Wednesday, May 11, 2022

beyond betrayal

Over the years I have enjoyed taking two pilgrimages...

One is to Rangihoua Bay, about 200km north of Auckland — and Marsden Cross, the site of the first preaching of the gospel here in Aotearoa New Zealand, in 1814.

On one occasion, as a way to celebrate my 50th birthday, 30 friends joined me in the pilgrimage.  We travelled in cars, stopped at different places along the way, bore witness to God's goodness — and sang a hymn each time!  The 2014 bicentenary, when the site was developed, was still five years away and so for most pilgrims it was their first visit.  I asked Ben Carswell to lead a devotional time, not realizing that he was from the same village in Yorkshire as Samuel Marsden!

Ben Carswell sharing a devotional back in 2009

The other pilgrimage is to Tokaanu, about 300km south of Auckland — and St Paul's Anglican Church.  It is the burial place of two young Māori missionaries, Te Manihera and Kereopa — martyred for their faith in 1847, as they expressed their commitment to forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. 

You can read more about it here.  On his final visit to New Zealand for our Bethany's wedding in Rotorua and just months before he died, Barby's 96 year old father joined us for a pilgrimage.  Reading that verse from Revelation (12.11), written into the gravesite, with him is something I'll always remember.  The story of these two young men is another chapter in that long story...


With Barby's Dad and brother, Jonny

I am indebted to Keith Newman for helping me appreciate the historical background to these pilgrimages.  In the months before we moved to India, back in 2013, I read his Bible & Treaty (see a post here) as well as his Ratana: the prophet (see a post here).  Soon after our return to New Zealand, I saw that he had written another book, Beyond Betrayal.  Keen to renew my journey with his writings, it was purchased straightaway, and I finished reading it this past weekend.  

The story he tells mingles the amazing with the awful...

The Amazing

I was not prepared for the number of good, even heroic, people in this story. 

Among Māori there is Wiremu Tamihana, who once responded to one of the wretched Govenors in a 'well reasoned, intelligent, persuasive, restrained and even poetic way' (80).  I'd liked to have been present!  What about Te Kooti Arikirangi, whose life is the stuff of movies, complete with exile and escape from the Chatham Islands?  It is hard to go past the 'Parihaka prophets', Tohu and Te Whiti (with his oratory being described by a journalist as having 'a graceful attitude, earnest expression and easy eloquence', 176). [NB: for readers overseas, a helpful doorway into this story is the Wikipedia entry on Parihaka, the site of a non-violent protest in the century before Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther-King and Nelson Mandela]. Then there is Rua Kenana and Mere Rikiriki, whose nephew is the aforementioned Wiremu Ratana, subject of one of Newman's earlier books.

Among the Europeans, or pākehā, there is also no shortage of heroes — much to my surprise.  People who go 'against the flow' and stand up for what is just and true.  Among the early missionaries, people like Octavius Hadfield and James Watkin.  Arthur Gordon, as a Governor-General — and Robert John Godley, overseeing the settlement in Cantebury, are others who stand out in the story.  However, the two that inspire me the most are Thomas Grace and Samuel Williams.  

Thomas Grace stayed living among Māori, refusing to be drawn into pastoral work in European settlements and forever advocating for the training of Māori teachers/pastors.  He 'campaigned long and loud for more Māori teachers to be trained to work among their own people, and for a Māori Anglican bishop' (211).  Yep, indigenous leadership!  [As I wandered through Wikipedia I discovered that his granddaughter, Bessie Te Wenerau Grace was the first Māori woman to earn a degree from a university].  Māori was Samuel Williams' first language and his perseverance, humility and generosity in founding Te Aute College for young Māori men is one of the many highlights in Newman's story. 

It is worth asking what all these people, Māori and pākehā, had in common.  To varying degrees they were all touched and transformed by the gospel of Jesus.  Going right back to the 1830s the determination in the Colonial Office in London, shaped as it was at the time by Clapham Sect-ites and Wilberforcians, was that 'Māori interests must be protected in an equal partnership' (33) — and that the purpose of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840) was 'to avoid the horrors that colonisation had imposed on other cultures' (291), by establishing something of a covenant relationship between two peoples.

The responsiveness to the gospel by Māori in those early years is staggering — maybe as many as 80% were believers in the late 1840s, with the likelihood that there were more Māori believers than European ones.  In 1839, on one of his travels south, Henry Williams 'encountered Māori Christians who had never seen a white missionary' (38). As one who believes that a culture, any culture, becomes the best version of itself when touched by the gospel of Jesus, it was such a promising start.

But gradually, decisively, enduringly and tragically it turned to custard.

Standing between Māori and European.
[Used by Peter Lineham in his talk in the Eden Community Church's series on  The Story of God in New Zealand (link here), also featuring the likes of Jay Ruka and Val Animoa Goold].

The Awful

Coming from India, where they are adept at changing the names of cities and streets in order to distance themselves from their colonial (and Islamic/Mughal) history, it amazes me that there is still a town in New Zealand called Wakefield and a mountain called Donald McLean (keeping watch over one of our favourite spots, the Little Huia valley)...

