25 Aug, 2021 Overcoming threats to the bicultural journey of the NZ Church 

Overcoming threats to the bicultural journey of the NZ Church 

As many will know, I’m a passionate and active supporter of the bicultural journey in our nation – including in both church and public school education circles. But I’m also a networker, and a part of my work sees me visiting pastors’ groups in cities and towns across our nation. This sometimes enables me to see trends in thoughts before they have become mainstream – and I write this article to highlight some trends I’ve been watching these past few years in relation to our ‘bicultural journey’. That journey is a healthy one – but in view of some wider cultural changes, happening at pace, it is facing some threats.

For further context, I believe the journey toward a greater appreciation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and our bicultural identity as a nation is something God brought about. The way the bicultural value arose from a place of little regard, to a place of definite regard was remarkable. Equally remarkable is the short period within which most of this change in viewpoint took place (approx 2012 to 2017). Many parts of this change were not coordinated by any of us. While some certainly did work with intent to feed this conversation nationally, I think God was the one who orchestrated this change in viewpoint amongst us nationally!

I therefore write the below because of my zeal to see this journey continuing. We need to steward the journey we are within. God will have had his reasons for getting us on this journey – and it is not a foregone conclusion that what God wants to see achieved will be achieved. We must continue to play our part!

To be clear, I take no delight in these issues, and pointing out what I do below is uncomfortable. But, if we are to steward the journey together, I have concluded the discussion is necessary.

So, here are the five threats I see.


Outline of threats identified:

  1. Dishonest narratives
  2. Lack of grace in narratives
  3. Political narratives
  4. Misled narratives
  5. Forced narratives

Conclusion: Two keys action points that cover them all.


(i) Dishonest narratives 

As some feel the grief of the injustices, their passion can lead them to tell a story in a way that isn’t entirely true or fair. (I first wrote about this about 2 years ago)

  • I’ve heard the missionary movement of the 1800s and 1900s written off as a ‘tool of colonisation’ – when in reality it was the greatest humanitarian movement of all of history, bringing more good to the world than any other movement. That good included changes amongst Māori – as openly admitted by many Māori.
  • And then there are things like slagging off a guy like Hobson for things like ‘declaring all of New Zealand a part of the British Empire’ when he only had signatures from one part of Northland. (To make the point, the chiefs participating with Te Wakaminenga did the exact same thing in He Whakaputanga – The Declaration of Independence, in case that missed anyone’s notice). Regarding Hobson, this attack on his person also overlooks his understandings of international law, and the protection that this DELIBERATELY LOUD (AND THEREFORE MEMORABLE) declaration brought to all of New Zealand from others who might want to colonise it. (The occasion, and its date as a legal line from which to protect Māori interests, was now ‘marked’ in the memories of everyone present). A few months later he appointed 5 Judges – none of whom were Māori. Was that racism? Those Judges all understood the international laws of those times. For example, two were dispatched to a French Colony at Akaroa near Christchurch – without need of weapons or soldiers. They convened court with those in the French Colony that was being established there, and as a result the French packed their bags peacefully and sailed – away without a bullet being fired.

I note that the dishonest histories are mostly against Europeans (while being aware that there were many similar dishonest narratives against Māori interests and mana in the public conversations of our prior 150 years of history).

The problem is that there are people in our churches who know quite a few things.

What I can confirm from my travels is that, when we are dishonest, we aren’t getting away with it. It is being noticed, and this is putting people off this bicultural journey we’ve been on together.

How do we correct our narratives when they lose balance?

I recall a time when I was a little too critical of Marsden. It turned out that an historian was in the room. I would have been nervous had I known prior! After my talk she came to speak with me  and told me a story –  to gently suggest I’d been a bit too hard on Marsden, and hadn’t painted a fair picture.

  • Her example is what we need to do for each other. We find a way to gently connect with a person, to ask a question, to encourage a wider view.
  • Though I note that it would be generally easier for a Māori to gently correct a Māori in some circles, as motives might otherwise be questioned. Things are changing fast. We need to work in this together, and wisely.


(ii) Mamae / loss of grace in narratives 

In a similar way to the first point, as the hurt of an injustice is felt when telling a story, grace can be lost. I suspect this is often accidental – but it can become a real problem. I have heard of a few instances of this now, where passion has led to overstatements –  damaging trust, which damages the journey!

To illustrate personally regarding how this happens – I’ve sometimes been in tears, and often near the edge of tears, while telling certain stories from our history. I’ve sometimes felt real deep anger while telling stories about injustices that happened. At such times, it is easy for emotion to charge words with a meaning that is not entirely balanced or true.

