Paul Askin was the recipient of the Lionel Stewart Scholarship in 2017. The scholarship seeks to encourage New Zealand Baptist pastors to further the work of bicultural reconciliation between Pākehā and Māori. Here Paul investigates a Christian understanding of ‘being one’ and asks what this means for us today.

“He iwi tahi tātou,” were William Hobson’s words to each of the chiefs as they came forward to sign the Treaty at Waitangi on 6th February 1840. “We are all one people.” Hobson was not a speaker of Māori, so where did he get this phrase from? It had to have come from the missionaries or Ngāpuhi Rangatira themselves. Either way, it was biblical in origin. Being different, but one, is a marvellous biblical concept. Hobson’s words have become a significant declaration in our nation’s history. They have meant different things to different people down through the years, and continue to be used to support a surprising variety of agendas. It’s easy to talk about being one; it’s far more challenging to grow a oneness that is warmly endorsed by all the different participants.

On that day at Waitangi, Hobson’s words may well have encapsulated the best of the hopes and dreams of many of the gathered people. Certainly those words connect with something deep and significant in every person. We search for oneness; we dream of finding it; we experience tantalising glimpses of its beauty and power. Oneness is powerfully attractive because somehow we sense we are made to belong in relationship and unity.

Sadly, as we know, the dream of that day at Waitangi was not realised. It was little more than 20 years before armed conflict broke out. Over all the years since the Treaty was signed, there has been a mix of disasters and successes in our journey together as a nation. Oneness remains an unrealised vision. 

Christian oneness

For followers of Jesus, oneness is part of who we are. The Apostle Paul wrote, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). 

Paul did not mean we become the same; Jews are still ethnically, linguistically and culturally, Jews. Greeks remain Greeks. Males remain male, and females are still female. However, them and us no longer exist as separate categories; it’s just us. There is no preference of some over others, and no bizarre blending into sameness. We have our differences, yet we are all one in Christ Jesus. Individually we are new creations. Together we are God’s new humanity. We are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, a holy temple, a dwelling place for God by the Spirit—that’s our marvellous new identity. 

Tragically, when followers of Jesus fail to be like-minded, considering others to be better than themselves, and instead succumb to selfish ambition or vain conceit, significant damage is always done. 

Why is racism wrong? 

Our national reality is a long way from oneness. Taika Waititi, the celebrated New Zealand filmmaker, said recently, “New Zealand is the best place on the planet, but it’s a racist place.”1 Yet the vast majority of New Zealanders will tell you with great conviction that racism is wrong. Why the disconnect?

Racism is rooted in pride and arrogance. It perpetuates unjust systems of power and privilege, yes, but ultimately racism is wrong because it is “an affront to the glory of the God of creation.”2 It is wrong because all people are created in his image. It’s an insult to God if we make some people the standard by which others are measured. Our significance, our equality, our dignity, are founded in his image in us, which makes us what we are. And the variety we see among people, in gender and ethnicity for example, should come as no surprise since God himself is one, yet the Father is different from the Son who is different from the Spirit. 

Four faces of racism

What is racism? Do you know how to recognise it in its various guises? Here are its four faces:3

  1. Aware and Overt. This is the easy and obvious face of racism. Blatant abuse of one person or group by others is never acceptable.
  2. Aware and Covert. Two Pākehā friends of mine recently purchased petrol late one evening. It was all very easy and friendly; no security procedures were encountered. A few evenings later at the same service station and with the same attendant, one of these friends and her Samoan fiancé were treated quite differently. The attitude was different; security procedures were enforced. Why the change? Racial profiling? Aware but covert racism?
  3. Unaware and Covert. Racism can be hidden from sight and understanding. “[P]eople need not intend their actions to contribute to racial division and inequality for their actions to do so.”4 For example, educational assessment or job application procedures can easily and unintentionally be biased toward one group of people at the expense of another group. “In New Zealand white privilege evolved in colonial times where structures were put in place that were designed to meet the needs of Pākehā settlers. Immigration, assimilation and integration policies directly benefited Pākehā and marginalised Māori, yet these systemic structural benefits remain ‘invisible’ to most Pākehā.”5
  4. Unaware and Self-righteous Racism. There is another face to racism which is particularly tempting for many of us. When we think of ourselves as the ‘good people’, opposed to the ‘bad people’ who are racist, this form of racism can trip us up. If we question people of another culture who don’t appear to us to be as strong in their culture or language as we think they ought to be—or even worse, as we think we are—or when we think we know what the important issues and solutions are for another group of people while tending to ignore the issues within our own cultural setting, we are blinded by pride and the delusion of superiority: we are racist.

Racialisation 

Racism, whether intended or unintentional, recognised or unseen, produces racialisation. Racialisation describes the situation where some people are given advantages which are not earned or asked for, and very often are not even recognised. 

