Around the world, in countless cultures, there are approximately 2.4 billion people who identify as Christian. Many of those are “evangelical” in faith, i.e. they are biblical, Gospel-hearted believers. The World Evangelical Alliance, the global fellowship of Gospel-minded Christians that was first established in 1846, and now has 134 (independent) national alliances in its membership, includes the New Zealand Christian Network.
Earlier this week, the WEA officially handed over leadership roles. Among them, Rev Dr Brian Winslade, of Hamilton, was introduced as the new Deputy Secretary of the WEA. Watch his introduction video above. Brian is also a member of the NZCN Working Board.
If you would like to know more about the DNA of being evangelical, you might want to watch Dr Thomas Schirrmacher’s inaugural speech as the incoming Secretary General of the WEA. (Thomas visited New Zealand in 2019, and took a shine to NZCN’s Te Rongopai DVD).
Recently, the state government in Victoria, Australia, passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021. The government of Victoria is committed to banning practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In particular, they had in their sights the practice colloquially called “gay conversion therapy”, which was and is a damaging practice that forcibly tries to change an individual’s sexual orientation from gay or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological, physical, or spiritual interventions. I think most people, regardless of their opinions on human sexuality, can agree that trying to force someone to change their sexual orientation against their will, especially through abusive practices, is wrong and harmful. If that was all this Act sought to do, I suspect it would be rather uncontroversial. But that is not all that it seeks to do.
Section 5.1 of the Act states that any attempt to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be illegal, whether with or without the person’s consent. In section 5.3, it states that attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender by “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice…” is also considered a violation of this Act. Meanwhile, Section 10.1 states that the maximum penalty for violating the Act is up to ten years in prison, as well as a substantial fine.
This Act goes into incredibly dangerous territory, violating freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, as well as freedom of sexual expression. This is worrying, as the current NZ government has already stated that it wants to pass similar legislation here.
Now, there is already plenty written on how this Act violates freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, and I imagine the NZCN will have much more to say on those violations of religious freedoms in the future. But in this particular article, I want to focus on just one aspect: how this Act actually violates freedom of sexual expression, a freedom which has in recent times become sacrosanct in our New Zealand context.
So how does this Act violate freedom of sexual expression? Remember, the Act states “whether with or without the person’s consent” no attempt may be made, in consultation with others, to change how one expresses their sexuality. With that in mind, consider this hypothetical scenario: if I, as an adult heterosexual man, wanted to get counselling on how I could add gay sex to my life because I am questioning my current sexual identity, and I asked somebody to help me in that pursuit: would that be considered conversion therapy? Given how this legislation is written, yes it would! But I doubt the government would ever enforce it for a questioning heterosexual person. Meanwhile, if a gay man wants advice on how to change his sexual practices, this new Act rules that he isn’t allowed to talk to anyone, even if he wants to! The Victorian government is dictating that by law gay people must remain in their gay sexual practices, even if they feel that is not how they want to express their sexual identity. What an inconsistency! I thought the whole point of giving sexual freedom and choice to consenting adults was so that they could pursue any sexual practice or expression they wanted, as long as everyone consented?
It seems to me that, in this talk about “gay conversion”, what is really happening is we once again have an example of a largely heterosexual majority deciding the sexual practices of gay people in the name of “their protection”. This appears wrong to me, quite apart from the implications for freedom of religion for Muslims, Orthodox and Conservative Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians, and for freedom of conscience for other traditional cultures. The progressive Canadian Prime Minister, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, made the salient point, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
It is my hope that the New Zealand government passes a much more careful law than the Victorian one, a law which takes all New Zealanders’ rights into consideration, protecting all individuals, those in the LGBTQ+ community as well as those in various religious traditions or from traditional cultures. For sure, LGBTQ+ individuals should feel safe and free to live in our society, and should be protected from any abusive and coercive conversion therapy against their wishes. But they shouldn’t be forced to adopt or remain in particular ways of living either, especially if they are actually wanting to explore other forms of sexual expression. Gay people should have the same freedom as heterosexual people to pursue or not pursue the sexual practices they desire. Finally, that same freedom should be extended to all those who want to base their sexual expression on their religious, cultural, or philosophical tradition.
