Dr Stuart Lange – National Director, New Zealand Christian Network
The Prime Minister of New Zealand has recently expressed the laudable view that we need a world which celebrates the diversity of its citizens and migrants. Absolutely so. People of all sorts of beliefs and worldviews want a society which is compassionate, respectful, just and free. We are right to resist any erosion of those values, and to consider very carefully what laws and behaviour best protects them.
The Christchurch events have raised concerns over on-line “hate speech”, which among other things helped incite appalling racist violence. The Folau controversy in Australia has opened up other important issues, in New Zealand as well, around freedoms of belief and expression, and whether people should lose their job for expressing (even when they are not at work) beliefs which some find offensive. At the same time, there is currently discussion in Government circles about legislation to prohibit “hate speech”. It is unclear yet what legislative changes may be proposed.
Protection of “minorities”
It is right that society welcome, respect and protect minorities. That is an expression of a just and humane society. It is unhelpful, though, to give any groups more rights than any other groups. All people should be treated equally, with the same rights and restraints.
The laws of this land need to be neutral, equally respecting the rights of belief and expression for people of all faiths, and of none.
In a changing society, it is increasingly problematical to assume which group is a majority, and which group is a minority, and what may happen later. Muslims and Buddhists, for instance, are both currently minorities. Christianity is often assumed to be the “majority” religion. But recent censuses have put Christian adherence at less than 50%. So are Christians now a minority too? The “secular” view is assumed by many to be the only view which should prevail. But is it a majority or a minority? The laws of this land need to be neutral, equally respecting the rights of belief and expression for people of all faiths, and of none.
Prejudice and “hate”
Discussion around possible legislative change often includes rhetoric about “hate”. Nobody doubts that true “hate” is destructive, both for those who are hated and those who hate. In terms of public policy and law, however, the word “hate” is not a useful word. It is too broad in meaning to be of any use. Human beings can say they “hate it” when something very trivial happens, or that they “hate” instant coffee. They can hate evil and injustice. They can harbour in their hearts prejudice or hate against other ethnicities and cultures. Occasionally, human beings can hate others with such vicious, demonic hatred that they actually want to hurt or kill people (as with murderers, terrorists, and genocidal despots such as Hitler). The last of those categories of hate – that which incites or commits violence – is clearly abhorrent and evil, and should always be unlawful.
Mild prejudice is not hate. All human beings have at least a little prejudice in them, influencing our views on politics, religion, sports, and many other things. Deep prejudice, however, can be associated with real hate. Racist hatred is especially repugnant, and needs to be actively discouraged. It is irrational, unjust, and cruel. But even the expression of racist views should be unlawful only when it is deliberately seeking to foster contempt and/or to incite racial violence.
Strongly prejudiced opinions can be irritating and offensive. We hear and read them every day, on public and social media. But the risk of being offended is the unavoidable price of freedom of belief and freedom of expression. It would be nice if many people were to tone down their opinions, especially those we disagree with. But there needs to be a high threshold before expressed opinions are deemed either “hateful” or unlawful. Society must strenuously protect freedom of belief and expression. Our liberty, our life, our society depend on those freedoms, and when they are curtailed we are letting go far too much.
Society must strenuously protect freedom of belief and expression. Our liberty, our life, our society depend on those freedoms, and when they are curtailed we are letting go far too much.
The word “hate” has become unhelpfully politicised. For instance, in many circles the meaning of “hate” appears to have become extended to include the expression of views that do not align with those of a particular community. Clearly, society must defend the right of that community to express and promote their beliefs. Equally, though, society must defend the right of other people to hold and express contrary views, including those beliefs some disagree with or find offensive, such as the belief (which is very widely held, and not just by Christians) that God intended marriage as the union of a man and woman.
To speak against beliefs we disagree with is everyone’s democratic right, and – unless we want tyranny – that right to freedom of belief and expression must cut both ways. To label as “hate speech” those views we disagree with, and to denigrate those who hold them, looks like vilification. To push for someone to lose their job for expressing their religious beliefs, as has happened with Folau, is a very disturbing encroachment on freedom of belief and expression.