A couple of times when speaking on these things I have stopped mid sentence to admit to the audience that ‘I’m feeling the emotion a bit currently, and I apologise that I’m aware my words don’t have the level of grace that they could or should.’  We’re all human! Doing this has also helped me to ‘pull myself in’ – to return to a healthier balance in the tone of my words.

I also note that, for those who speak publicly quite regularly on certain topics, admitting that we can make mistakes like this is important. This will cause trust in our stories to increase, because people see that we’re not claiming to know everything, or to be the final authority on a range of matters.  This reassures those listening that we are still a part of them – trying to tell the clearest story we can, while open to the fact we might not have everything right.

For all church leaders – let’s be aware of this when inviting guest speakers. There is a recurring pattern here at this time.


 (iii) White shame / political agendas in narratives

This is a very difficult topic to write about.

  • I pray for grace from readers – knowing that even some words used here might mean different things to different people.
  • Please trust my intent – and if a division is somehow placed between us because of what you think is said here – please be in touch so we can discuss that.
  • I believe this point to be important  (you can decide).

The last few months I have seen evidences of  ‘critical race theory’ (CRT) appearing even in the narratives of TV shows and sitcoms. This is similar to the involvement of an actor as a  homosexual in sitcoms across the prior 20 to 30 years – to normalise homosexuality in the public view. The point is, the language of CRT wasn’t in these shows one year ago.

I predict that public perspectives on various things related to race are going to change quite quickly in our nation – as people are working to engineer this kind of change. The result will be an increase, not decrease, the level of racial tension and division. Younger people will believe what they’re told to – while more widely read older people will see that it’s a ‘narrative’.

Ironically, this racial division will be fed by people presenting themselves as being against racism. Those with a knowledge of politics and history will understand the term, ‘useful idiot’. It refers to a person or group rallied by a leader to a cause they believe in – not at all because the leader believes in their cause, but instead because their efforts are useful to the leader in view of a secondary objective. When that objective is achieved, the ‘useful idiots’ can be discarded. The Brownshirts (search ‘night of the along knives’) are a classic example in history. It is an idea openly discussed, and leveraged, in various political circles.

A complication: So it is noted, there are a variety of motivations people might have for supporting ideas or words used in connection with CRT. Some people’s motivations will therefore be good – even where their vocabulary seems to suggest otherwise, because they will be unaware of the political dynamics that are in play. The complication is therefore that we can’t judge people by the words they use – and we’ll also have to give grace to people who judge us because they’ve believed a one-sided message (or narrative) given by a school teacher, or similar authority figure . This is going to be a minefield for misunderstanding – and I predict that the growth of division it causes at pace will turn many away from a bicultural journey.

Of note, the land issues addressed by the Waitangi Tribunal over the past 40 years were the easy ones. The Governance issues that we are now heading into are the difficult ones, which some might choose to politicise for other reasons.


————Governance issues?————

This is a side note, but necessary if we are to understand something of the issues involved.

How much self-Governance should an Iwi rightly have, according to Te Tiriti? Article 2 of Te Tiriti promised Māori the ‘continued possession of their lands, villages and treasures’, while the complete Government of the whole land was given by Māori to the British Crown (Article 1). We all can work out quite easily what ‘lands’ (including ‘villages’) referred to. But what were their ‘treasures’? For example, surely their treasures included their language and culture – even though that wasn’t yet articulated in 1840 (when the Treaty was signed)? If true, then, Government soul have (ideally) created various necessary by-laws in the years that followed, to define what the Treaty meant, as various issues arose. But that didn’t happen! Had it happened, I suggest that Māori would most certainly have been given rights to the education of their own children – and in Te Reo Māori if they so chose.  (As it is in our history, Māori schools were closed down by the Government – contrary to the will of the missionaries, and by the 1890s a Māori student would be punished with the cane for use of a word in Te Reo).  Now extrapolate this thought out, and you’ll see that our nation has a variety of very difficult questions and conversation ahead. Had a just process been followed, what might ‘treasures’ have legitimately included over time?  

  • There is a lot to this ‘Governance’ conversation.
  • There is also plenty of possibility for abuses – with the potential of things being claimed that are not fair, and perspectives held that are the result of ‘revisionist histories’ and biased on the way we think, ‘reading back onto the Treaty’ things are are more reflective of modern values and thinking that of the reality of the agreement. It’s going to be genuinely difficult.


My point is:

  • I believe our bicultural journey is unfortunately being leveraged by some who are clever, for unrelated things. A righteous goal is being leveraged for an unrighteous cause – and the danger is that some will abandon the righteous goal as a result.