Now that Donald Trump has left the White House, how should Evangelicals outside the United States of America view this experience, and what counsel might they be able to offer their American brothers and sisters? Many non-Americans ask for my view on what has been transpiring recently in the US. Here are some thoughts.
In my role as global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, as I attempt to explain the United States to others, a number of factors help in my understanding of Americans and, more importantly, American Evangelicals.
For the last four years, too many American Evangelicals have been caught up in passionate contests about the use of raw political power. This has embarrassed many of us and confused others. Never before have I heard so many people say that they either avoid or despise Evangelicals. There have been bizarre debates, sometimes pitting evangelical leaders against each other. Some self-proclaimed prophets even declared that God’s anointing was on President Trump; they predicted that he would win a second term as if this was a word from the Lord.
To understand where American Evangelicals are today, it is helpful to look at their heritage. The United States of America was founded amidst historic aspirations towards freedom, a founding myth that twentieth-century leaders traced to John Winthrop’s famous statement that they were “a city set upon a hill for all to observe.” This powerful religious vision, filtered through the dynamism imparted by mass migration and vast resources, implanted in American rhetoric and ethos a sense that their land had special divine promise and design.
The fact that the USA been predominantly Christian from its beginning has powerfully reinforced this belief. Even in an age of increased secularization, it still enjoys strong denominations and has many megachurches. After World War II, the influence of the American South spread throughout the nation as many Evangelicals moved away from that region. White Evangelicals moved mostly to the West and Southwest, Black Evangelicals mostly to the North as well as the West. And here is another major point of confusion. Pundits often speak of “Evangelical” as if it simply equalled “white Evangelicals.” But there are many African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans who share Evangelical beliefs and practices, but not the political loyalties of white Evangelicals.
This sort of background information assists my non-American friends to understand the power and innovative skill of the American national persona, the unmatched creativity and productivity of Americans, and their unvarnished generosity and desire to be a force of good in the world.
In the wake of a discredited president to whom a remarkable number of (though far from all) white Evangelicals gave support, what are we Evangelicals in the rest of the world to do?
American politics divides into two primary sides—the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. In recent decades adherence to these parties has become much more important for defining social, cultural, and religious convictions. (A generation ago, maybe 15% in each party “hated” or gravely distrusted members of the other party. Now it is way over 50%.), From the start of Trump’s rise to power, while a determined and loyal rank-and-file of white Evangelicals latched on to Trump’s populism, other Evangelical leaders were profoundly concerned and attempted to warn America. A number (seemingly too few) of highly visible pastors, educators and agency leaders were vocal in protesting that people were putting too much stock in one man. They critiqued those who attributed prophetic greatness to the president or the belief that he was under a divine call. They also warned against giving loyalty to any political party, political platform, or political leader a higher priority than loyalty to Christ.
Today, America is a wounded country. Many Evangelicals express embarrassment for their unguarded support others continue to be angry that their candidate didn’t win. A large minority of Americans in general (including Evangelicals) now have a profound distrust in their governmental institutions.
Second, because America is such a global cultural force and its role in evangelical expansion has been so influential, it is easy to overlook the fact that the real growth among Evangelicals recently has been in the Global South. Although the current malaise among American Evangelicals will inevitably influence us all, there is a strong tendency for the media to assume that a trend in the US is the same elsewhere.
But the United States is not the world. In a Christian community of 600 million Evangelicals, Americans don’t define who we are or should be for the rest of the world. As the term “Evangelical” has become mixed up with all sorts of political groups, views, political pressure and personalities, Evangelicals elsewhere in the world should insist that Christian belief and Christian practice deserve first place. Evangelicals elsewhere should not be looking to recent American history for what it means to “be in the world, but not of the world.”