A level playing field
In our multi-cultural, multi-faith society, most Christians do not want or require special privileges for themselves. All they really need is what everyone else needs: a society where there are equal freedoms of belief and expression, and freedom from discrimination, for people of all faiths, and for people of no faith. A society where any person, whether religious or secular, is free to believe and express and live by the tenets of their faith, without fear of censure, or of losing their job, or of public vilification. A society where believing in your creed (Christian, Muslim, or whatever) or publicly quoting your holy book will not lead to getting into trouble with the law, your educational provider, your employer, your professional body, or being censured by the media. A society where everyone remains perfectly free to promote both secular views and religious views, without discrimination. A society where anyone may express and advocate any belief about culture, religion, morality, or marriage, without any fear of being labelled as “unsafe”, just because someone might be offended. What do we need to ensure a free society? Freedom of belief and expression for all: a level playing field.
What do we need to ensure a free society?
Freedom of belief and expression for all: a level playing field.
Respect and restraint
Regardless of the laws around public discourse, and how they might be shaped, both secular people and people of faith do well to speak and act with goodwill and respect for all others, out of a sense of common humanity, and a desire to preserve the peace of our free and diverse society. We should speak the truth as we see it, but do so with kindness and respect. Being deliberately offensive has never been good behaviour. Christians, who believe that Jesus is the perfect revelation and embodiment of God, have a superb example to follow: he spoke enduring truth, with infinite grace and compassion.
Dr Stuart Lange National Director, New Zealand Christian Network
A ‘call to reflect’ with Muslims puts faith in the public square
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet
Nothing calls for prayer as much as sudden disaster and death. So it happened today, exactly a week to the hour after the terror shootings of Muslims at prayer in Christchurch last Friday, that New Zealanders were called to prayer to reflect on this horrific event and on all that has happened since.
God willing, it is a unique occasion; we never want another national observance for the same reason. And yet, to the extent that we have acted in solidarity with a religious community, the nation has publicly acknowledged God, faith and prayer. There are not many things which do that for us.
At Hagley Park, a vast space next to the Al Noor Mosque where the gunman claimed most of his victims, thousands gathered with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, government officials and other dignitaries, surrounding the Muslim community gathered for their Friday devotions. Ms Ardern and a number of women, including TVNZ reporters, wore headscarves.
In a brief opening speech the Prime Minister said:
“According to Muslim faith, the prophet Mohammed, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam [peace be upon him], said the believers, in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain. New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”
At 1.30 the call to prayer rang out. There followed two minutes of silence, which the whole country had been invited to observe. Silence reigned, and continued in the crowd as Imam Gamal Fouda of the Al Noor Mosque alternately led his community in prayer, and addressed New Zealanders with messages of thanks, defiance in the face of xenophobia and terrorism, warning and hope.
He claimed the 50 dead as martyrs not only of Islam but “of this nation New Zealand,” who would even now be enjoying a high place in Paradise – something of great importance to Muslims. The victims’ blood, he said, had “watered seeds of hope” and new life for New Zealand and for humanity.
Thousands are likely to have watched these solemnities on television, and thousands more will be attending vigils this evening at mosques and parks throughout the country – gatherings which have been occurring all week to honour the dead and console the 48 injured, their families and community.
To these events Kiwis have brought the tribute of their own faiths and cultural diversity. Maori, as is normal on many public occasions, welcomed and led the official party to their allotted space for the Hagley Park ceremony. Maori gangs have been keen to offer protection at mosques. The haka, the warlike Maori welcome, is to be seen everywhere – notably among schoolboys.
An inner-city Auckland Catholic church opposite a mosque hosted the Friday prayer on the day of the attack, when the mosque was closed, and this morning a group of Catholics sang a Maori waiata (hymn) in honour of the Blessed Virgin as a tribute to their Muslim neighbours, who recognise Mary as the mother of Jesus. And this is only one example of the interfaith climate already existing in the country but intensified by the Christchurch attacks.
(Inevitably there was the odd protest. The leader of a Christian group that seems to appeal to marginalised people, especially men, thought things had gone too far with the Muslim prayer setting in Hagley Park. He seemed a bit confused about God as well.)
However, New Zealand is a very secular country; migrants are far more religious. The opening prayer for Parliament still addresses “God”, but recently was purged of “Jesus Christ” (and the Queen). The national anthem, God Defend New Zealand, is often sung only, or first (as today at Parliament grounds) in Maori, although it was composed in English. This may help those who have trouble addressing God, but is not much help to those who can barely get through one verse in Maori. The English, however, speaks of “Men of every creed and race” who “gather here before thy face…” — so appropriate today, except for the women who don’t like singing about “men”; but that is another story.
Maori, as the indigenous people, are the ones who usually carry the baton for public religious expression in this country. For practically any occasion of national importance, at least, they perform opening prayers (karakia) hymns or songs (waiata) and blessings (manaakitia). Anzac Day services for those fallen in war are the only events of national significance where Christian ministers officiate and lead prayers and hymns.
