Bi Cultural Journey
As some of you may know, after 8.5 years at Morrinsville Baptist I stepped down as senior pastor last Sunday. My wife Diane and I are in the process of moving to Te Mata on the Thames Coast where we have our own home, and at the end of the month I begin my new role as CEO and National Director of Sports Chaplaincy NZ.
SCNZ provides chaplaincy to athletes and sporting organisations across the country. It began in 2009 and became a charity in 2013.
Basically we identify, train, appoint and guide Sports Chaplains for all kinds of sports and at all competitive levels.
We currently have 50 chaplains across the country, and my job will be to support and encourage them and to expand our network into as many different sporting codes and as many different levels of sport as we can.
All our chaplains are committed Christians who give their time freely or are funded by churches and friends.
Their role is part time – usually ½ a day to 1 day a week.
They are there to support sportspeople through their triumphs, trials and tragedies, regardless of the sportsperson’s personal religious beliefs.
My own experience of sports chaplaincy began in 1999 in St Helens England where I became chaplain to St Helens RLFC (SAINTS). I was their first chaplain and it was hard graft, half a day a week, unpaid and often felt very unappreciated by those who didn’t know what chaplaincy was about. But by persevering I slowly built relationships with players and staff and by the time I handed over the role to another minister 10 years later, we had convinced most of the Super League clubs in England to have chaplains. Eight years later and those chaplains have had such a powerful affect that the national RL bosses have made it compulsory for all professional clubs to have chaplains.
A highlight for me was leading one of the great English players to the Lord in the changing rooms after he had been injured during a game.
Another highlight was when we started a small house church in our own home for players and staff. That’s when I began to realise that the future mission of the church had to change.
We need to see the power of starting small groups amongst people who don’t and wont come to our larger expressions of church. These small groups need to be authentically church in their own right, and take the form most appropriate for those being reached.
I also came to realise that people already gather together out there in society in all kinds of contexts. Some are ethnic, some are economic, some gather together based around sport and other common interests.
The missionary task of the church is not to raid those gatherings and snatch a few bodies for God. It is for us to become like Jesus who left his father’s house and came to earth as a human being. We are called to copy that example of incarnation. God became a man in a culturally specific manner, not only to save Hebrews, but so that he might show us his plan to save all humanity.
Our task today is to go and do life with people where they already meet and belong, rather than pluck them out of their context and make them start all over in ours.
Sadly the history of Christianity here in Aotearoa NZ has largely been based on the expectation that people would adopt our very European style of Christianity.
That mentality is part of a colonial spirit and has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.
One of the responsibilities I have in leading SCNZ is to take us on a bicultural journey. And I’d like to share with you a few thoughts about this if I may.
Over the last few years, I’ve spent quite some time wondering and exploring what such a bicultural journey is all about.
You may have heard the term – it gets bandied around in Baptist circles fairly regularly these days. Sadly there’s plenty of misunderstanding and even apprehension about what it means, and why we should be bothered to pursue this. So let me try to shed some light on this for you…
I like to define a bicultural journey simply as people of two cultures learning to journey together in a manner that acknowledges and honours and makes space for one another. It means that one culture does not dominate the other or view itself as somehow superior.
On the surface it may seem like we do pretty well at that already in this country. But it’s mainly white and middle-class who would feel that way.
The truth is that most Māori have had to adapt to Pakeha culture and world view and adopt a European style of being church, if they wanted to be part of main stream Christianity in this country. That should never be the case!
Partly this is due to a misunderstanding of what it means to be united and one in Christ.
Let’s read Galatians 3:28-29 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
I love these verses. They tell us that in Christ we are all equal regardless of ethnicity and culture, economic status, or our gender. In Christ we are all one.
Now that does not mean we lose our specificity. That’s easiest to see in terms of gender. A woman does not become a man and a man does not become a woman, but in the sight of God both are equal, both are one in Christ. And it’s worth noting here that there should be no barriers to leadership based on gender either – but that’s a topic for another day.
In terms of economic well being, a person with wealth does not have superiority over the poor believer. Both are equal. And in fact the rich are expected by Jesus to share what they have with the poor.
Likewise, when it comes to culture, the Jew is not superior to the Gentile in Christ. No culture has superiority. We are all one in Jesus. That does not mean we must be identical.
God loves and respects our uniqueness and so should we. It does mean we treat each other with respect and defer to one another.
It also doesn’t mean majority rules. We are not a democracy – we are a theocracy with Jesus at the centre of all.
Discerning Pakeha Culture
One of the problems we European or Pakeha Kiwis face is our inability to easily discern our own culture. Buzzy bees, pineapple lumps and an enduring argument with the Aussies about who invented the Pavlova does not constitute culture.
That lack of understanding and discernment means we seldom realise when we are superimposing our culture upon others. This is even more so in church life.
You see, we wrongly think that the way we do church here today is some kind of blueprint from heaven. The truth is, this is just one expression of church among 10’s of 1000’s found on earth today and many more that existed over the previous 2 millennia.
Whether we realise it or not, this expression of church that we call our own is affected by our predominant culture. That is not necessarily wrong, unless of course we expect everyone else to conform to our cultural way of doing things to belong.
Once we grasp this reality, we can begin the long and sometimes difficult journey of discovering what it means to be culturally aware and more sensitive and responsive to those we live among.
Why not Multicultural?
I’ve sometimes been asked “Why a bicultural journey and not a multicultural one? Why single out Māori as some kind of special case?
A couple of very good reasons; firstly every relationship we have with someone of a different culture to ours requires a bicultural journey.
The truth is we can hide behind the idea of multiculturalism where in fact what we are really doing is expecting everyone else to relate to us our way.
