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
‘Unprecedented’. ‘Social distancing’. ‘Self-isolation’. ‘Community outbreak’. ‘Lockdown.’ These and other words have come to dominate our news feeds and conversations. A few weeks ago, the world was ordinary; now, it is different, unusual, unfamiliar. COVID-19 has turned into a global pandemic affecting every aspect of our lives. We have been turned upside down and inside out, and, understandably, are left feeling dazed and confused. People have died, more deaths will follow, travel is drastically restricted, and society is being changed. Life is different.
Typically, at Easter, Christians across the globe gather in churches to worship and celebrate the death of Jesus Christ on Friday and his glorious resurrection on Sunday. Despite the popular image of empty churches and dusty pews, churches in New Zealand are thriving and many have thousands of people turn up each week to worship God. But not this Easter. Not in Aotearoa in 2020. We are in the middle of a lock-down. But, while traditional church services are cancelled, this does not mean Easter is cancelled. Since the pandemic began to take hold, creative and compassionate responses to COVID-19 have come from across all strata of society, not least from church leaders. Easter is being celebrated in family bubbles around dinner tables, and, of course, en masse online. And the message of Easter is being lived out in all walks of life in acts of service, compassion, and care.
What is the meaning of Easter? What are Christians celebrating in the death of Jesus Christ and in his miraculous resurrection? And what does that have to do with COVID-19 and the problems we face in our real lives? Easter is about the ways in which God breaks down every barrier that exists in order to enter into the closest of relationships with us and make it possible for us to find our fulfilment, purpose, peace, and joy in him. In a world of fear and dislocation caused by isolation, sickness, and anxiety, we need to hear the words of joy again, and of peace, and of love. Easter speaks just these words over us.
In the Bible, we are told that Jesus, on several occasions, “tore open” the barriers that separate humanity from God. The language is deliberately active because the action is so forceful. Jesus died on a Roman cross and, as he did, the large curtain that divided the inner rooms of the Jewish temple was torn apart. This curtain was around 15 metres high and 9 metres wide and embroidered to represent the panorama of the heavens. In other words, it symbolised the sky, and the sky was understood by the people of the time as a barrier between this world and God. Jesus died, the curtain was torn apart and God’s presence flooded the earth. Seeing this, the Roman soldier guarding the cross of Jesus declared, “surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Jesus broke down the barriers between humanity and God. This is the Easter message.
Easter is part of a bigger story that began with Christmas. At Christmas, we remember Jesus’ birth, by the blessed virgin Mary. Mary is said to have found favour in God’s sight and was told that she would bear a child, who would be the Son of God. And, as it was in the sky-rending scenes at the cross, the pattern was the same: a physical barrier—in this case, Mary’s human form—was passed through by God, who filled the womb with his love and favour.
A further barrier-breaking is seen in the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Here, the barrier is a massive stone that seals his tomb. The kind of tomb in which Jesus was buried was shaped like a house. At the entrance to the ‘house’ was a door—this time, a sealing stone. The difference between the tomb and a house is that a house and its door are designed to open while the sealing stone on the tomb is meant to be permanently closed.
The sealing stone at the tomb was a symbolic barrier between this world and the next. The women who first came to Jesus’ tomb witnessed this barrier removed—the stone had been rolled away—Christ had risen! He had left the tomb, departed from this world and, in doing so, tore the heavens apart and, once more, opened up human access to God.
And, finally, the upper room. We read that, after the resurrection, Jesus’ followers were all together in one room, with the doors locked. This signifies the impenetrability of another barrier. Jesus moved down from his heavenly state; he appeared mysteriously and reassured his terrified audience. In the absence of angels or a Roman centurion, it was the once-doubting disciple Thomas who exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!”
Easter Cross photo by Susanna Burton
COVID-19 is the latest in a long list of barriers in life. Fear, loneliness, panic, anxiety, and a host of other emotions lurk close to the surface for many people, and the Easter message is that God is not unaware of how we feel, nor is he passive in the face of such challenges. Christians are those who seek to follow God and to be barrier-breakers as well.
In the early centuries of the Church, Christians stood out amongst their contemporaries for their response to the epidemics that swept through the Roman world. Julian the Apostate, the last pagan Roman Emperor, wrote during the mid-fourth century that “the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well.” This social response led to Christians sacrificially serving their neighbours. We have many accounts of Christians entering plague-ridden cities to care for the sick and, in doing so, helping to contain fear and the spread of disease. The response to COVID-19 has been no different as people from all walks of life have stepped in and stepped up to help.
Many are asking the questions: What will life look like after COVID-19 has passed? How will social interactions change? What will the new world look like? Will we simply return to our old ways or will we re-think the ways we live and interact with each other? This Easter, Christians are actively looking for ways to follow God through what, previously, were barriers but are now open doors, to find ways to serve, to love and to care for one another. What God has done for us in Christ, we want to do for others.
In a context of ‘social distancing’, Christians, like others, practise physical distancing while maintaining social proximity via streamed worship services, virtual communion, care packages for those in isolation, online socials for youth and young adults, and numerous zoom calls. A myriad of other examples could be given for ways in which the Easter message is being lived out in a COVID-19 world.
What will the life look like after the pandemic? Crises like COVID-19 tend to shake the assumptions of societies, and it is here where Easter speaks to us, telling us to care for one another, to check in on our neighbours, to call those at risk, and not to let barriers—self-imposed or other—prevent us from living lives of meaning and purpose. Easter tells us that God loves us, cares for us, and will stop at nothing, not even the death of his Son, to break through any barrier that separates us from him. Easter reminds us that, in the future—after the pandemic—love, goodness, peace, and hope will remain.
