OPINION: On Tuesday, hundreds of Christians gathered outside Parliament to protest the removal of Jesus' name from the parliamentary prayer.
If you're like me, perhaps your first thought upon hearing that news was… really?!?!
- Christians protest Parliament's removal of Jesus from prayer
- Speaker reads opening prayer in Te Reo in Parliament
- Hundreds rally at Parliament to keep Jesus in opening prayer
With everything that is going on in this nation, with the gap between rich and poor widening, with our housing crisis forcing more of our whanau onto the streets, and with a mental health system so broken from lack of government funding that people are literally being turned away to suffer alone, this is what the Church has deemed important enough to march up to Wellington for?
This is what Christians like me choose to take a stand on?
One of the arguments for justifying the protest came from the leader of the Jesus for NZ group, Pastor Ross Smith, who told Newshub that it was about defending the 'Christian values' New Zealand was founded on.
I had to shake my head in wonder at the comment.
What exactly are the Christian values to which he referred?
Perhaps, he was talking about the colonial values of individualism, consumerism and colonisation that my pākehā tupuna brought to this whenua? If so, then yeah, maybe he is right.
But somehow, I believe he was attempting to point back to the values of compassion, acceptance, and self-sacrificing love which were foundational to Jesus' message.
Values that, it is sad to say, can no longer be considered the true values of the Western Church, or even the Western world.
What we value is reflected, both in where we put our time, and where we place our money.
It is telling that the Christian community often has a lot of time, and more than a little money, to speak publicly against abortion reform, gay rights, and silly things like the parliamentary prayer, yet on issues of social justice, and care for the marginalised and oppressed, we are largely quiet and miserly.
These true 'Christian values' have been replaced.
Replaced by a narrative of individualism. A story which has turned Christianity into an exclusive movement, more focused on keeping power, then 'loving thy neighbour as thyself'.
The irony is that the man who taught his followers the value of humility, and warned them that 'those who exalt themselves will be humbled', could hardly be the sort of person who would kick a fit because some government official didn't say his name before starting a meeting.
Sadly, this protest reflects how irrelevant and detached Christianity has become.
Christianity, a movement once centered around sharing the radical, unconditional love of Jesus has, like most great movements throughout history, been corrupted by power.
It has forgotten its purpose, consumed by the need to preserve its once unquestioned privilege.
Yet the message of Jesus is not one of dominance, power or control. It is not the sort of message that demands to be placed first, or fights for political power, or privilege.
Jesus wouldn't be protesting the removal of his name from this prayer.
Because when you've got families living in poverty, and whanau out on the street, this just isn't really that important.
Jesus was the sort of radical revolutionary who believed that all people deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. He spent his life serving the poor, standing up against inequality and oppression, and fighting for the rights of those who were neglected and marginalised by their society.
The original purpose of Christianity was to form a community that reflected the values of this man.
A community that would proclaim to the world His message. The message that all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, race or religion, are loved and accepted by God.
A community that would follow in his footsteps.
Yet, instead of standing for justice for the poor, and mercy for our most vulnerable, churches up and down this country will mobilise and raise their voices in defense of keeping abortion in the Crimes Act. We will spend countless hours of time defending a baker's right to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, or pour untold resources into opposing the legalisation of euthanasia. But where is that same desire to be political when our voices are needed by those who suffer?
The fact that the Christian community is more incensed by changes to the parliamentary prayer than we are about homelessness, poverty – or any of the other numerous social issues affecting New Zealanders – is proof that we're out of touch.
Not just with the message of Jesus, but also with our own communities.
If the Christian community really wants to restore its mana within Aotearoa, perhaps we would be better served protesting things that matter.
If we want to be political, then let's be political. Let's stand up for the homeless, defend the cause of the refugee, speak out against the growing disparity between rich and poor.
The parliamentary prayer means nothing.
It's a bunch of words people nod their head to when they start their day.
At the end of the day God doesn't care about a dusty old prayer.
What really matters, is how we love one another.
Aaron Hendry is a writer at When Lambs Are Silent