A nagging question coming out of the Trumpian mobilization, however, relates to the “brand” value of the name. Should we replace the name “Evangelical”? Arguments in the affirmative say that the term lacks definition, that it has been coopted by political debate, and that it is now a term driving some away from the Gospel. Others, given this American debacle, feel that the name has been simply emptied of its usefulness.
I disagree. First, it’s a biblical name. The word euangelion, or “Evangel”, meaning “the good news”, has been used for centuries, particularly for the followers of Martin Luther and then more broadly at the time of William Wilberforce. Today, in many parts of the world, it remains an important means of identity. For example, if you are in a Muslim or Hindu majority country, and you are not Roman Catholic or liberal Protestant, what name do you use? As a threatened minority, the ability to identify with over 600 million fellow Evangelical Christians provides shelter in identity and bonding in fellowship. As a friend noted, every time a priest takes a misstep, do Roman Catholics wonder about a name change?
Finally, to my Evangelical friends in the rest of the world, let’s not be naïve about the temptation that we too might get caught using our church base and witness to gain political power. We have seen this happen in other countries: Kenya, South Korea, and Brazil, to name a few. As the number of Evangelicals continues to grow, there is a natural inclination to turn size and presence into political power. We may think that the Gospel inhibits us from being seduced by power, but we must recognize our own vulnerability as we seek to parlay our global growth into greater political influence.
Americans need space and time to make sense of the choices they confront. Let us pray that they will make choices based on the Christ they serve and the Bible they read. My prayer is that this hurtful and damaging American moment will be followed by a time of national confession, spiritual healing and a resolute will to make the first priority biblical in faith and Christ-honoring in words and actions.
One song became an anthem to the world as we entered into a global pandemic. The Blessing, sung by virtual choirs and pieced together from a myriad of home recordings and made in isolation.
New Zealand’s offering, recorded as we came out of our first national full lockdown in May 2020, was released as the city of Auckland entered a regional lockdown in August. This project was completed by people working remotely with others they had never physically met and yet, it stands as a remarkable demonstration of what happens when we work together as believers in Christ, put our trust in Him, and declare His blessing to an isolated and hurting world.
NZCN’s General Manager, Gayann, was keen to be involved in this project, providing Grant Norsworthy, More Than Music Mentor, with assistance sourcing people from around the nation to join the virtual choir and feedback as the project developed.
We are sharing with you a very useful brief statement issued yesterday by the National Church Leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand, which is a gathering of the senior leaders of most of New Zealand’s church denominations. From across that wide denominational spectrum, the undersigned church leaders speak with one voice to urge New Zealanders to vote very carefully in the two Referendums, ‘because both decisions carry the risk of inflicting serious long-term damage on our society, endangering vulnerable people, and making our country less safe for everyone’.
The statement we are sending today is about the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill (and we will send you the NCLANZ statement on euthanasia, when it is issued next week).
Through its National Director, the New Zealand Christian Network is an active participant in the National Church Leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand.
We recommend you share this statement with your family, friends, and churches.
A joint statement by the national leaders of most New Zealand church denominations
We urge the people of Aotearoa New Zealand to vote very cautiously in the two Referendums, because both decisions carry the risk of inflicting serious long-term damage on our society, endangering vulnerable people, and making our country less safe for everyone.
The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill
We support the recent new provision in law (2019) for cannabis-based medicine to be available on prescription.
We also support the general move towards decriminalising cannabis users, and instead concentrating on a non-punitive health-based approach of helping those being harmed by cannabis use and addiction. We note that police are generally no longer prosecuting recreational cannabis use (and we want them to apply that discretion without any bias).
However we do not support the legalisation of recreational cannabis use, as proposed in the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. We believe legalisation would help normalise cannabis use and increase its use (as has happened overseas). Cannabis use remains addictive and dangerous for some people, especially those under 25, and can induce psychosis, depression, loss of cognitive function, lung (and other) diseases, suicidal tendencies, and foetal harm.