This happens all the time in church. The new person is expected to fit in to the prevailing culture of the church if they are to truly be accepted.
We think of a multicultural church as one that has a few other nationalities and ethnicities in it. But what we have in fact is a Pakeha church with a sprinkling of other cultures who have adopted, or who at least put up with, our pakeha way of doing things.
And the second and in my view the most important reason why a bicultural journey is so important has to do with how God views our nation and our Treaty.
It seems God takes a long term view of nations and organisations and works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called by him into his Kingdom.
It is no accident that God brought Europeans and particularly the British to these shores. They brought the gospel with them at just the right time for Maori.
It is certainly no accident that the British and Māori entered into a covenant that we call Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Now I know there are lots of views about the Treaty and whether we should be bound by it in the 21C. I’m not particularly interested in what political activists think. I’m only really interested in what God thinks about it.
Scripture is very clear about how He views agreements, vows, partnerships, covenants and treaties. He expects them to be honoured.
Our legitimacy for being in this beautiful part of God’s creation comes solely from that Founding document. Remember it was from a position of strength NOT weakness that Māori invited the British to share this land with them. There well under 5000 British and 100,000 Maori in 1840.
There were a few provisos in the Treaty. The British were to respect the sovereignty and taonga of the tangata whenua, and the Crown was expected to sort out the rampant lawlessness among European sailors, whalers, sealers and settlers particularly in places like Kororareka.
But why should we, as Christians in the 21C, be concerned with that old parchment?
Turn if you would to 2 Samuel 21:1-6
During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the Lord. The Lord said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”
The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?”
The Gibeonites answered him, “We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” David asked.
They answered the king, “As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul—the Lord’s chosen one.”
So the king said, “I will give them to you.”
You’ll remember the Gibeonites were the ones who came to Joshua all dusty and dirty with mouldy bread having apparently made a long journey to ask him for a treaty.
He granted them their treaty, and even when he discovered they lived just over the hill, he honoured that treaty because it had been done in the sight of God.
Some 400 years after these tricky Gibeonites got their Treaty, God punished Israel for daring to break it.
How must more do you think God is concerned for our 178 year old Treaty, brokered by missionaries and entered into in good faith by Māori? I suggest he is more than a little ticked off when we ignore it or work against it.
You see, the fact is we are a bicultural nation first and foremost, and always will be. God will never forget that Treaty and he expects us to honour it too – both Māori and Pakeha.
Therefore, to if we are to be effective as church in 21C Aotearoa NZ; if we are to be culturally relevant, and if we are to truly demonstrate the Kingdom of God here, we must embark on a bicultural journey.
So what does a bicultural journey look like?
- a journey rather than a destination
- a journey of learning the truth about our history, our nationhood, ourselves, our own culture
- a journey of learning about Te Āo Māori; the Māori world and worldview
- It’s about learning to appreciate the beauty within Tikanga (culture) and te reo (language), and seeing where this reflects the Kingdom of God, as well as recognising the parts those that don’t
- It means becoming sensitised to how my culture affects others and can clash with them (e.g. silence is not necessarily agreement, hui is not committee, relationships take time and precedence, mana and honour matter more than getting things done, everyone has value regardless of their weakness, failings, sin…
Why do we as European kiwi believers need a bicultural journey?
- Firstly we, the church, are called to be prophetic and transformative in our neighbourhood and nation.
- Secondly, we are Tangata Tiriti – our right to be citizens of Aotearoa is rooted in our Treaty firstly and only then in our birth right
- As I’ve mentioned, God takes covenants and treaties seriously and punishes those who break them. We as Christians area covenant people.
- I believe God ordained Māori and Pakeha to share this land and our future wellbeing is interwoven together “Na to rourou, na taku rourou, ai te iwi!” With your food basket and mine the people will thrive…
- The commission of God is yet unfulfilled in our land
Doesn’t the Kingdom of God supersede all cultures?
- Yes of course it does. But all expressions of the Kingdom of God on earth are cultural expressions.
- Through the incarnation Jesus makes this very clear. He entered time and space in a very specific manner. He came as a Hebrew. Remember John 1:14 “the word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”
- He never lost his culture, even though he did bring change
- The fact is, the Kingdom of God transforms culture rather than supplants it.
How do we engage with a bicultural journey?
I can only suggest the ways I have tried to do so, and can I say, these are exactly the same things any missionary must do when they engage with another culture:
- Learn basic te reo: pronunciation, greetings, place names
- Learn basic Tikanga: manaakitanga, whanauatanga, kotahitanga.
- Take any opportunity you have to go onto a marae. It will help you understand things like powhiri, mana, tapu, hui
- Explore what shared leadership, shared structure and identity might look like
- Do a seminar on understanding the Treaty
- Explore how the Bible speaks into our understanding of the Treaty and what God expects of each culture.
A bicultural journey does not mean that European Christians are expected to become Māori Christians. But the neither should Māori believers have to become Pakeha.
God does expect us to accept and respect and make space for each other.
By the way we Pakeha are the ones who need to cross the bridge and experience life from a Māori perspective. Māori are already bicultural. They live in both worlds out of sheer necessity. What about us?
The fact is, our ability to grapple with these truths and apply them will empower us and make us more fruitful in our mission to make Jesus known to all people.
Our task is to take the good news of Jesus out into the mosaic of ethnic, economic and other groupings in our community and to trust God to bring his church to birth out there, as well as more fruitful in here.
Some of you may be called to work with sportspeople. Some may be called to work with Cambodians, or Koreans. Others with Māori or Pacifica people.
Don’t be in a hurry to try getting them to come back here. Success is not getting someone to join Fairfield Baptist. It is measured by people putting their trust in Jesus and being transformed into his likeness, not ours!