Prophets or Porangi?

Tame Iti

From Jeremiah, to Peter, to Paul, the bible is full of stories of prophets who were imprisoned because they dared to speak the truth. This week in Auckland, we have somewhat of a similar case in the imprisonment of Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara.

Now, this post is not intended to argue the details of the law, or indeed its application. But rather it is an attempt to try and make sense of exactly what happened on the 15th of October 2007, and the affects the events of that day had, and continue to have on Tuhoe, Māori and New Zealand.

Perhaps one of the most moving speeches ever presented to Te Runanganui (the Māori Synod of the Anglican Church) was given by the Reverend Awanui Timutimu. Matua Awa, who has since passed away, lived in Ruatoki and was on his way to the Whakatane on the morning of October 15th, but he never got there, not that day at least. Matua Awa was greeted by armed, Police in full combat gear as he drove through Ruatoki. The Police ordered him to get out of his car, and to lie down on the side of the road while they searched it. They then took a picture of him next to his number plate in a final act of humiliation. Matua Awa, was a Navy Veteran, having served in South-East Asia, the Far East and the Pacific. He was also a Priest in the Anglican Church and a respected Tuhoe Kaumatua. A pillar of his community and the Church brought to his knees and humiliated by cowards who covered their faces and refused to listen.

It is these experiences, these unacknowledged mamae (pains) that we must keep upmost in our minds as we continue to move forward and make sense of what happened 5 years ago. Unfortunately, for Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria, their court case and imprisonment has ensured that their story and that of Matua Awa’s will be forever intertwined, and forever make up the sad, sad song that Tuhoe and Māoridom have been singing since October 15th 2007.

If you were to ask me if Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria are prophets, I don’t think I could answer that question with any certainty. If, however you were to ask me are they prophetic, I think I would have to answer in the affirmative. Prophets, biblical or otherwise are in many ways like weather vanes; they gauge the atmosphere and point out the changes. Here, like the prophets of old, Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria are pointing out to us the continued injustice that surrounds us every day. Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria are pointing out to us the deeply, deeply concerning and painful change of wind that has been slowly gaining strength since 2007. It is now up to us to act, to respond and indeed to be prophetic ourselves. This is a calling we are all a part of, it is more than just a calling of race, or space or time. It is a calling of the gospel, to affect change where there is injustice, to speak out where there is wrong and to act prophetically when called upon to do so. The imprisonment of Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria is calling upon us to do just that, if not for their sake, then for the sake of the gospel of justice.

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LGBT are Fine BUT…

The Compass Rose

I was (pleasantly) surprised last week when I was speaking to my mother and she asked me if I had heard that the Church of England had given the OK for Gay clergy, not only to be ordained, but to exercise episcopal ministry. I must say while my initial thought was full of doubt I still had the slightest hope in me that what she told me was true and that there had been a breakthrough. Sadly, my doubt was confirmed.

In a paper released last Monday the Church of England stated their position on Gay clergy in relation to the Equality Act. The main thrust of the paper is that Gay clergy will be allowed to hold any office in the church, including episcopal, if they are celibate. This paper maintains that there should be no discrimination based on orientation, but that it is the behavior that goes with the orientation that mattered.

While this is (arguably) a step in the right direction, one can’t help but feel that this is a final step and not an initial one. This paper effectively says that it is OK to be Gay as long as you don’t act on your inherent, God given sexuality. Not only is this an injustice against our LGBT brothers and sisters, it is a blatant injustice against the love of God. Any couple, heterosexual, homosexual or otherwise will testify to the intimacy, love, transformation and transcendence that occurs when making love. It is quite possibly the most intimate time and space that we share with another human being. It is the human response to love that we should all be able to express irrespective of sexual orientation, so to deny that expression of that intimacy, that love, to anyone is a grave injustice.

This paper is falling back on secular law as a scape goat to facilitate and empower a position of prejudice. This paper relies on the law that says marriage is to be between and woman and a man only. So what if a LGBT couple, who are legally married in another country go to minister in England? Will they be able to exercise their sexuality while one of them is also in active ministry? This (using the law to justify prejudice) is a tactic that is all to familiar around the communion. It has even been used here in the Church in Aotearoa- New Zealand and Polynesia.

The canons of the church in Aotearoa- New Zealand and Polynesia are clear; a requirement of ordination is Chastity. Chastity in the canons of this province is defined as “the right ordering of sexual relationships.” This statement is also explained in the Standing Resolutions where it says “the right ordering of sexual relationships is within marriage, if single then the person is to remain celibate.” Where does this leave our LGBT whanau? Where does this leave the church? It places our LGBT brothers and sisters in a very unfair position, either remain celibate and respond to your calling to ordained ministry or deny your calling to ordained ministry but live the fullness of who God created you to be. That is an unfair position to say the least, and to say the most, it is oppression of the worst kind.

