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Church leaders say Treaty moral foundation for NZ

In late February the Anglican and Catholic bishops of New Zealand entered the heated public debate that erupted after opposition leader Dr Don Brash’s watershed Orewa speech on race relations in New Zealand.

The bishops issued a statement that says programmes addressing Maori welfare are based on need, not ethnic privilege, and the Treaty of Waitangi creates a partnership that is the moral and legal foundation for this country.

Anglican Bishop of Waikato David Moxon says the incentive to write the statement was the volatile climate created by the Orewa speech. While the speech said nothing new, it became a lightening rod for divisive feelings in the community and the media.

“As Anglicans we regard the Treaty as a sacred covenant for our church and our nation. We wanted to contrast our experience of the Treaty to the wide range of opinions being expressed in the community that the Treaty is neither sacred nor foundational.”

David says Anglicans have a historical relationship with the Treaty because it was the Anglican missionary Henry Williams who translated it into Maori. The concepts tino rangatiratanga (chieftanship) and kawanatanga (governance) were pivotal for Maori to accept the Treaty, and they were taken from Maori versions of the Bible.

Missionaries were also instrumental in getting the Treaty ratified by Maori.

“The British lacked the numbers, the networks, and the credibility to get Maori agreement for the Treaty. Missionaries shoehorned the Treaty into place. Anglican and Wesleyan missionaries put themselves on the line.

“They told Maori you can believe and trust the Crown, and the Treaty was a worthy foundation for our corporate political life. A huge amount of moral integrity is at stake for us in the Treaty.”

David says some good debate and informed articles are now emerging about Treaty issues. His main concern is that the discussion is based on facts and research.

He believes the analysis has substantiated the bishops’ view that Maori do not receive significantly more public money than others and that much of the money they do receive comes from Maori trusts.

Another point raised in the public debate is that church leaders should not be outspoken about politics. David’s response is that the churches’ prophetic voice is important and should be heard.

Methodist Church of New Zealand president Rev Lynne Frith says it is a pity the bishops did not have more time to circulate their statement before publishing it because she would have signed it as well.

“Given that Methodists had an integral role in the signing the Treaty and our strong commitment to a bi-cultural and multi-cultural society I support the general tenor of the statement.

“My concern is good outcomes for the people of Aotearoa, both tangata whenua and tauiwi. The Treaty provides the means to achieve just and respectful relationships, governance, and guardianship of resources. It won’t go away and we cannot ignore it.”

Lynne also says there is as much diversity of opinion among members of the Methodist Church as there is in the rest of society about the role of the Treaty.

Maori, she says, are over represented in negative social statistics and there is a clear link between need and race. (See page 5, for Lynne’s views on this).

Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand Rt Rev Michael Thawley is glad the bishops have taken the lead in addressing these issues. He says the Treaty is a foundational document for New Zealand Presbyterians and is part of their constitution.

The Presbyterian Church has not to date entered the debate but it clearly raises significant issues for the life of New Zealand and its future. We should be willing to take time to discuss the issues as a nation as well as a church, Michael says.