Legalisation, and the rise of a cannabis industry with a network of retail shops in many communities, would undermine societal messages about reducing drug use (and also undermine the campaigns against tobacco smoking, and about driving under the influence of drugs).
The evidence from overseas is that legalisation would not end the black market in cannabis. In Canada, over 70% of cannabis is still purchased on the black market). Illegal dealers including gangs would continue to sell cannabis (at lower prices, with unsafe levels of THC, and also to those under the age of 20).
We are concerned that legalising and normalising cannabis use will increase domestic violence, cannabis-related road deaths, workplace accidents, and educational failure. We are also worried that society’s socio-economically disadvantaged groups are likely to suffer most from the increased availability and use of cannabis.
We suggest that voting ‘No to the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill carries significantly fewer risks of long-term damage to New Zealand society than a ‘Yes’ vote.
We also suggest that a ‘No’ vote still leaves space for New Zealand to further decriminalise cannabis law in relation to users, while retaining penalties only in relation to producers and dealers. At the same time it could strengthen a health-based approach towards those affected by drugs, while continuing to warn society about the risks of all drug use.
Bishop Jay Behan, Church of Confessing Anglicans in Aotearoa New Zealand Pastor Steve Burgess, Regional Overseer, Senior Leader, C3 Churches Commissioner Mark Campbell, Territorial Commander, The Salvation Army Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, Roman Catholic Pastor Iliafi Esera, General Superintendent, Assemblies of God in New Zealand Rev Dr Jaron Graham, National Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene Rev Tale Hakeagaiki, Chairman, Congregational Union of New Zealand Rev Charles Hewlett, National Leader, Baptist Churches of New Zealand Rev Brett Jones, National Superintendent (Acting), Wesleyan Methodist Church of NZ The Right Rev Fakaofo Kaio, Moderator, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand Rev Dr Stuart Lange, National Director, New Zealand Christian Network Pastor Brent Liebezeit, President, Christian Churches New Zealand Rev Andrew Marshall, National Director Alliance Churches of New Zealand Pastor David MacGregor, National Director, Vineyard Churches Aotearoa NZ Pastor Sam Monk, The National Leader of Acts Churches NZ & Equippers Church Pastor Peter Mortlock, Senior Pastor, City Impact Churches of NZ Assistant Bishop Jim Pietsch, Lutheran Church of New Zealand Pastor Boyd Ratnaraja, National Leader, Elim Church of New Zealand Pastor Eddie Tupa’i, President, New Zealand Pacific Union Conference of the SDA Church Rev Setaita Taumoepeau K. Veikune, President, Methodist Church of New Zealand Pastor Adam White, Leader, New Life Churches
If approved by a majority of voters in the coming Referendum, the End of Life Choice Act will allow eligible terminally ill people to request ‘assisted dying’, either by a doctor or nurse practitioner directly administering lethal drugs (euthanasia) or by a doctor or nurse practitioner setting them up with lethal drugs to take themselves (assisted suicide).
Many New Zealanders like the idea of euthanasia as an option for those terminally ill, and assume the End of Life Choice Act must be okay. They have thoughts like ‘I wouldn’t want to die in unbearable pain. I would like the option to die, in dignity, at the time of my own choice. It’s my own life.’ Or that euthanasia is compassionate, because they feel it could prevent suffering. Or that ‘We do it for our cats and dogs. Why not for human beings?’ These thoughts make it easier to accept the politicians’ claims that similar euthanasia legislation has ‘worked well overseas’, and that the End of Life Choice Act contains ‘rigorous safeguards’.
But here’s a dozen very serious reasons why the End of Life Choice Act is so wrong and dangerous for New Zealand, and why we need to vote AGAINST it.
Legally and practically, New Zealanders already have a ‘right to die’. Nobody is forced to have their lives unnecessarily prolonged. People may freely decline tests, treatment, or surgery. Doctors do not continue treatment or keep life-support going, when there is no hope of recovery. People may sign a ‘Do not resuscitate’ order, and state their wishes for end-of-life care in an Advance Directive. We already have a right to as much pain relief as needed (even if this has a double effect of shortening our lives).
