Oh, But I Was So Much Older Then: NewLabour's Dunedin North candidate in 1990 - Chris Trotter.
IN 1990 I was selected as the NewLabour Party’s Dunedin North candidate. On the evening of 14 October I spoke to an election forum organised by the congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church in Dunedin. The moot was: “What do you and your party have to offer the Christian voter?”
This is what I told them.
WHAT DOES Chris Trotter and the NewLabour Party have to offer the Christian Voter?
A challenging question. A question that resonates with a host of subsidiary questions.
Who is the Christian Voter? What claim does the Christian religion have on the conduct of government in the 1990s? By what set of criteria does the Christian assess the worth of political aspirants?
These are the questions I will attempt to answer in the brief period allowed for my address.
Let me begin with an assertion.
I assert that the number of genuine Christian voters is very small.
That a very large number of New Zealanders participate in the generalised consensus of moral values founded upon the traditional tenets of the Christian faith, I have no doubt. If these be Christian voters, then they constitute nearly two-thirds of the electorate. But, if a vague and somewhat sentimental attachment to Christian ritual constitutes Christianity in the 1990s – then the Church is in deep trouble.
Jim Bolger and Mike Moore have more than enough public relations consultants to satisfy the rhetorical expectations of these nominal Christians. Tonight, I address my remarks to those who demonstrate an active faith – to those who seek to give practical expression to the rigorous demands of Jesus of Nazareth.
To these people I would bear witness concerning the moral emptiness of this age and the difficulties of projecting a moral dimension upon the world of political action.
It seems to me that New Zealand society – indeed the whole of what we call Western culture – has reached a point of spiritual entropy.
We are exhausted, played out, inert. We are indifferent to the future and ignorant of the past. We exist in an eternal televised present – lulled by the sweetened rhythms of a global marketplace which offers an endless stream of commodities to distract us from the emptiness of our existence.
Did I say “We”? Then I misspoke. Because not everyone lives inside the bubble. Beyond the boundaries of a comfortable, a respectable, middle-class existence there lie the borderlands of poverty and alienation. An expanding empire of despair which encroaches, daily, upon the world of consumption and complacent ease.
It is into these regions of distress that the Christian must venture forth.
James K. Baxter expresses the perilous nature of this quest in his poem Crossing Cook Strait. He wrote:
I walked forth gladly to find the angry poor
Who are my nation: discovered instead
The glutton seagulls squabbling over crusts
And policies made and broken behind locked doors.
The Christian mission is to redeem this squalid spectacle. The claim upon political action which the Christian makes is one of transformation. The vocation embraced by the follower of Jesus is one of upending and overturning. Of scourging the moneylenders and confounding the Pharisees.
I come not to bring peace but the sword.
And so we come again to the original question: “What does Chris Trotter and the NewLabour Party offer the Christian Voter?”
The answer is uncomfortable.
We offer complicity in a conspiracy of hope. We offer a berth on a voyage of dissent. We offer a shout of protest at the moral and material inertia of New Zealand life.
Our policies offer no compromises to the centre ground. The road that leadeth to destruction is broad enough to accommodate both Labour and National.
We offer justice, equality, and that sense of mutual responsibility that Christ and all the prophets counterposed against the realpolitik of their time.
In essence we offer action, involvement – dare I say it? – intervention! We offer a determination to smash the bubble that insulates affluence from poverty, indifference from desperation.
The crisis that faces New Zealanders in the 1990s is more than a material crisis – although the scale of economic disaster that looms ahead is ominous indeed. It is a spiritual crisis: an unwillingness to affirm that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers; that truly cripples us.
NewLabour, by daring to reject the politics of “I” and embrace the politics of “We”, lays claim to the Christian voters’ support.
It will be interesting to count their number on Election Day.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.