To protect this journey I suggest we’re going to need to be aware of these tensions, and to learn how to very specifically navigate and counteract them with story, relationship and truth. (Or to identify some issues on which we will simply need to go silent – because we can’t control the outcomes, and something greater is at stake – like the work of the the gospel!).

This will especially involve care with our words – as some words will become politically charged to some audiences, depending on who is feeding their thinking.

Younger people will be particularly difficult to navigate this with – as public media and education may shape their thinking in a narrow way.

Those who have emigrated here from nation’s that suffered under Communism, or dictatorships, may on the other hand react against all things ‘bicultural’ – not because they are racist, but because the can see the manipulative media tactics, because they’ve been through this before. (I’ve discovered and investigated this matter – and the above is true of some people who others would have assumed to be ‘racist’).

As examples, the terms ‘white shame’ and ‘white guilt’ are politically charged – as they immediately imply a judgement based on the colour of a person’s skin – which is, by definition, racism. Yet those using the terms think they are standing for justice.

  • Tragically, an effort to build bicultural partnership that includes insulting a group on the basis of their skin colour is unavoidably doomed to fail
  • …quite apart from the reality that most Māori hare at least half Pākehā  – so its not as if anyone is ‘genetically innocent’ (morally superior). (And every one of us will have ancestors who have done great wrongs to some other people group).
  • And some Pākehā are very informed and understanding of things Māori – and have advocated significantly for them, while they’ll suffer a form of discrimination for their skin colour.
  • For the Christian, our systems of law and justice are clear on the fact that a child shall not be held responsible for the sins of their parents. (This comes from the Bible).  It’s very simple.
  • This single statement significantly resolves the above matter for the Christian.

Engaging conversations with younger ones will take wisdom.

  • Rather than working to impart shame, we must impart understanding.
  • Rather than bringing judgement and division, we must build bridges, and enable collaboration.

Telling stories is something we an all do, that can help this process.

Proverbs says,  “Blessed is the man who can hold one thing and one hand without letting go of what is in the other.” (Ecclesiastes 7:18)



(iv) Misunderstanding what  ‘biculturalism’ means (Misled narratives)

To get straight to the point, the actions of some seem to suggest they think being ‘bicultural’ means being ‘Māori’. Church services are therefore filled with songs and prayers in Te Reo – while memberships remain mostly non-Māori. And this is causing confusion, and sometimes resentment.

To be bicultural is to be comfortable in two different cultural ‘modes’ – and therefore able to move in and out of either without feeling awkward. In a sense, we are bicultural when we recognise both of these cultures (Māori and ‘wider European’) are a part of who we are – and we therefore make a conscious choice to value them both. But this will obviously be applied only to the extent that we have opportunity, and that is not wrong.

Regarding process, becoming comfortable in a culture comes through experience in it. Gradual exposure is useful – and especially to story in the early stages. Story brings increased understanding – until we realise that, while Te Tiriti established one Government over us both, it also made us a relationally bicultural people, and afforded certain rights to Māori (as equal citizens – who were the primary land-owners and therefore correctly in a place of privilege). The rights afforded them were signifiant – noting their wealth (cultural and financial), and those rights were therefore significantly betrayed! This leads us to an appreciation of why addressing these past wrongs, plausibly including a level of self-Governance by Iwi regarding the welfare of their own people (noting the ‘treasures’ example above), might be important.

(However – for clarity, this isn’t to say we review the Treaty, crossing most of it out – all to be replaced with a few words from Article 2, noting this is a the view of some. This is a separate topic. These have become very difficult matters).

Becoming bicultural therefore doesn’t mean to ‘become Māori’. It’s about embracing a journey toward a greater appreciation of things-Māori – until we realise this is a part of who we are as New Zealanders.

The next point connects to this.


(v) Unwise leadership through change (Forced narratives)

Finally, I’ve been in a few conversations where it’s been apparent to me that someone, passionate about the bicultural journey has attempted to lead others in it a little too fast.  Leadership through change is always leadership through change. Anything that is led too quickly or forcefully lead will run the danger of being misunderstood or resisted.

I’ve seen people leave churches. I’ve seen people leave movements. And I’ve heard a lot of people express frustration.

I’ll illustrate with a contrast between how two different churches engaged differently on this bicultural journey:

A pastor in a church of a couple of hundred took a few years before he even started saying ‘Kia ora’ at the start of a church service. He wasn’t personally very exposed to things-Māori, and there were very few Māori in the congregation. To have forced the journey would have lacked authenticity – and might have felt like tokenism. But what he did do was expose the staff to things-Māori, especially including hearing the stories of history which brought a growing appreciation of the importance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The culture of this church continues to change – but slowly. I’m suggesting this is wise.

