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 see in relation to our ‘bicultural journey’. That journey is a health one – but as our wider culture changes, and 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 to orchestrate this change in viewpoint amongst us nationally!

I therefore write the below because of my zeal to see this journey continuing. We need t 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 the whole matter (of point these things out) is uncomfortable. But, to steward the journey together, it 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
  6. 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 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 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. 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 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 the same did happen for a lengthy 100 years or more against Māori earlier on.

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 a historian was in the room. (I would have been nervous had I known prior). She came to speak with me afterwards and told me a story – all 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, and to seek to gently encourage a wider view.
  • Thought 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 , and it is damaging trust, which damages this journey.

To illustrate personally regarding how this happens – I’ve sometimes been in tears, and often near the edge of them, while telling stories. 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 an amount, 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 ‘telling everyone what they need to believe and think.’  This reassures those listening that we are still a part of them – trying to tell the clearest story we can, while also open to the fact that we might not have everything right.

For all church leaders – lets be aware of this when inviting guest speakers. There is a recurring pattern here.


 (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.
  • This point is longer than the other four because of it’s complexity – and possible importance (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 it 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.

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 be good, while maybe unaware of the more political dynamics in play. The complication is therefore  that we can’t judge people by the words they use – even when they rally are judging us because of the one-sided education (or narrative) they have received . This is going to be a minefield for misunderstanding – while the growth of division 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 3 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, were Government to have created the by-laws that were needed to define a matter like this in the decade following 1840 (which is what needed to happen), 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 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, and the values we hold, today. 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.

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. Some who are being accused of ‘racism’ are actually not racist; they are scared because of the power plays that their experiences tell them are being leveraged through biculturalism).

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,  any effort to build bicultural partnership that is based in insulting one group on the basis of their skin colour is logically doomed to fail
  • …quite apart from the reality that most Māori hare at least half Pākehā also – so its not as if anyone is genetically innocent. (Every one of us will have ancestors who have done great wrong to some other people group).
  • 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 (quite apart from the fact that no person should have the right to judge another based on the colour of their skin).

‘Systemic racism’ is a similarly confusing term (and is politically loaded) –  while many younger ones might use the term innocently and with good intent, based on something a teacher told them.

Our challenge is therefore to find other ways of saying some important things that these younger ones are trying to say. I.e.

  • This isn’t about abandoning an idea we hold
  • This is about avoiding being used by others as a pawn in someone else’s game.

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)

  • Navigating this matter is going to take wisdom.
  • By walking with integrity, we can hopefully preserve this righteous journey!


Regarding what we should be working to achieve:

Rather than working to impart shame, let’s impart understanding.

Rather than bringing judgement and division, let’s build bridges, and enable collaboration.


  • Let’s tell the stories! This is something we can all do!


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

To get straight to the point, the actions of some seem to suggest these believe being ‘bicultural’ means being ‘Māori’. Church services are therefore filled with songs and prayers in Re Reo – while memberships remain mostly non-Māori. And it’s excess in some (not many) places 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

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 that were signifiant, and significantly betrayed! This leads us to an appreciation of why addressing these past wrongs, plausibly including a level of self-Governance by Iwi for their own (noting the ‘treasures’ example above), might be important.

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 encouragements, at the same time. The difference in outcome related to the different dynamics of their congregations – and I suggest that 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 fail to ever tell about 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 story leading to the second reaction is way is primary way we should tell history! It is not about being dishonest. It is about the values you build through the conclusion you choose to draw.

For example, the overarching story of our nation isn’t one of colonisation! 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 (Māori certain were then colonised) – but this effort was heroic, and very good! That is our story – and that is why we’re working hard to understand where we failed, to right those wrongs in ways that we can! (This is an amazing story!)

  • The story therefore rightly leaves the hearer with hope, and motivated to participate as a part of the solution to the injustices that took place!

We 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!

I hope this helps – and if there has been any possible misunderstanding, freely be in touch to check. (Email ‘Dave’ through any of our websites. I’m still the only ‘Dave’ in our team).


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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