Kotahitanga and Convergence vs Assimilation
Will we get it right this time?
“Unresolved stuff always comes back to bite us, making it more difficult to sit, and if unity ignores diversity or leaves no room for flexibility and difference then its not unity,” Keith Newman, 13-03-2019
Can two walk together unless they are agreed is the biblical challenge (Amos 3:3).
If you take the time to examine the words of most of the early inspirational Maori leaders from Tamihana Te Waharoa to King Potatau Te Wherewhero, Patuone to Piripi Taumata-a-kura or Hoani Meihana te Rangiotu to T.W Ratana you will find that common thread.
They point ultimately to the One God and one way forward; in Te Wherowhero’s case in 1858 it’s “There is but one eye of the needle through which the white, black and red threads must pass. After I am gone, hold fast to love, to the law, and to resolute faith.” In Ratana’s case in the 1920s, the wero (challenge) to all the iwi he engaged with around the country over the Bible and Treaty was “are you united yet?”
Getting to the point of agreement where mutual respect allows us to hold different views; accepting we are all at different stages of the journey and may have taken a diverse routes to get here, is not so easy.
I despair at the selective reading of scriptures, including (Galatian 3:26-29) that suggest we relinquish our cultural and racial identities when we come to Christ and blend into some amorphous beige melting pot.
In the New Zealand context, God is calling our indigenous people to be the absolute best Maori they can be as full members of the Body of Christ, something many misguided leaders have denied them for far too many generations.
I’m reminded of the warning issued in a recent interview with Winkey Pratney that past revivals, often led by inspired Maori preachers, have been crushed by misuse of “power and control” and our tendency to revert to religion rather than relationship.
Shark or kahawai
An online conversation with Simon Moetara made me acutely aware of just how volatile and often loaded our use of words and descriptive terms are. I couldn’t help but respond to his comment on a post I made of former Prime Minister Norm Kirk in 1974 outing how the term assimilation had been misued in the past; “its what cat’s do to mice” .
Simon simply said sharks and kahawai.
When asked him to clarify he pointed to a quote from Tilly Reedy in the Listener (1991) as an allegory describing the struggle to be Māori in mainstream society.
"Let's work together,' said the shark to the kahawai."
"Great,' said the kahawai with a trusting smile.
'Fool' thought the shark as it opened its mouth and swallowed the kahawai.
"That's partnership," said the politician.
"That's integration," said the bureaucrat.
"That's assimilation," said the Māori."
Simon pointed out that this had been used by Brendan Hokowhitu in critiquing the 1961 Hunn Report's emphasis on integration: “Let's integrate”, said the shark to the kahawai. “Have I any choice?” Ka'ai and others (eds), "Ki Te Whai Ao: An Introduction to Maori Culture and Society" (Pearson: 2004), 196).
In a March 2018 comment piece by Hokowhitu he refers to Lt. Governor William Hobson’s statement, when shaking the hand of Treaty signatories in 1840, which has been so misused by Don Brash and others.
He iwi tahi tatou, “we are now one people” which clearly created a dilemma; “we are not one people in New Zealand, and neither should we try to be a mono-cultural society,” said Hokowhitu.
I often refer to Dame Joan Metge’s statement that for Maori that statement from the governor was most likely to have been understood as “we two peoples together” and I often add on the end ...“make a great nation”.
Cracks in the veneer
The challenge is walking this out and discovering what that partnership might look like if we are to truly get to know each other’s hopes and aspirations and link arms in this endeavour in a year when divisions seem to appearing everywhere like cracks in the veneer of society.
I love the idea of unity in diversity or as represented in one of my favourite books “The Dignity of Difference” (Jonathan Sacks, 2003) but so often we are so invested in the theology, politics or social agendas that make up our world views that we can’t see a way forward without adding to the divisons.
I note the name of an up and coming “strategic gathering” being run by the Hikoi Aotearoa (Pacific Pearls etc) and Jesus for New Zealand in Wellington on March 31 is “Convergence”.
That’s another great word that can have diverse meanings. It’s been widely used in the technology sector to describe the intertwining of computing, telecommunications and broadcasting; something we couldn’t have imagined 20-years ago but it will continue to transform every sector of society in a revolution that is now entering lightspeed.
Convergence; the coming together of separate things, in the context of the church and nation would appear to refer to the bi-cultural journey. Are we really separate? If so that is the saddest thing.
If travelled carefully, prayerfully and in a Spirit-led way, however, picking up on this ancient journey (pre-1814) could be transformative, particularly as this gathering is largely Maori-led.
If seems to align with Norm McLeod’s evolving vision, which picks up on the generations old Maori vision of Kotahitanga (unity and solidarity), and rightly places the Treaty of Waitangi as a template for change with Christ at the centre of how that might play out for the healing of the nation.
