Saturday, 24 April 2010

Dangerous Preaching

Orwell's chilling revisionism: Are we, too, approaching the point where the principles upon which we believed our "farm" to be founded are beginning to fall victim to a series of subtle - and not so subtle - revisions?

I SUPPOSE I should have realised that priests, like motorists, need a licence. And if dangerous driving results in motorists losing their licences, then I suppose dangerous preaching can get a priest taken off the spiritual road. What really surprises me, however, is what the Church (in this case the Anglican Church) considers dangerous preaching.

Graeme Davidson has been an ordained member of the Anglican Church for forty years. He has degrees in psychology, philosophy and theology (the latter from Linacre College, Oxford). For many years he served a Wellington parish – during which time he also served as the Dominion Post’s columnist on religion and ethics.

That’s where he ran into trouble.

In October 2005, and again in January 2008, Graeme used his column to criticise the constitution of the Anglican Church of New Zealand. Describing the Church’s separation of its flock into Pakeha, Maori and Pasifika sheep as "a benign form of religious Apartheid", he argued that the Church’s constitutional arrangements were politically (rather than religiously) inspired and contrary to scripture.

Theologically speaking, Graeme would appear to be on pretty solid ground. In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul advises his Christian brethren to become "new men", made over in God’s image, and inhabiting a world in which there is "neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision or uncircumscision, Barbarian, Sythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all, and in all."

Stripped of its poetry, Paul’s message is clear: in the Christian church there are no distinctions, all human-beings are equal.

That has always been a dangerous doctrine – and remains so. Because while his ecclesiastical masters clearly considered Graeme a fit-and-proper person to drive the Christian message in Wellington, it’s been decided that letting him behind the spiritual wheel in Havelock North wouldn’t be "safe". Accordingly, the renewal of his priest’s licence has been denied.

"Big deal", you might say, "the Anglicans’ internal differences are no concern of ours."

True enough. And if the sort of punishment meted out to Graeme Davidson was restricted to the Anglican Church, I might be willing to let it pass. But it isn’t.

Not too many years ago the Green Party decided one of its members was ineligible for selection as a candidate because his views on the Treaty of Waitangi were unacceptable.

And civil servants tell me (albeit behind their hands) that anyone foolhardy enough to openly oppose the inclusion of "the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi" in departmental policy-formation, or who objects too loudly to the introduction of Tikanga Maori, can kiss their careers good-bye.

We should also be concerned about Graeme’s treatment because, as he was incautious enough to draw to his readers’ attention, the architect of the Anglican constitution, Professor Whata Winiata, also just happens to be the President of the Maori Party, and on more than one occasion has held up the Church’s racially-divided organisational structure as a model for a future New Zealand constitution.

Part of the confidence and supply agreement negotiated between the National and Maori Parties following the 2008 election (in case you’ve forgotten – or haven’t heard) is a full-scale review of this country’s constitutional arrangements – with particular reference to the constitutional status of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Interestingly, constitutional issues were also on the lips of Maori Party co-leader, Dr Pita Sharples, earlier this week when he addressed the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. In announcing New Zealand’s belated support for the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights, New Zealand’s Minister of Maori Affairs declared:

"Maori hold a distinct and special status as the indigenous people, or tangata whenua, of New Zealand. Indigenous rights and indigenous culture are of profound importance to New Zealand and fundamental to our identity as a nation."

"Distinct and special" – and here was I thinking that the Treaty merely conferred upon Maori the "Rights and Privileges of British Subjects".

Clearly, that’s where Graeme and I went astray. Instead of relying upon the words of the Apostle Paul in the Bible, we should have been guided by the words of George Orwell in Animal Farm.

Had we been guided by Mr Orwell, we wouldn’t have been in the least bit surprised to learn that while all human-beings might be equal in the sight of God; in the eyes of Dr Sharples: some human-beings are more equal than others.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 23 April 2010.

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