Are “Evangelical Christians” the least trusted of New Zealand’s “religions”?

Are “Evangelical Christians” the least trusted of New Zealand’s “religions”?

A number of media have recently carried a story about a survey seeking to measure which religions in New Zealand are the most-trusted, and which are the least trusted, in the aftermath of the 15 March terrorist attacks in Christchurch. The survey, conducted by the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, was based on a sample of one thousand people. Respondents were asked to indicate their trust in the following “religions”: Catholics, Protestants, Evangelical Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists or agnostics, and Jews.

The summary that was headlined was “BUDDHISTS MOST TRUSTED, EVANGELICALS LEAST”. Respondents to the survey awarded Buddhists the most trust (35%) and the least distrust (15%). “Evangelical Christians” attracted the least trust (21%) and the most distrust (38%). All other “religions” were in a statistically indistinguishable clump in the middle.


Kiwis’ trust in members of different faiths. Photo credit: Institute for Governance and Policy Studies/Colmar Brunton


It is not surprising that Buddhists, with their reputation for peacefulness and for harmony with nature, were the most trusted religion in a society where many secular people (now over 40% of New Zealanders) are at least faintly drawn to the sort of diffused spirituality perceived to be associated with eastern religion. Also, Buddhists do not have a reputation for being out to convert anyone.

Given the way the survey was framed, it was perhaps inevitable that respondents would indicate the lowest degree of trust in “evangelicals”.

A number of comments can be made about the survey…


Most people in New Zealand  especially secular people, but also probably the majority of church-going Christians have little or no idea what the term “evangelical” means (i.e. that it is a theological category, denoting a strong emphasis on the Gospel and the Bible).


The majority of people who are evangelical in New Zealand (and in most other countries), do not usually explicitly identify themselves as “evangelical”, but more often primarily identify themselves as “Christian”  or by the name of their church or denomination, or by some other theological descriptor such as “Pentecostal”. Many New Zealand “Evangelicals” are in so-called mainstream churches, and many others in denominations such as the Baptists, or in independent churches. It is erroneous to assume that because only a mere 15,000 people explicitly identified themselves in the 2013 Census as “Evangelical”, they are the only people in New Zealand who are evangelical.


It was odd and confusing that the survey singled out “Evangelical” as one of the options, and “Protestant” as another. “Evangelical” and “Protestant” are not in fact separate or competing “religions”. The reality is, the majority of “Evangelical” Christians are also “Protestant”, and about half of New Zealand’s church-going Protestants are also evangelical in theology and practice. One term is essentially a subset of the other. So comparing one with the other is rather like comparing apples with fruit.


For many respondents, the word “evangelical” was probably misunderstood to mean “evangelistic”. For many people the word conjures up feelings about in-your-face, bible-bashing proselytism, something which many secular people find annoying (and which many Christian people are also uncomfortable with).


It is also highly likely that quite a number of respondents were also influenced by the American media’s highlighting of “evangelical” support for the Republican Party and especially for Donald Trump. The word “Evangelical” thus invokes some negative stereotypes, and for the survey to single out “evangelicals” at this time was almost to invite such a response.  In our greatly  different New Zealand context, however, it is fallacious to suppose that all New Zealand “Evangelicals” must be Trump-supporting, Muslim-hating bigots and xenophobes. Notwithstanding the current linkage in the United States between some evangelicals and political views, in almost every other country in the world the word “evangelical” carries no political meaning at all.

For all these reasons, it is questionable whether the survey offers us any useful new insights. Indirectly, however, the outcomes of the survey are consistent with what many of us already knew: that the term “evangelical” is currently not well known or understood within wider New Zealand society, nor even within many New Zealand churches.

But, as indicated in another article posted today (see here), the true taonga in the word “evangelical” lies not in the word itself but in what it points to, the Good News of Jesus.

Dr Stuart Lange

Building Trust

Building Trust

Andy and I aren’t qualified marriage counsellors, but we invest a lot of our time coaching couples in trouble. We love seeing couples grow back together again. However, last year, after many hours with one couple, the husband made a comment that made us realise it was not going to end well. He said, “I just don’t trust her”.

He wasn’t talking about his wife being unfaithful. Over the course of their married life together he’d felt betrayed time and time again until his trust had been eroded to the point that he felt his heart wasn’t safe with her.

I wanted to know when he had first started shutting his heart down to her, and what had occurred to make him do so, but he couldn’t tell me.  Sadly, in this case, they didn’t make it.

Trustworthiness is essential in marriage. Our hearts have to feel safe with one another, don’t they?

John Gottman, relationship ‘master’, believes that in marriage, we’re all quietly asking the same questions:

  • Can I trust you to respect me?
  • Can I trust you to do what you say you’ll do?
  • Can I trust you to keep my confidence?
  • Can I trust you to work hard for our family?
  • Can I trust you to choose me over your friends?
  • Can I trust you to be financially faithful?
  • Can I trust you to help around the house – to help with the kids?
  • Can I trust you not to cheat on me – to be sexually faithful?
  • Can I trust you not to use my weaknesses against me?

So how do we build trust so that our hearts remain open and we feel safe?

Gottman, says trust is built in the small interactions of everyday life; when we choose to ‘turn towards’ our spouse in daily moments.

Every time a couple interacts they have a choice to either ‘turn toward’ or ‘turn away’ from their spouse. Each time a couple ‘turns toward’ they are building trust.

Let me give you a personal example from my own life.

We had some friends coming over for dinner and I was enjoying preparing them a special meal. Andy was in the study working on the computer, and I knew he was waiting on some blood results and was worried. As I headed into the study to get my recipe book I heard Andy groan “Uh oh”.

I remember in that split second thinking, “I really don’t want to deal with your health issues right now.  Maybe I could just pretend I didn’t hear that and just sneak back down to the kitchen.”

But because I work at FamilyLife and travel around NZ teaching this stuff :), I checked my attitude.  You see, I knew in that moment, I had a choice to either turn towards Andy, or turn away.

I walked into the study, put my arm around his shoulder and asked, “Tell me the bad news.”  I was so glad I did because in that very moment Andy needed my support and reassurance. He needed to know that, once again, I will be there for him and that he can trust me with whatever “uh oh’s” come our way.

Can I encourage you, rather than turn away from your partner in those small difficult moments, instead choose to ‘turn toward’. It will build trustworthiness in marriage which is an antidote to conflict and foundational to healthy happy marriages that last.


Help for Today. Hope for Tomorrow – visit FAMILYLIFE NZ

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