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 what is otherwise a very positive bicultural journey we’re on together as God’s people, growing in understanding.

I believe the journey toward a greater appreciation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and our bicultural identity as a nation is something God has been stirring amongst Christians in this nation. 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). And even more remarkably – many parts of this change were not coordinated by any of us. While some certainly did work with intent to feed this conversation nationally, it seems to me that God also put this on the hearts of many people at once. I think God was the one to orchestrate this change in viewpoint amongst us nationally, as God’s people!

I write the below because of my zeal to see this journey continuing. With a goal achieved – we now need to steward what God used us, and pulled us all together, to achieve. He will have reasons for having done this amongst us – but that doesn’t mean the end goal will be achieved. We have a part to play!

With this in view, here are five threats I see rising before us in our nation, and in the NZ Church to the bicultural journey we have been on together recently as Christian believers.


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. This overlooks his understandings of international law, and the protection this LOUD declaration (so it could be remembered and therefore later proven) 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 Akaroa near Christchurch – without need of weapons or soldiers. They convened court with those in a French Colony that was establishing itself 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. Maybe this is fair – in that we endured 100 years of dishonest and unfair stories against Māori earlier on. However, for the Christian, truth counts.

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 quite nervous had I known beforehand). 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. When we hear someone in the Christian community say something that isn’t entirely correct, we need to gently talk with them. Because – if we do not, this journey is being undermined!
  • Thought I note that it would be generally easier for a Maori to gently correct a Maori speakers than for a Pakeha, as motive might be questioned. This is the world we now live in. We need to work in this together.


(ii) Mamae / loss of grace in narratives 

In a similar way to the first point, as the hurt is felt, grace can be lost in the telling of a story. I suspect this is often accidental – but it’s become a real problem. I have heard of numerous instances of this, and it is damaging trust, which damages this journey together.

To illustrate personally regarding how this happens – I’ve sometimes been in tears while telling stories. I’ve sometimes felt real deep anger while telling stories about some of the injustices that have happened. At such times, it is easy for emotion to charge words with a meaning that is not entirely balanced or true – and certainly one that doesn’t reflect the grace of Christ. 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.’ Doing this has also helped me to ‘pull myself in’ – to return to a healthier balance in the things I say following that point.

I also note that, for those who speak, admitting that we can make mistakes like this is important. This will cause trust in our work and stories to be increased 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 might mean different things to different people. Please trust my intent – and be in touch if resolution to something really is necessary.

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 a person who was homosexual in sitcoms across the prior 20 to 30 years – to normalise this practice in the public view. The point is, the language of CRT wasn’t in these shows one year ago. Somehow there are people who are able to engineer these things – and it’s happening at pace.

I predict public views on various things related to race are going to change quickly in our nation, causing increased 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 know of many examples internationally – including the concept of the ‘useful idiot’.

So it is noted, there are a variety of motivations people might have for supporting ideas or words used in connection with CRT. Not all will understand the political side of it. Some people’s motivations will be good, while maybe ignorant of the more political dynamics in play. My point is that  we can’t judge people by the words they use. This is going to be a minefield for misunderstanding.

Because the bicultural journey is likely to be leveraged for these political goals, it’s going to add complexity to our bicultural journey – and the politicising of it will turn many off the journey also.

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 – and now this is going to be further complicated by a third matter, which is political.

————Governance issues?————

How much self-Governance should an Iwi rightly have? These issues are based (in my interpretation of Te Tiriti) around what the promise to Maori of  ‘continued possession of their treasures’ might have meant (Article 2). While the complete Government of the whole land was given by Maori to the British Crown (Article 1), Maori were guaranteed protection of their possessions – which including their ‘treasures’ (Article 2). But what were their treasures? Surely this included their language and culture? 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), Maori would have been given the education of their own children, and also the right to do this in Te Reo Maori.  (As it is in our history, Maori schools were closed down by the Government, and by the 1890s the use of any Te Reo at all by a student would see them punished with the cane). Overseeing the education of their own children as an Iwi could therefore be argued to be a promise of Te Tiriti, right?.  Extrapolate this thought out, and our nation has a variety of very difficult questions and conversation ahead to define what ‘treasures’ should have been protected – while all this still sat under the agreed Government of the whole land.

  • There is plenty of possibility for misunderstanding in this ‘Governance’ conversation.
  • There is also plenty of possibility for abuses – with the potential of things claimed as the result of ‘revisionist histories’ based on perspectives held today. It’s going to be difficult.


