Unity is such a powerful ideal. Unity in recent history ejected imperialism (Ghandi), toppled walls (Berlin), and ended racial segregation (Luther King Jnr). Unity re-distributed power.
Unity on the other hand enabled colonization, instigated and reinforced WWII, and enabled mankind to contend with God (Gen 11:1-9). Unity reinforced power.
He iwi tahi tātou is a great ideal, but how does it want to deal with power? What kind of “one” is it enforcing? A unity of redistribution, or of reinforcement. A unity, or a uniformity.
To answer this question in regard to Hobsons pledge, firstly – ka mua ka muri – a māori whakatauki meaning to see the future clearly we must see what came behind. Secondly, is there a connection to this group within the current christian psyche and our unity narrative? Lastly, if unified civilization is so important, how does God view it?
Let us start with a brief bio on Governor Hobson.
Firstly, Hobson had no interest in working together with Māori. The man was sent here on a dubious mission, to assure the māori people “cede” legal “sovereignty” to the crown. He achieved it. It is no stretch to understand what he meant by one unified people. There was to be no unity in diversity. There was only uniformity in mind.
Hobson’s pledge therefore are a group of well-meaning New Zealanders who want a New Zealand for all Kiwis, regardless of race, as understood by the hero of our nation, Governor Hobson. All people in their eyes have equal opportunity and therefore should have equal rights. It summarily deconstructs any validity of the treaty of waitangi and relevant histories, stating it as unnecessary in current NZ. It especially despises the “favouritism” that government and institutional structures have shown māori, and seeks to remove any legislation that protects and provides for them – under the impression that māori have already received, or will receive adequate compensation with “reasonable” evidence provided. We can summarize my paraphrase thus: one people, equal rights, equal institutional treatment. Not all that bad I guess.
This perspective is “Christianity justifiable”, but also “justifiably christian” having theological historical backing relating to the doctrine of discovery. The New Testament implores us to be unified, to treat equally, and to be good stewards of God’s blessing so all people can be treated well and live well. When it comes to māori/pākeha/treaty conversations, verses from the Christian Scriptures pertaining to these themes are quoted generally in favor of the views of Hobsons pledge. If one mentions cultural diversity and racism, one rebuts Gal 3:26-28 for we are now “one people”. If one presents historical injustice, one rebuts with 2 Cor 5:17 to argue that the debt is historical, but we are all equal now. If a māori person is poor and uneducated, they should not receive help. They are products of their laziness and not adhering to being “Good Stewards” of their time and money (Luke 19:11-27). It’s not just white people that think this way, some māori do as well. I was one of them. The heart of these thoughts are based on myths propagated institutionally to make the māori lesser, and the white greater. From the discovery doctrine as a foundation, the church edified its settler believers and their newly acquired lands with these scriptural arguments. These separate the civilized from the “savage”. In practicing this way, the church was and is still at the centre of the spiritual justification of dehumanization of māori. When so much of a person’s history and identity is legally ignored, is it still a partnership in unity? To force a person to be different to their natural state is uniformity. This unfortunately is a christianity that reinforces power, instead of re-distributing it.
Fortunately, God placed a story in scripture to help diagnose oppressors!
If you’re familiar with the Christian tradition, you likely have heard the story of the tower of Babel. If not, check Genesis 11:1-9 (if you don’t have a bible, google is great). Now, traditionally this story is viewed as a lesson in pride. Once upon a time, mankind was unified, under one language and one rule of law – and they built a great city as a pinnacle of civilization. Then they wanted to build a tower to “touch the heavens”. God didn’t like this, so diversified the language and spread them over the earth in confusion.
Whats the lesson? God irrationally hates human unity and hates proud people, and diversity is mankind’s punishment.
Another way of reading this passage is as a lesson to people of power. Let’s retell it.
According to Marlowe, at one time, one nation went around and accrued power enslaving all the other nations. They were too lazy to learn the various dialects so they forced all people to speak one language. It was also hard to control everyone’s different cultures, so they stripped that away and enforced their own one. There were also laws in place, protecting said cultures – which were removed. Then, with slave labor, they built a city epitomizing the pinnacle of uniformity – civilization. God, seeing those humans lording power over others, and stripping the gifts of diverse culture and language from others – was pissed right off and personally intervened dispersing the peoples once again, naming it Babel to be mocked for all time.
The Lesson? Colonisation and uniformity are bad, and unity in diversity was God’s original intention.
If we use this interpretation of the verse as a matrix for uniformity, Hobsons pledge fits every category. One Language, One Culture, One rule, One goal – it gets gnarly. Don Brash’s desires alone fill the quota. Brash stands against te reo māori in schools, stating the normality of english as justification – One Language. Brash does not see race, saying: “Racists are people who want a different treatment for people based on their ethnicity or ancestry and we do not want that ! I want all NZers treated equally at law”, One Culture/One Rule. Lastly, Brash’s goal although altruistic without context, is the betterment of “NZ” by not “wasting” resources on reparation to māori, freeing the meagre funds to other public endeavours.
It is an essay in itself to analyze the actions of Don Brash, but hopefully you see what I mean. Unfortunately, the history of the church fits into this matrix as well.
In Aotearoa, regardless of the missionary landing first, it was the church’s insistent indoctrination of māori that resulted in the education of māori children in only English – one language (11:1). During the time of the māori prophets ending in Ratana, the NZ churches collectively excommunicated all māori Christian faiths, labelling them cults and defaming māori, forcing them to assimilate to “Christian” coloniser culture to be able to continue worshipping the Lord in the dominant culture. One Culture (11:1). The church was implicit in the institution of laws enabling confiscation of māori land, One Rule (11:3). In Te Tiriti o Waitangi, they made legislation so they could always be available to practice their religion, “making a name” for themselves to never be “scattered abroad”, One Goal (11:4).
From this small example, the injustices committed against māori are many. This barely scratches the surface. If in your God given humanity, you can read this small list and feel righteous anger at the government’s attempts to alleviate the sin of the crown against a whole race of people by providing paltry resources as compensation; according to the Babel story, God is not for you.
So, in summary, if you adhere to the beliefs and practices of Hobson’s Pledge and/or the sets of beliefs I outlined under it, you are located in the uniformity camp. You wittingly or unwittingly have found yourself in the camp of the oppressor, the reinforcer of power to the powerful.
You can switch sides though. There is hope.
Reconfigure who is informing your reality.
Unity requires a diversity within it, so if you are stuck in a bubble of like minds, earnestly engage otherwise. 1 Corinthians 12 speaks to the heart of this matter, how we are all diverse body parts, contributing our diversity to the oneness of the body.
Who are you listening to, reading, letting inform you? If it is Brash, you will stagnate. Engage in racially conscious liberation heroes of old like James H. Cone, Martin Luther King Jr. Maori Marsden and Ranginui Walker for local examples. Or new ones like Brad Haami, Andrew Picard. Engage with the conversation. I know it is difficult.
Lastly, pray. If God, in their nature is against the coloniser oppression we have all been engaged in at some point, God will definitely be excited when you ask to participate in the work of liberation.
Eugene Fuimaono is of ngā puhi, Samoan and Dutch descent. He’s an ex-youth worker/pastor, always musician, consummate student and recently protestor. His favorite thing to do is read comments sections on stuff posts.