Jacinda Ardern was raised as a Mormon but gave it away. After taking up the premier’s role she identified herself as an agnostic. Yet she seemed perfectly at ease wearing a hijab and quoting the Prophet. In her initial response to Christchurch attacks she told the Muslims her “thoughts” were with them. Later she adopted the more adequate and familiar “thoughts and prayers”; having learned to pray as a child it could not have been all that difficult for her. And that would go for the majority of Kiwis.
The events of one week, even with all its fatalities and reminders of our helplessness in the face of death, will probably not make us more religious. It probably will not stop secularist fundamentalists wanting to drive voluntary religious instruction out of schools, or holding Christian (or Muslim, for that matter) opinions about moral issues of no account – if not “hate speech”.
But the response to the attack on the Muslim community has shown that we do respect people who happen to believe in God, practise their faith and pray. We have made room for them in the public square, even with the full sanction of the state. We should hang onto that example in the difficult debates that are waiting to be taken up again when all the dead of Christchurch attack are buried, and all the wounded restored to their families.
This article by Carolyn Moynihan was originally published on MercatorNet under a Creative Commons licence. The original article can be found here.
AUCKLAND CHURCH LEADERS AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND (ACL)
Joint Statement by Auckland Church Leaders
The recent massacre at the mosques in Christchurch has brought deep grief to New Zealand. As Auckland church leaders we condemn this evil attack and are shocked and horrified that such an atrocity should take place in our nation. We are equally horrified that it should be perpetrated in a place of prayer and worship, when freedom to worship is cherished in New Zealand. How shocking this violence should happen in a city called “Christchurch” as this act goes against everything that Jesus Christ stood for and that the church stands for.
As a Christian community we welcome, support and embrace all who live peaceably in Aotearoa New Zealand. We remember that Jesus Christ spent his early years as a migrant/refugee in Egypt and so we celebrate all who have come to New Zealand looking for freedom, safety and greater opportunities for their families. Our national anthem says it so well:
God of Nations, at Thy feet, In the bonds of love we meet….
Men of every creed and race, Gather here before Thy face….
From dissension, envy, hate And corruption guard our State, Make our country good and great God defend New Zealand
These words take on fresh and deeper meaning as we stand in solidarity with those who grieve the loss of their loved ones.
To the Muslim community in New Zealand we say that you are welcomed and loved as we share life in this great nation. This is your home too.
We pray for healing in the midst of deep sorrow. We pray for all families and friends impacted by such hate and intolerance. We pray this horrible tragedy will not divide us, but rather bring us together in strength, compassion and common humanity.
Prepared by Auckland Church Leaders:
Rt Rev Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland ♦ Pastor Tak Bhana, Senior Pastor, Church Unlimited ♦ Pastor Paul de Jong, Senior Pastor, LIFE ♦ Pastor Jonathan Dove, Senior Pastor, Greenlane Christian Centre ♦ Most Rev Patrick Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland ♦ Majors Ian & Liz Gainsford, Divisional Leaders, The Salvation Army ♦ Mr David Goold, on behalf of the Christian Community Churches of NZ (serving the Open Brethren) ♦ Pastor Ken Harrison, Senior Pastor, Harvest Christian Church , Papakura AOGNZ ♦ Pastor Dr Brian Hughes, Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel ♦ Rev Dr Stuart Lange, Interim National Director, NZ Christian Network ♦ Rev Kok Soon Lee, Auckland Chinese Churches Association ♦ Rev Andrew Marshall, National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand ♦ Very Rev Anne Mills, Dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity ♦ Rev Steve Millward, Moderator, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church ♦ Pastor Bruce Monk, International Overseer for Acts Churches & Equippers ♦ Pastor Sam Monk, Senior Pastor, Equippers Church & Acts National Leader ♦ Pastor Peter Mortlock, Senior Pastor, City Impact Church ♦ Pastor Lloyd Rankin, National Director, Vineyard Churches ♦ Pastor Boyd Ratnaraja, National Leader, Elim Church of New Zealand ♦ Pastor Dean Rush, Senior Leader, C3 Church Auckland ♦ Pastor Jim Shaw, New Life Churches Executive team ♦ Rev Paul Talluri, on behalf of the Church of the Nazarene ♦ Bishop Brian Tamaki, Destiny Churches New Zealand ♦ Pastor Allan Taylor, Northern Baptist Association ♦ Pastor Ben Timothy, President, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church ♦ Rev Dr Richard Waugh, National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand ♦ Rev Graeme White, Auckland Synod Superintendent, Methodist Church of New Zealand
NATIONAL CHURCH LEADERS AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND (NCLANZ)
Joint Statement by National Church Leaders
The National Church Leaders gathered in Wellington today (Tuesday 19th March) to express their profound horror at the terrible violence towards Muslim people in Christchurch mosques last Friday. We are deeply saddened by these tragic events and we strongly condemn these acts of racial hatred and murder. We feel very deeply for our fellow New Zealand faith community, which was so cruelly attacked as worshippers peacefully gathered for prayer.