My point is:

  • I believe our bicultural journey is unfortunately possibly now being leveraged as a tool in the hands of some who are politically clever. A righteous goal is being leveraged by some for an unrighteous cause.  
  • I’ve met clever people, with a knowledge of history and politics, who are well aware of this.
  • Another concerned group are those coming from any of the approx 70 nations that fell to Communism and Fascism across the last Century – with 100 million deaths amongst them as a minimum. When they see the way our media and Government are behaving, they recognise the strategies – and they react due to fear because they already know where this could lead.
  • All of this is already contributing to a reaction against this bicultural journey. This is therefore a notable current challenge to be aware of!

(By the way, we can misunderstand some who react to biculturalism by thinking, for example, that they are racist. From some conversations I’ve engaged in which I pushed through so as to understand, I’ve found some weren’t actually racist in the way I had first suspected. It was fear speaking!)

To protect this journey I suggest we’re going to need to be aware of these tensions, and to learn how to navigate them.

This will especially involve care with our words – as some are politically charged. Younger people will be particularly difficult to navigate this with – as public media hits them from all sides and few are exposed to wider though, or history.

As examples, ‘white shame’ and ‘white guilt’ are politically charged.

They are also a very unwise approach and vocabulary to adopt (Any approach to building bicultural partnership based in insults toward a group on the basis of the colour of their skin is logically doomed to failure before it starts! This isn’t wise!).

  • To highlight something: 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.
  • The challenge is that a culture of implying guilt or shame on people because of their race is going to grow at pace.

‘Systemic racism’ is a similarly confusing term. It’s politically loaded – while many younger ones might use it with an entirely pure motive and reason, based on something a teacher told them. Our challenge is to find other ways of saying what we mean without use of these politically-charged terms.

  • This isn’t about abandoning an idea we hold
  • This is about avoiding being used by others as a pawn in their game.
  • (This is also about being wise, and adopting wise approaches, so we still achieve our own goals)


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.

How? Let’s tell the stories! This is what we can all do!


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

To get straight to the point, some seem to think that being bicultural means being Māori. Church services are therefore filed with songs and prayers in Re Reo – while memberships remain mostly non-Māori. And its causing confusion.

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 areand we therefore value them both. 

Regarding process, becoming comfortable in a culture comes through experience in it. Gradual exposure is useful – and especially to story. Story brings increased understanding – until we realise that, while Te Tiriti established one Government over us both, it also made us a bicultural people. We then see how terribly Te Tiriti was betrayed – which 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), to bring something of a restoration, is so important.

When working in Singapore I was the only ‘Westerner’ in the team. The office functioned on 5 languages – but two languages were the primary ones. Over time I came to appreciate various cultural differences in the room, as well with Muslim and Hindu friends we had. I learnt various words in a variety of these language (though I couldn’t tell you which word came from which languages, as everything was mixed together). When a person talked in Mandarin, I’d lean to the person on my left and they’d give a basic translation. When I spoke – and ‘Auntie Kat’ (who spoke English) couldn’t understand my New Zealand accent, someone would lean toward her and translate in Mandarin or Cantonese. We’d relate differently to different ones with appreciations of things in their cultures too. We were all comfortably together in a multicultural environment – and all of this was a part of who we were: We were multicultural!

This is a simple point – but necessary one. To become bicultural 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, even if our own exposure to things-Maori in an average day or week is fairly limited. We accept this reality, and we’re comfortable with this reality. This is all a part of who we are!

The next point connects to this.


(v) Unwise leadership through change (Forced narratives)

Finally, I’ve been in numerous conversations where it’s been apparent to me that someone, passionate about the bicultural journey, has attempted to lead others in it – but has forgotten that leadership through change is always leadership through change. For sure – a growing understanding of our bicultural roots might be a righteous journey, but anything that is led too forcefully or quickly can lead to misunderstanding and resistance.

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

To illustrate with two stories which might be useful here: 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.  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 what they both did as leaders was  good and wise!

When a journey through change is forced it can cause damage – even when the motive and direction is 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 speak of bad things that happened. 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.’ This is how we should tell history!

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!)

This positivity with words is especially true if a non-Māori/Pakeha is speaking of a Māori in history, or a Māori is speaking of a European in our history. We give the benefit of the doubt – while choosing to be most brutal with people in the history who are of our own race (rather than those of another race) – in case of misunderstanding. We speak life!

While honest about negative things, for every negative we mention 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. In fact, I believe this point is really, really, really important! I’m praying God’s people as a whole ini this nation will get a revelation – and learn to ‘tell of the wonders of the Lord’, and ‘the deeds he has done’ (Psalm 78) by telling our stories (not only stories from 5,000 years ago).

We also 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, if we all do these two things, we can’t go wrong!

I hope this helps.
(Again – I also ask for your understanding if words used carry meanings for you that are clearly different to meanings I have, provoking anger or judgement. Freely be in touch to discuss the meaning of things written if this is needed).

Other blogs by Dave Mann on this topic


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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