Covid-19 has put up barriers between us: We are homebound. Most of us can no longer be in our usual work, educational or leisure spaces. Outside of our bubble, we ensure there is at least a 2-metre distance from others. But God has no limits and offers us a new perspective. He can be with each of us exactly where we are, even as we are locked down into the boundaries of our homes and local environments. God can break down barriers and he can be with us both now, wherever we are confined, and into the future, with whatever the future will bring. This is the hope of Easter.
As Auckland Church Leaders, we welcome you to join us this Easter season. We have online services happening all over Auckland.
Paul Allen-Baines Congregational Union of N.Z.
Rev. Ross Bay Anglican Bishop of Auckland
Pastor Tak Bhana Senior Pastor, Church Unlimited
Pastor Paul de Jong Senior Pastor, LIFE
Pastors Jonathan and Robyn Dove Senior Pastors, Greenlane Christian Centre
Most Rev. Patrick Dunn Catholic Bishop of Auckland
Majors Ian & Liz Gainsford Divisional Leaders, The Salvation Army
Jaron Graham on behalf of the Church of the Nazarene
Brett Jones Interim National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church
Pastor Sanjai Kandregula Executive member, Assemblies of God NZ
Pastor Brian Kelly Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel
Pastor Nich Kitchen Mountainside Lutheran Church
Dr Stuart Lange National Director, NZ Christian Network
Kok Soon Lee Auckland Chinese Churches Association
Pastor David MacGregor National Director, Vineyard Churches
Andrew Marshall National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand
Very Rev. Anne Mills Dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
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
Rev. Te Kitohi Pikaahu Anglican Bishop of Te Tai Tokerau
Pastor Lui Ponifasio on behalf of the Christian Community Churches of N.Z.
Pastor Boyd Ratnaraja National Leader, Elim Churches
Pastors Dean Rush Senior Leaders, C3 Church Auckland
Pastor Jim Shaw New Life Churches Executive team
Bishop Brian Tamaki Senior Minister of Destiny Churches International
Pastor Allan Taylor Northern Baptist Association
Pastor Ben Timothy President, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church
Rev. Graeme R. White Auckland Synod Superintendent, Methodist Church of N.Z.
To every MP, from the undersigned National Church Leaders gathered today in Wellington
Tēnā koutou. Today, 17 March 2020, the national leaders of most New Zealand church denominations gathered together in Wellington, within sight of Parliament. We want to say to every MP: we urge you to look deep into your own moral conscience, and to vote against the Abortion Law “Reform” Bill at its final reading.
We acknowledge that a decision to seek an abortion is often a lonely and agonising choice for a woman, and that the aim of this Bill is to streamline access to abortion and reduce its stigma. We recognise there are complexities in the abortion issue. We do, however, see any abortion as a tragedy for all concerned.
The profound and pervasive flaw of this Bill is that it erases all consideration for the human worth of the unborn child, and (unlike the current legislation) makes no attempt to balance the needs of mother and child and to give at least some protection to the unborn. The Bill defies the obvious, scientifically incontestable reality that the unborn are living, beating-heart, human babies. Societies which practice great oppression often first dehumanise those they mistreat, asserting they are not really human, so killing them is therefore acceptable. Unwittingly, the Bill echoes that same chilling pattern: it assumes that unwanted unborn are neither human nor valuable and that their death is therefore of no consequence; their death is minimalised as just a “health” procedure for the mother, in which the real victim is determinedly overlooked.
The intent of the Bill may well be to advance women’s autonomy or health. But we believe its primary effect will be to further normalise unspeakable abuse and death against society’s most innocent, vulnerable and voiceless members, the unborn. We believe all human life is a sacred taonga, a priceless gift from God. Justice and compassion requires that we should allow the unborn to be safely born and to live the life they have been given. Those in great authority have a God-given responsibility to help protect everyone, especially those most vulnerable; to legislate instead to facilitate their death is culpably wrong.
And so, in the name of God, and of justice and compassion, and for the sake of future generations, we the undersigned national church leaders join with a vast number of other caring New Zealanders and implore you to exercise true conscience and to vote against this highly unbalanced and unjust Bill.
Rev Charles Hewlett Acting Chair
Bishop Mark Whitford Secretary
On behalf of the following National Church Leaders…
Pastor Adam White, Leader, New Life Churches Pastor Boyd Ratnajara, National Leader, Elim Church of New Zealand Pastor Peter Mortlock, Senior Pastor, City Impact Church Rev Setaita Taumoepeau Veikune, President, Methodist Church of New Zealand Pastor Steve Burgess, Regional Overseer / Senior Leader, C3 Churches Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, Roman Catholic Church Rev Andrew Marshall, National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand Brent Liebezeit, President, Christian Churches New Zealand Right Rev Fakaofo Kaio, Moderator, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (personal support) Pastor David Macgregor, National Director, Vineyard Churches Bishop Jay Behan, Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa New Zealand Charles Hewlett, National Leader, Baptist Churches of New Zealand Rev Tale Hakeagaiki, Chairman, Congregational Union of New Zealand Pastor Eddie Tupa’i, President, New Zealand Pacific Union Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Church Pastor Iliafi Esera, Senior Pastor, Assemblies of God New Zealand Rev Brett Jones, National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand Rev Dr Stuart Lange, National Director, New Zealand Christian Network Rev Dr Jaron Graham, National Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene Bishop Mark Whitfield, Lutheran Church of New Zealand