'It should be a secular process': The implications of religion in Parliament

The prospect of a Christian party in Parliament has sparked debate with some arguing decisions should be evidence-based while others welcome traditional values.

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki and his wife Hannah announced on Thursday they're launching a political party in response to an "escalating tide of poor decision-making".

There's also National MP Alfred Ngaro who said he's considering setting up his own conservative Christian party, which could provide the National Party a viable coalition partner at the next general election. 

Tamaki has argued that New Zealand's "freedom", "values" and "culture" is "in danger because of the harmful policies" that have been implemented by the Government.

He's spoken out against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for banning military-style semi-automatic weapons in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, and over the prospect of classifying anti-gay views as hate speech.

When asked if Christianity is underrepresented in Parliament, the Prime Minister said: "No, I wouldn't say so. If I reflect on the Labour Party, we have a huge range of diversity, including in terms of religious beliefs.

"We have had in our political history such parties enter into politics, none that have managed to tip into the 5 percent threshold that enters them into Parliament - but look, it's an open democracy."

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki and his wife Hannah.
Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki and his wife Hannah. Photo credit: Getty

Peter Harrison, president of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, said New Zealand risks having political parties that share "values like what Israel Folau has been promoting".

Folau had his contract with Rugby Australia terminated this month after breaching its code of conduct by posting a message on social media that was considered discrimination against gays and other groups.

Tamaki has come to Folau's defence, saying on Twitter last month: "If the gay community want to be accepted as a part of society then 'take it on the nose' like the rest of us."

Harrison said religious political parties risk New Zealand politics becoming polarising like in the United States where he said Christians are influenced to get behind a "particular point of view, specifically the right-wing".

"It's a divide and conquer approach where if you can't get people on economic and national policy then lets divide them by religion," Harrison told Newshub.

"I think people in New Zealand are a little more clued up. I don't really think it's going to be effective."

Should we welcome religious parties?

Harrison said while he believes Parliament decision-making should be a "secular process", it's important we reject discrimination against people based on their religious beliefs.

"By secular we don't mean you're not allowed to have faith - it simply means that if you're going to be making a decision, you should be making a decision for all of the people regardless of what faith they are."

Harrison fears certain issues being politicised by religious parties in Parliament - issues such as euthanasia, abortion and recreational cannabis law reform, which are traditionally frowned upon by religious groups.

National MP Alfred Ngaro.
National MP Alfred Ngaro. Photo credit: Getty

"The danger is certain messages have been politicised - and because of that, we're not getting the kind of action we need," he added, pointing to climate change which he said is sadly perceived as a left-leaning issue.

Pastor Ross Smith said he'd like to see "competence and good policies with clear strategies of implementation" in Parliament, and "if we can have that with the moral virtues of Christianity then that would be wonderful".

"When it comes to the Hon Alfred Ngaro, I like what I see. Having been able to spend time with him over the last year or two, my take on him being in Parliament is that, for him, it is a calling.

"We don't need more politicians, we need more statesmen. Those who will give their all to see better things for future generations, be they Christian or not, be they religious or not."

Smith was among protesters who marched on Parliament last year over the House Speaker's decision to remove references to Jesus from the Parliamentary prayer.

How likely we'll have a Christian party?

Christian parties aren't new for New Zealand. Colin Craig's Conservative Party got 4 percent of votes in 2014, and the Christian Coalition - led by convicted paedophile Graham Capill - got 4.33 percent in 1996.

Colin Craig.
Colin Craig. Photo credit: File

And in 2003, Destiny Church members started the Destiny New Zealand political party with Tamaki as its "spiritual adviser". But it got less than 1 percent of the vote in the 2005 election and was deregistered.

While Christianity is the most common religion in New Zealand, the number of non-religious people increased between 2006 and 2013, with more than two in five reporting they had no religion.

David Hines, a spokesperson for the Secular Education Network, said he wouldn't vote for a Christian party because "that tends to mean support for traditional Christian values such as opposition to abortion and gay marriages".

But he said people with those values "have every right to campaign for them".