic biculturalism as ANZBU-NZBMS community is our active recognition and response to the Treaty as New Zealand’s founding document. Our practised recognition of language, cultures and traditions of both Pākehā and Māori must include practising traditional Māori welcome and farewell ceremonies within official functions and across many of our public worship practices. For Pākehā this calls us to journeys of intentional listening, learning and engaging. The late Ranginui Walker remarked, “Māori remind Pākehā that becoming bicultural enough to be at ease in the other founding culture of the nation is the first step towards becoming multicultural.”1

Bicultural and multicultural at the same time?

In general definition ‘multicultural’ is understood as something that incorporates ideas, beliefs or people from many different countries and cultural backgrounds. As a union of churches we actively foster multicultural ministries. Recent years have witnessed an exponential planting and development of ethnic ministries and congregations/churches in our ANZBU, as people of different cultures come together to celebrate and share their different traditions centred on a common commitment to faith and followership of Jesus. Simultaneous unity and practised diversity, without imposed homogeneity. Are we to be bicultural and multicultural at the same time? Yes. For our missional‑multiculturalism to flourish it must be must be planted and nurtured in the bed of bicultural Christ‑community.

Upon what is our bicultural journey founded and practised?

Our journey dynamics are sequentially doing, engaging, learning and being. The practice of our living traditions are rooted in a biblically modelled value—a corporate decision to-do. In our ANZBU historical journey we have practised a common corporate behaviour, which is to gather in annual convocation. This has been known as Assembly (1882‑2000), The Gathering (2001-2014), and Hui (2015-now). It has been through this vehicle that we have been able to engage in an intentional journey into the tikanga or values of our combined customs and traditions, as handed down through lived and living Christian-ethic, biblical theology and cultural histories.

Hui is doing

In time, as we thread together this bicultural journey, tikanga will become easy and the valued norm within our unique Aotearoa New Zealand Baptist ecclesiology. The process of hui is very people-friendly in our experience; many of our brothers and sisters in Christ from other nations find a space and place that they belong to and can participate in.

Hui is engaging

Seeking the outcome of engaged learning and an understanding of tikanga acknowledges cultural practices and creates respect as attendees begin a bicultural journey. Tikanga is based on experience and learning that have been handed down through the generations. It is based on logic and common sense associated with Māori world view. While these concepts are constant, their practice can vary between tribe and sub‑tribe (me nga iwi, me nga hapū). Participating in a different culture takes time and patience.

Hui is learning

If you are unfamiliar with tikanga, learn as much as you can from as many sources as possible. It will enrich your experiences with the culture and improve your ability to participate. Some of the ways are to learn simple concepts of speeches in Te Reo Māori, singing a waiata, and learning karakia and simple phrases. While grace will always be extended to those who are new, the hope is that there is a willingness to learn. Hui and tikanga will be guided by kaumātua, kuia and mana whenua when needed. 

Pursuing our bicultural-being beyond Hui

Practiced biculturalism is people-centric. How would ‘beyond-Hui Baptist biculturalism’ respond through the people, and to the people, in your church’s tūrangawaewae (place of standing)? Here are a few possibilities for your local journey:

  • an annual Sunday kapa haka focused service that integrates local iwi and church
  • powhiri as the framework for new pastor induction service
  • congregational waiata (worship songs) within public services
  • identifying, making contact, seeking advice, and building working connection with the iwi and hapū in your rohe (region)
  • local church eldership meeting with, and receiving, local kaumātua
  • taking some in-church programmes into the local marae connections you are beginning to build together (e.g. mainly music, parenting courses, CAP)
  • poroporoaki as means of ‘speaking our hearts’ in summary when concluding events, valuing experiences, framing understanding, and passing appreciation and honour to persons and groups.

In summary

As a union of churches, located congregations and mission organisations, we are intentionally engaged in what it means to be bicultural. We must reflect the separate identities and different needs of those involved in our structures and spheres. Why? To ensure the people of the land (tangata whenua), and the peoples who’ve come to the land (manuhiri), have the opportunity to hear, see, experience and respond to God’s good news in Jesus, in terms they can understand—for this we are in a journey of becoming.

Story: Dr John Douglas

John is an Associate Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church. He is a pastoral-theologian/ministry-educator who serves as a pastor, church consultant, mentor/spiritual director, ecumenical leader, church planting adviser, and ministry development leader. He’s also engaged through various memberships and chairperson roles on national and international boards and commissions.

This article was based on a statement prepared by John Douglas. For a copy of the full statement contact John.

  1. Ranginui Walker, Ka whawhai tonu mātou: Struggle without end. Rev. ed. (Auckland: Penguin, 2004), 390.


Take outs

  1. John has suggested some steps churches can make at a local level on their journey of biculturalism. Which ones resonate with you and why? Can you think of others you could try in your context?
  2. Belong/believe/behave vs. behave/believe/belong—why is starting with belonging so important to our mission and service in the community?
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