For the contrast – in another related local church the pastor was Māori. The suggestion to him was to not try to change the culture to ‘be bicultural’ – but instead to simply release himself to be more freely who is as a Māori when leading in his church. Six months later the number of Māori attending his congregation had increased significantly, and even some Pākehā when leading the service were praying Karakia in Te Reo, or giving a benediction in Te Reo, at their own choosing. The matter wasn’t discussed or encouraged. It happened naturally.

To note it, these two churches are friends and both took the same journey, with the same exposure to the same encouragements, at the same time. The difference in outcome related to the different dynamics of their congregations – and I suggest the way these two different pastors led their two different congregations was good and wise!

When a journey through change is forced it can cause damage – even where motive are good.

Leadership through change is always leadership through change!


Two concluding instructions:

Do these things, and you can’t go wrong!

1. Speak well of everyone, always
This doesn’t mean we go silent on bad things that happened in history. It’s about the overall tone and message we impart.

I could tell you about my family history and leave you thinking, ‘What a mess.’ I could tell you the same story differently, and leave you thinking, ‘What an amazing story of life, healing and love.’ I suggest that the a view that highlights and builds on the positive is primary way we should tell history. It is not about being dishonest. It is about the values we  build through the the way we tell the story. Remember – culture is sustained through story; values are sustained through story; beliefs are sustained through story.

For example, the overarching story of our nation isn’t one of colonisation (even though some suggest it is)! It is actually about a heroic anti-colonialistic movement that helped to engineer the shape of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, due to a desire to protect Māori from the colonisation they’d seen come to so many other indigenous people’s. That attempt failed (because tragically Māori were then colonised) was heroic and very good! That is our story – and our nation is courageously returning to that original (missionary) intent!  This is why we’re working hard as a nation to understand where we failed, to put right whatever we can. It’s an amazing story!

  • Told this way, our story wisely leaves the hearer with hope, and motivated to participate with solutions that could address the injustices.

We are to speak life!

  • While honest about negative things, for every negative we give a positive.
  • We help people to see how the overarching story is one of hope.
  • “We have a Treaty – and despite it’s betrayal, we’re working to honour it. Where else in the world today is there an equivalent to this?”

2. Lets all learn and tell the stories
Those who tell the history write the future. This is a really important point.

I pray a day will come when God’s people in this nation will be proactively learning stories from our history so as to ‘tell of the wonders of the Lord’ and ‘the deeds he has done’ (Psalm 78).

We have two really important histories – one being a bicultural history, and the other our ‘values’ history (which is about where our amazing national values came from).

  • Christianity is highly relevant to these two histories!
  • Without Christianity there would be no Treaty of bicultural journey to discuss!
  • Without Christianity we’d not have equality like we do, freedom like we do, charity like we do, or prosperity like we do.

In summary, (1) Speak well of everyone, always  and (2) learn and tell the stories.

If we all do these two things, we can’t go wrong!

Other blogs by Dave Mann on this general topic

(From oldest to newest)


5 self-print bulletin-booklets for your church 

  • Called ‘Then and Now’ – about outreach and our early bicultural story, to give to church members with the bulletin over a 5 week period here (These booklet also encourager support of the Hope Project – which takes some of these stories to the public square).


An easy-to-read option to educate yourself, elders, children’s and youth leaders – and then all members (children, youth and adults)

  • Consider the illustrated novel series: ‘The Chronicles of Paki – Treaty of  Waitangi Series’. These can be found at BigBook.nz. View a blog with displaying some of its endorsements here.


Waitangi weekend sermon outlines (free)

  • ‘Three Treaties’ (Gibeonites, Waitangi and Jesus) from Dave Mann is (word doc) here, with power point here
  • Waitangi Weekend sermon – ‘Leaving a legacy’ – edited – with thanks to Keith Harrington (word doc)  here
  • Waitangi Weekend sermon – ‘Joshua and the Treaty (five treatise)’ –  edited – with thanks to Keith Harrington (word doc) here


The Te Reo Pulpit Challenge


DAVE MANN. Dave is a creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing, and also being valued, in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and recently coordinated a 5th nationwide multimedia Easter project purposed to help open conversation between church and non-church people about Christianity take place, including regarding the specifically Christian origins of many of our nation’s most treasured values. Dave is the author of various books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last”, “The Elephant in the Room”, and available for free on this site: “The What and How of Youth and Young Adult ministry”. Married  to Heather, they have four young boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.  

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