It is easy to see now, how the church is using secular law to empower their prejudice. After all it isn’t the church’s fault that it is illegal for same-sex couples to be married, is it? Well, I have a radical idea,  instead of waiting for the law to change how about we change the canons? Why not simply insert civil-unions into our existing canons so that the right ordering of sexual relationships is between the married and those in civil-unions? Of course that would be too easy…

The Church of England has not taken a step forward, all this paper does is rub salt into an already very sore wound and until we, as a church are ready to step out in faith and make a prophetic (as opposed to this pathetic) statement affirming the God given sexuality and sexual nature of all human kind than we are still no closer to fully living out the gospel of Christ, the gospel of love.

An Act of God?

Christ Church Cathedral, before and after.

As I sit on the flight back to Auckland from Christchurch I can’t help but reflect on the  goings ons of the last couple of weeks. It has been just shy of 3 weeks since Christchurch, the place I was brought up, was rocked by an earthquake killing more than 150 people and injuring scores more.

I must confess, I am not one of those brave New Zealanders that jumped on a plane straight away to come to Christchurch and help in the rescue and recovery effort, nor am I one of those who came to Christchurch to help out with food or water, or offering an open ear and warm hug. No, my reasons for coming to Christchurch were purely selfish, I came to help out my family. My family home was hit rather hard by the quake on the 22/02/2011 and so I flew to Christchurch (at the request of my father) to help him try and patch up the house…it was a lost cause however and I now fear that the house may need to be demolished. It was while I was in Christchurch helping my family however, that the inevitable conversations happened. Some sad, some happy, some hopeful, others hopeless, and now, as I sit on my flight back to Auckland, back to running water and power. Back to perfectly intact buildings and a place where liquefaction might as well be a foreign word, my mind wonders.

The Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, the Very Reverend Peter Beck has become somewhat of an overnight national celebrity, and one of his remarks about the events of the 22/02/2011 has especially spoken to a lot of New Zealanders. When asked about his thoughts of the earthquake the Dean responded:

“God is not in the earthquake. The earthquake was not an act of God. The earthquake was the planet doing its thing the way the planet does. The act of God and the miracles has been the extraordinary way people have pulled together, reached out to one other. The act of God has been in the tears of people, in the weeping, in the lament. The act of God is in the compassion people are showing to one another. The act of God is in the courage people are showing.”

Anyone would agree that that was a good response, or at least as good as any response could have been considering the circumstances. Although it may have been a good response, was it good enough? The Christian church loves to talk about the idea of the “Creator God” or at least a God who ordered creation, so how does that theology go with the response given by the Dean? Scientifically speaking, the Dean is 100% correct. The earthquake was an example of the earth doing what the earth does. But if we believe in a creator God than we must also accept that God, however indirectly is responsible for this earthquake.

The big questions that come up at a time like this are not unique to the specific event or fallout of that event, they are rather a result of the human response to suffering. Long before the events of 22/02/2011 there have been (and continue to be) suffering on an alarmingly huge scale the world over, most of which is of our own making. The recent earthquake in Christchurch opened up an entire city’s eyes, and indeed an entire country’s eyes to suffering that happens on a daily basis around the world. This fact however, doesn’t make events like these any easier to handle, and it certainly doesn’t make it easy for churches and/or ministers to answer the big questions that come with these types of tragedies. I am not writing this in an attempt to offer an answer, to be honest I am still working through my own thoughts in regard to the earthquake. What i am offering though, is a change in how we approach situations like this, and suffering generally.

It is natural for us to try and place blame when we are faced by tragedies. It is a reaction that was built into our being when we were still infants. Something goes wrong, the reason is assessed, we find who was responsible, that person/thing is then held accountable and then we can carry on living. It is a natural part of how we live. But that process doesn’t always fit the situation. Insurance companies like to call events like the recent earthquake “an act of God.” When something goes wrong, from the unexpected death of a baby to a flood to an earthquake, people need answers, and when those answers can’t be found it is easy for us to blame God. It is this approach that we need to change. God’s shoulders are big enough to carry any burden or responsibility, but that doesn’t mean that that’s where the burden should be laid. We need to shift from a theology of “why” to a theology of “where?” In an attempt to avoid this post turning into a thesis I will go into what I mean by a theology of where in a later post. But to briefly explain, I think the Dean was halfway there. The Dean rightfully pointed out that God is in the aftermath, God was in the human response to this tragedy. But I think the Dean forgot that God was also in the earthquake. God was with those 160 people as they lost their lives to this disaster. God was with those who were buried for upwards of 6 hours. God was with the families and loved ones as they waited to hear the fate of their brothers, sisters, mums, dads, daughters and sons. God was in the earthquake.

Once again, I am not offering answers or a definitive statement on suffering in general or this tragedy in particular. At most I am thinking out loud and trying to come to grips with my own questions. I simply type these thoughts up and post them in the hope that they may help someone on their way to reaching a place where, although they may not be able to get all the answers, they are at least at peace with the questions.

He whakaaro noa iho tenei. It’s just a thought…

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