I confess that I am struggling with why seeing New Zealand as a Christian nation in past, present, and future is such a big deal. Under the threat of today's new-religions and 'no-religion's (as is so popular in our census forms), it smacks of Christianity trying to preserve some sort of home-field advantage in the game of religion. "Let's make sure we maintain a preferential treatment for Christianity and keep it kinda official."
Is that the way to go? Isn't that just a not-so-naked power play?
This Wilberforce movie (Amazing Grace) is a reminder of just how ugly 'official' Christianity can become. Wilberforce takes on a Parliament crammed with people no doubt claiming to be Christian who are also advocating for the slave trade - concerned as they are that its abolition will lead to a lowering of their standard of living! Official Christianity has a way of going to seed. It is a magnet for gigantic blindspots. No matter how much 'the days of Elijah' are sung about, it is actually the days of Malachi in which we live. Read it and weep! Official Christianity becomes institutional. It develops a form of godliness while denying its power (its real power) ...
... and it easily becomes corrupted. In the early 1990s a video went all around NZ causing great excitement among the Christian masses. It told the story of the election of Frederick Chiluba as the President of Zambia and how - at his inauguration, from memory - he proclaimed Zambia to be a Christian nation. That video was like a rugby ball down an All Black backline. It moved very quickly. Last year I was in Zambia. Last year I was on the street where Chiluba lives - under house arrest awaiting trial on corruption charges. What a gullible lot we Christian Kiwis are... (oh yeah - remember how Taupo was going to erupt!)
NAH! Let's not put all our eggs in the 'official basket', hoping to bring about transformation by that means. The urge in our nation to 'go back' to when we were more Christian - some mythical back, I suspect - needs to be traded-in for an urge to 'go further back' - way back to those early centuries when followers of Jesus were a marginalised persecuted minority in a world full of new-religions and 'no-religions' - and at the peak of their influence.
Today we are heading for a similar space. New religions and 'no-religions' are not going to go away. That would be like trying to turn off a waterfall at the tap. The storm clouds of persecution will continue to gather for authentic followers of Jesus. And is that such a bad thing? Do we want to be merely official - or do we really truly want to be influential for the sake of Jesus?
Again Wilberforce points the way. What was the secret of his influence in his marginalised persecuted space? ONE he discerned the call of God on his life, which was to politics rather than to the ministry, and he lived that call with character and courage. TWO he mixed-in to his world as salt and yet stood apart from that world as light and did so fully and forever. THREE he lived his life in the company of like-minded others (sadly, the story of the community which is the Clapham Sect is left untold in the movie) with resilience and purpose.
The posturing and soap-boxing and headlining that comes to mind when I think of "official" leaves me a bit cold. But the subversion of a grassroots movement of Jesus-followers committed to ONE and TWO and THREE and doing so against the odds ... well, that is a different story and probably an "influential" one as well.