This is a hard ask for many in the church who have failed to see that their descendants, the pioneering missionaries, brokered the Treaty and were asked and tasked with ensuring it was honoured.
Shofar so good?
The hikoi seems to align with what happened at the gathering to support keeping the name of Jesus in the Parliamentary prayer. The most impressive part for me was not shofar blowing and ‘praise Jesus outbursts’ but the role that Maori, in particular senior and emerging leaders of the Ratana faith, took in making that a prophetic event.
It also seems to sit well with the launching of a waka at Waitangi on February 5th that was for the first time crewed by men and women across various denominations of the Christian faith.
So who is ‘converging’ with who and what will that look like? When the Hikoi Atoearoa set off on Waitangi Day 2019, I listened to organiser Stephanie Harawira on Radio Rhema, responding to the question, what will you do when that hikoi across the nation’s marae is over?
Her response, unexpectedly had me floored. The cloak (korowai) of the Holy Spirit fell when she said something like, “I’m going home to have a rest, then I’m going to write to all the churches around New Zealand and ask them to look around at the people in their congregations and encourage, pray for and support those who they believe can have an influential voice in this nation.”
I tautoko (agree wholeheartedly). That affirmed what I had been saying for some time, that our church leaders should be talent scouts, looking to identify and stand with those who are active in the community or public sector and to activate others in their various fields of endeavour.
That is about looking inward to have a more effective outward impact and gets us beyond the old myth of only certain people being ‘anointed’ for ministry, or that ministry is street preaching or supporting missionaries in a foreign land.
That attitude has created an unbalanced view of what ‘church’ is, and more often than not undermined the growing need for ‘missionaries’ in the workplace and our own communities and nation to be undercover agents working for social and spiritual change.
Shine the light
Having become more engaged with our own congregations; beyond pat on the back Sunday school for adults to being salt and light in the marketplace, gives us another way to look at the wider resources that can be deployed and shared across denominational patch protection.
This is where we again need to explore what is meant by unity; working together for a common purpose, and how we dismantle the obstacles to that happening.
If our collective resources were deployed more wisely imagine the huge dent that might be made in reducing homelessness, meeting the needs of the broken, the fatherless, the lonely, prisoners inside and reintegrating into society and those struggling mentally, physically and spiritually?
Imagine how we might impact policy and decision making at our local councils, if churches prayed together and physically got together with a united voice and presented ideas, programmes and fresh ways of looking at old problems with an offer of volunteers and pooled resources?
So, unity and convergence are commendable aspirations but, as they say in the business world, what will be the take away value?
That will be up to those who we support as leaders to drive forward as our representatives, as long as they get the message that convergence and kotahitangi is initially in their court.
If met with resistance then its time to work with those who do care enough to break with the old formulas. If things are indeed shifting under the guidance of Wairua Tapu (Holy Spirit); who we keep asking to guide us, then we need to accept that there’s another way forward.
Despite all the talk of unity though, trust has been broken and it takes time to restore that. Not just words but person to person relationships ( kanohi ki te kanohi) and to work through our differences not only as Christian brothers and sisters but perhaps following the Treaty of Waitangi as a template or model that requires us to work together if it’s going to work at all.
More love needed
There’s a mountain of cynicism and opposition to this happening but breaking new ground; and Lord knows we’ve been here many times before, requires real world examples of what’s working and persistence, integrity, good faith and above all else expanding the boundaries of our love capacity.
Walking together in a kotahitanga way is the ideal but how we define that presents risk of its own. Claiming unity at one level can close the conversation when in fact ongoing korero and wananga (personal and collective discussions, sharing conversations aimed at exploring and resolving) are essential.
Unresolved stuff always comes back to bite us, making it more difficult to sit, and if unity ignores diversity or leaves no room for flexibility and difference then its not unity.
All of this has to be worked through carefully and lovingly otherwise we side against those who disagree and end up creating another form of assimilation that is no longer acceptable in the church or any other form of control structure or governance in this nation.
But this is the Christian (Christ-following) kaupapa (principals and ideas as a basis for action); we are kaitiaki (caretakers) of the love of God, called to be peacemakers and wielders of the kind of forgiveness and compassion that is so needed in the world today. As they say don’t tell me, show me.
So if we’re heading toward unity, we need to live it personally and make it go viral; if we’re talking convergence or reformation then we need to engage in wider conversations that don’t lapse into 1980s Christian clichés. We need to learn and listen before engaging, and then pursue healing conversations that lead to action.
I’m looking forward to see whether we can weather these converging streams, which in many ways are happening regardless of the growing number of conferences and hui.
Can we arise and shine and align to meet the challenges of these times; I don’t think we’ll get too many more opportunities, or remain divided by our infighting, giving ‘the world’ more reason to dismiss the deep gifts of healing and wisdom we can bring to the table?
- Keith Newman, 13-03-2019
Artwork. Prints and cards from Paula Novak firstname.lastname@example.org