Overwhelmingly, statistics tell us that here in Aotearoa New Zealand we are a racialised nation. A racialised nation has been described as one where “race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.”6 A racialised society is one that, “allocates differential economic, political, social, and even psychological rewards to groups along racial lines; lines that are socially constructed.”7 Sadly, that describes us.

I often ask myself why the church community has little or nothing to say about the kinds of racism and injustice deeply ingrained in our society, and the resulting racialisation. 

One answer is the profoundly individualistic view of life we have adopted from our surrounding Enlightenment-influenced society and its materialistic measures of success. A second answer for many of us Christians is that we have chosen to prioritise individual salvation and discipleship over other equally biblical and significant aspects of our faith, such as the cry for mercy, justice and humility. A third answer is simply that it is difficult and personally costly to address these issues. However, the victory of justice over injustice, humility over pride, truth over lies, unity over division, love over hate are, I believe, more important to God than the materialistic and consumerist measures of success to which we so easily default.

To treat individual people different from ourselves with fairness, respect and courtesy is not noteworthy or noble: it should be the norm. To oppose personal prejudice and discrimination is not enough for a follower of Jesus: we need to stand up and be counted in the battle against racialised social systems and structures. And the place for us to start, but not finish, is within our own church communities. As we uncover the power of the dominant culture, and recognise its opposition to the kingdom of God and his new humanity, we will mobilise ourselves to fight for deep and lasting kingdom change.

John Perkins, the Civil Rights leader and African-American statesman has said, “Something is wrong at the root of American evangelicalism. I believe we have lost the gospel—God’s reconciling power, which is unique to Christianity—and have substituted church growth. We have learned how to reproduce the church without the message.”8

Our future celebrates difference

The old apostle, John, was given a glimpse into eternity. He wrote, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne… They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God…’” (Revelation 7:9‑10).

Every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages. Each is different and still identifiable, still distinct; all are equally welcomed, recognised and valued. The differences are good. They are the source of glory and vibrancy; they are a reflection that we are made in the image of God.

Signposts to oneness

I want to conclude with two signposts to guide us on the road to true oneness: the oneness that Jesus prayed would be our reality.

The first is a valuable insight from D. A. Carson who says, “I suspect one of the reasons why there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other Christians is because this is not an easy thing to do… Ideally… the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies… Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance… In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake… The reason why Christian love will stand out and bear witness to Jesus is that it is a display, for Jesus’ sake, of mutual love among social incompatibles.”9

I’ve left the last word to Wiremu Tamihana, Ngati Haua chief, exceptional Christian leader and statesman. In 1861 when Waikato Māori were presented with an ultimatum by the Crown, backed by 12,000 soldiers, on behalf of land‑lusting British settlers, Tamihana responded by saying, “The only connection with you is through Christ.”10 He quoted Ephesians 2:13 to them, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Tamihana saw that peace with these newcomers was possible only in Christ. 

Oneness for us all can be much more than a tantalising dream; it can be a reality, but only in Christ. In a world racked by division and conflict, God’s people demonstrating that “He iwi tahi tatou,” is a beacon of hope, is powerfully prophetic, and is the embodiment of the gospel.

 

Story: Paul Askin

Paul is a follower of Jesus, husband and family man, pastor, farmer, hunter, reader and writer. He knew Lionel Stewart for more than 40 years, and says he is greatly honoured to receive the scholarship: “I am very glad to be able to follow in Lionel’s footsteps, on the journey toward God’s new humanity. The scholarship has enabled me to invest time in study, and helped equip me as I accept various speaking engagements, contribute in hui, and participate in the journey of God’s people towards oneness.”


The Lionel Stewart Scholarship was set up in 2016 to honour the contribution Reverend Lionel Stewart made to the Baptist movement with regards to bicultural reconciliation between Pākehā and Māori. Applicants must be registered pastors of the Baptist Union of New Zealand and be able to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to New Zealand biculturalism. The next recipient of the Lionel Stewart Scholarship will be announced at Hui 2018.


References:

  1. “Unknown Mortal Orchestra & Taika Waititi on New Zealand culture,” Alex Denney: Dazed, www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/39590/1/unknown-mortal-orchestra-ruban-nielson-taika-waititi-interview. 
  2. Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 83.
  3. Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp, Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 97-107. 
  4. Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 9.
  5. Robert Consedine and Joanna Consedine, Healing our History: The Challenge of the Treaty of Waitangi, 3rd ed. (Auckland: Penguin, 2012), 200. 
  6. Emerson and Smith, Divided by Faith, 7.
  7. Ibid., (quoting Bonilla-Silva 1997:474).
  8. Ibid., 55 (quoting Perkins and Rice 1993:18).
  9. D. A. Carson, Love in Hard Places (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002), 60-61.
  10. Evelyn Stokes, Wiremu Tamihana: Rangatira (Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2002), 218.