We extend our prayerful and heartfelt sympathy to the Muslim community here in New Zealand, and around the world. The whole Christian church community in New Zealand is praying for the Muslim community: praying for the healing of the wounded, comfort for the bereaved, and for God’s peace upon all who have been traumatised.
At this time of deep shock, grief, and anxiety, we ask and pray for all New Zealanders to stand united, to have great love and compassion, and to show unfailing respect and kindness for all people who live in this society of Aotearoa New Zealand, regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation. We believe there is absolutely no room for racial hatred in our land, and we are determined that we must stand together as one people, united as human beings created by God, and as fellow New Zealanders. May goodness overcome evil, and peace and goodwill prevail.
Rev Dr Bruce Allder, District Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene ♦ Pastor Steve Burgess, Regional Overseer, C3 Churches ♦ Cardinal John Dew, Catholic Church of New Zealand ♦ Pastor Iliafi Esera, General Superintendent, Assemblies of God New Zealand ♦ Rev Tale Hakeagaiki, Chairman, Congregational Union of New Zealand ♦ Pastor Dr Brian Hughes, Regional Leader, Calvary Chapel Association ♦ Rt Rev Fakaofo Kaio, Moderator, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand ♦ Rev Dr Stuart Lange, Interim 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 Peter Mortlock, Senior Pastor, City Impact Church ♦ Pastor Lloyd Rankin, National Director, Vineyard Churches ♦ Pastor Boyd Ratnaraja, National Leader, Elim Churches ♦ Archbishop Philip Richardson, Archbishop & Primate, Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia ♦ Pastor Eddie Tupai, President, New Zealand Pacific Union of the Seventh Day Adventist Church ♦ Rev Craig Vernall, National Leader, Baptist Churches in New Zealand ♦ Rev Setaita Taumoepeau K. Veikune, President, Methodist Church of New Zealand ♦ Rev Dr Richard Waugh, National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand ♦ Commissioner Andrew Westrupp, Territorial Commander, The Salvation Army ♦ Pastor Adam White, National Leader, New Life Churches International ♦ Bishop Mark Whitfield, Lutheran Church of New Zealand ♦ Lesley Young, Yearly Meeting Clerk, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) joins its national member body the New Zealand Christian Network (NZCN) in strongly condemning the tragic attacks on Muslims in two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The NZCN “has expressed horror and great sadness about the violent attacks today on Muslim people and mosques in Christchurch.” Dr. Stuart Lange, a spokesperson of the NZCN called the attack “utterly appalling” and said it “will be deplored by all New Zealand people of all faiths or none.” The network urges people to pray for all the families and communities which will be deeply affected, and to offer them support in every way possible.
Bp. Efraim Tendero, Secretary General and CEO of the WEA, said: “With this terrorist attacks at Christchurch, we are once again reminded of the intertwined and deadly nature of prejudice and extremism, how it seeks to destroy and sow enmity among peace-loving people and communities. As followers of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we condemn such violence and state in the clearest terms that there is no justification whatsoever to commit such a heinous crime against people of any faith or no faith.”
“We mourn with the families of those who have lost loved ones in this tragic attack and pray for God to give comfort and healing to them as well as the community. As we all seek accountability and justice for all the victims of this tragedy, we are convinced that in crucial times such as this we need to all the more demonstrate the best in humanity by not repaying evil with evil, but by overcoming evil with good. (Romans 12:21)”
“As a global family of evangelical Christians – a diverse family that includes people of all complexions, ethnicities, languages, cultures and social standings – we are committed to upholding that according to the Bible, God has created each human being in His image, which gives eternal value to each individual life,” Bp. Tendero added, and said: “It is our hope and prayer that rather than dividing the community with hatred, this tragic event will bring the community together in condemning such hatred and that they would reach out to each other across any social or cultural barriers to extend comfort and support at this time.”