In reality, very few people die in unbearable pain. Many die peacefully, or in their sleep, or having become unconscious. Modern palliative care can control most pain.
Those final days are important. The last week or so of someone dying with a terminal illness can often be a time when both patient and family come to peace with the impending death and bereavement, and is a factor in healthy grieving. Euthanasia interrupts the natural ‘letting go’.
New Zealanders need to realise the chilling long-term risks: we are very unwise to allow anyone (including doctors and nurse practitioners) to legally kill someone else, or to actively help them commit suicide. That is a highly dangerous line for society to cross. It is at our peril that we allow another form of killing to be introduced. It is not just that killing people is regarded by most people as ethically or culturally abhorrent, it is also a matter of safe-guarding the long-term public safety of our society.
It makes no sense at all for society to deplore high rates of suicide, and then to legalise medically-assisted suicide. The legalisation of medical suicide will give another reason for vulnerable people to feel suicide is an acceptable option.
Similar euthanasia legislation overseas has NOT worked well: it has led to a steady increase in inappropriate and wrongful deaths.
The End of Life Choice Act does NOT have rigorous safeguards, and in particular does not protect against coercion. It is loose and poorly-drafted legislation, and would be one of the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world. Many obvious safeguards are missing…
● Above all, there is no effective protection against people being subtly influenced by others into requesting euthanasia. Many older people are very anxious about not ‘becoming a burden’ for loved ones. They may feel obliged to sign a request for euthanasia when it is mentioned as an option by a medical professional (the Act only restricts doctors making the suggestion during appointments), or when hinted at by family eager to receive their inheritance before it is all spent on care, or when euthanasia becomes much more common. ● There is no requirement that euthanasia be a last resort, after treatment has failed. ● There is no requirement that someone first sees a palliative care specialist. ● There is no requirement that one of the doctors actually knows the patient. ● There is no mandatory psychological assessment, for instance for depression. ● There is no mandatory cooling-off period. ● There is no provision for an independent witness at any part of the process. ● There is no requirement for anyone to consult or tell their parents or children. ● There is inadequate protection for those medical staff for who object to euthanasia on ethical and conscience grounds. ● The reporting required is inadequate
Medical diagnoses and prognoses can often be wrong. People with terminal illnesses can live much longer than expected, or recover. Under this law, some will die who would otherwise have survived.
The majority of doctors are strongly against euthanasia: they see it as contrary to their commitment to healing and caring for patients, and want nothing to do with it. Many are also worried that euthanasia will undermine proper funding for palliative care, and that it will erode patient trust. The New Zealand Medical Association is very opposed to euthanasia.
The inevitable expansion of this new ‘human right’.Once society crosses the key threshold of allowing doctors (on request) to actively kill people with terminal illness, within a few years Parliament will inevitably start extending this ‘right’ to other ‘unbearable’ conditions, such as disability, mental illness, depression, chronic illness, dementia, and old-age frailty. That is exactly what has happened in most overseas jurisdictions that have allowed ‘assisted dying’. Because of that, many disabled people feel very deeply concerned about the End of Life Choice Act.
The inevitable increase of involuntary euthanasia. Once voluntary euthanasia becomes legal and common, instances of involuntary euthanasia will likewise steadily increase. The climate of thought will steadily change, and some doctors will begin quietly euthanising patients who they decide have no ‘quality of life’, and who are taking up costly space in hospitals or care facilities. They will rationalise this as compassion, and as responsible stewarding of public resources. This too has happened in a number of countries, which began with ‘assisted dying’ as in this Act.
As euthanasia becomes normalised, society’s disadvantaged and vulnerable people are those most likely to be euthanised, in increasing numbers. Poor and vulnerable people have less access to financial reserves, to expensive treatments, and to first-rate palliative care, and may feel they have fewer options.
A statement by the New Zealand Christian Network, September 2020