Edward Gibbon Wakefield is a blight on the history of this country.  His 'lies and deception remain the root cause of much underlying bitterness among Māori' (291).  His 'swoop on millions of acres of Māori land in late 1839 was not only a crude get-rich-quick scheme, but (his) last chance to prove his colonisation and forced assimilation theories' (291).  Donald McLean was cut from the same cloth.  The level of greed, deception and political manipulation in the story is horrible.  Then there is the Governor, George Grey and the hoon of the Parihaka conflict, John Bryce.  Even Bishop Selwyn doesn't look so good — 'seen at the head of the troops' (93) as they travelled down the road created for war (the Great South Rd), with his churches along the way available for rest and shelter.

So much tragedy develops, mostly for Māori and the loss of their lands.  But I also feel sorry for the gospel as 'the litany of broken Treaty promises (made) the Church and the missionaries appear untrustworthy' (74).  A couple of other sadnesses stood out for me in the book.  One is the way, at the first sign of any fresh resistance from Māori, Bryce (and others) would pass an Act through Parliament to stifle and snooker them.  The other is the number of times a Māori delegation heads off to London to petition the Sovereign, only to be 'patronised or snubbed' (255).  In 1885, it was 'the third time in three years that leading chiefs had turned to their queen to seek justice' (255, emphasis mine) — and remember they are travelling in ships, not on planes...

The Personal

Do you mind if I try and name some of the immediate emotions that surfaced as I read this story? 

I feel sad.  'Betrayal' is a strong word, but it is the right word.  It makes me think of Judas, but it is used elsewhere in the Gospels with the sense of "handed over".  Yep, that works as well!  Nine years after it was first written, Newman's final chapter — "Beyond Betrayal" — is very moving.  He refers to the way the promises in the Treaty 'had leaked away like tears gathered in a bucket full of holes' (291).

I feel annoyed.  I don't really understand the logic of a 'State Church'.  Sorry!  The Church tends to be at its worst when it becomes entangled with the State's political power.  The bishop at the head of the troops on the road to war?  Yikes.  That really affected me.  It takes me back to Amos 7.10-17 and the reminder of how a prophet is needed whenever priest and king become too close and chummy.  This story is filled with prophets, mostly Māori ones, doing the best they can...

I feel sobered.  Where would I find myself in this story?  Shades of Grace, or shades of Grey?  On what side would I have been at Parihaka?  A bit like with the parables of Jesus over the years, we humans have this incredible capacity to line up with the good guys in an old story.  Really?!  The only way that could be projected back on the past is if we look at ourselves now.  Do I demonstrate now the strong independent mind that can stand for truth against a cultural flow?  Do I demonstrate now the compassionate heart that draws near to the downtrodden whatever the cost?  My hunch is that if we parachuted into Parihaka in 1881, there might be a fair bit of shock and shame to spread around.

I feel sceptical.  I don't doubt that a new History curriculum is needed in our schools.  But if its architects have an anti-Christian bent, will Christianity, together with its missionaries, always be synonymous with colonialism and the Crown?  Is not the issue more subtle?  Sadly, Christianity has not always been synonymous with the gospel!  That is for sure.  But is the story of the gospel spreading among Māori before 1850 going to be told?  Probably not.  Is the non-violent protest led by the Parihaka prophets going to be divorced from the gospel that shaped these men?  Probably.  Oh well, I hope Keith Newman's books make it into the bibliography and that education includes encouraging students to weigh the argument for themselves.

I feel energized.  These stories, these people need to find their way into my teaching and preaching.

I feel hopeful.  One of the big changes in Aotearoa New Zealand in the decade in which we've been focused overseas is the prominence given to learning Te Reo (the Māori language).  That has to be an encouraging step forward.

I feel intrigued.  In the last few years I've loved reading stuff out of West Africa — Lamin Sanneh (The Gambia), Jehu Hanciles (Sierra Leone) and Kwame Bediako (Ghana).  I wonder how much of their stuff travels across times and time zones?  It was Bediako's conviction that 'missionaries did not bring Christ to Africa; Christ brought them'.  Hmmm.  It is Hanciles' conviction that too much is made of what he calls 'the empire argument' — afterall  'mundane events, marginalized persons, and commonplace experiences shape historical development (and this is) deeply subversive of master narratives and constructs centered on the use of power'.  Hmmm.  It was Sanneh's conviction that 'Christianity is a form of indigenous empowerment by virtue of vernacular translation'.  Hmmm.

I feel another pilgrimage coming on... to all those (many!) places I visited on Google Maps while reading this book. 

nice chatting



Mark Meynell said...

book duly ordered!

Paul said...


Ben Carswell said...

You'll enjoy them Mark...and we'll take you on the pilgrimages in due course. Great memories again!

the art of unpacking said...

"Come on down, Mark" — as the gameshow host on TV in America used to say :)

Ted Schroder said...

When I left Hokitika, NZ for Cranmer Hall, Durham in 1964 I was presented with a Maori Haka Skirt, Headband and a large lump of greenstone by Rima Tainui and her family who were members of All Saints Church and the Arahura Anglican congregation so that I would not forget my origins. I look forward to reading Keith Newman's books. Thank you for bringing them to our attention.
Ted Schroder

the art of unpacking said...

Ahh, Ted — a Kiwi I hear about in the Stott-stories, but whom I've never met...

You'll enjoy the Newman books so much.

best wishes