Is Brian Tamaki, right? Is protecting our Freedom’s more urgent than stopping this virus? / A.J. Hendry

Yesterday, Brian Tamaki was charged for his part in the protest that took place over the weekend.

He has vowed to fight the charges, dismissing the risks of a super spreader event, and asking people to consider what value they put on their freedom?

It is the theme of the week.

Following the protest on Saturday, Peter Mortlock of City Impact Church released an hour and a half long video also titled Freedom. In it he argued that the Government, working alongside the media, were undermining our freedoms, and warned that if we don’t stand for our freedom’s, we’ll lose them.

Freedom, he argued, is a God given right.

And in a way, I think a lot of us would agree, with the sentiment at least.

As a person of faith, I believe that human beings, having been created in the image of the Divine, have the Divine gift of free will. The Divine does not coerce or control, human’s have free will, and we have the freedom to exercise it whichever way we see fit.

But, within the Christian Tradition, this idea of freedom, is not the same as what we often hear discussed in a secular Western context. Freedom for many in the West has come to mean that I have certain rights in society, and thus should be allowed the individual choice to exercise those rights.

As I’ve listened to both Brian and Peter, I’ve heard over and over again that they are concerned that our freedom’s are going to be taken, that our ability to exercise our democratic rights are being undermined, and they are concerned by the level of power the government has been able to use in order to place restrictions on our lives.

But, as I’ve listened to the notion of freedom they’re arguing for, I’ve struggled to see how it fit’s into the understanding of freedom that we gain from reading our Scriptures.

For example, in Peter’s video he spoke about being concerned about young people not being able to travel overseas on holiday, and about people being prevented from going to a pub for a drink. Brian in previous kōrerō has expressed similar concerns, lamenting that the restrictions have interfered with his personal liberties, and preventing him from being able to do the things that he wants to do.

 These freedom’s that the Mortlocks and Tamaki’s are fighting for, are the not the freedom’s that Christians have been granted in Christ. In fact, as I’ve discussed in a previous blog, they have more in common with the values of the Empire, than they do those of the Kingdom.

Whenever we talk about freedom within a Christian context, it is always balanced by other values that are placed higher than one’s individual freedom. For example, matua Paul in his letter to the whānau in Galatia warned his people about allowing their pursuit of individual freedom to get in the way of loving their neighbor. Instead, he said that though “you were called to freedom… do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Gal 5:13-14)” And then again, this time to the whānau in Corinth, Paul again balances a person’s individual freedoms against the Christian value of showing Love through service and sacrifice. “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others (1 Cor 10:23-34).”

The bro Peter (not Mortlock, the old dude from the scriptures), says something similar. Warning against false teachers who will introduce “destructive heresies”, and lead people to engage in “depraved conduct” that will bring the way of truth into disrepute (2 Peter 2:1-3), matua Peter warns that this sort of freedom, is not freedom after all, but only another form of slavery. And in his previous letter (known as 1st Peter), he encourages his people to embrace freedom, but not to the point where that freedom is used as a cover up for evil (1 Peter 2:16). What is interesting for us today, is that matua Peter in this passage questions what value there is in being persecuted for abusing your freedom’s and doing wrong. Placing this argument in the context of Christ, he acknowledges that there is value in enduring persecution for the sake of others, when that persecution comes on a person as a result of following the self-sacrificial, loving, example of Christ (2 Peter 2:18-25).

And yet, the freedom advocated for by Peter Mortlock, the sort of freedom that is concerned with people attending a church building, or one’s ability to go on lavish and luxury holiday’s overseas, stands in stark contrast to the freedom that we find in the scriptures. As also does the notion of freedom that saw thousands of people join Brian Tamaki in protest in Tāmaki Makaurau, during a Level 3 lockdown, directly putting the lives of our vulnerable whānau at risk in.

Some have named this sacrifice worth it. That fighting for our freedom, standing up for our rights, is worth the sacrifice, no matter what it takes. In light of the charges brought against him, Brian Tamaki said something similar. “What price do you put on your personal Freedoms?” he asked. “If any true democracy loving caring NZer … value their Freedoms (sic) and the Freedoms of their children’s children, you should never be angry at people who want to recover what’s priceless and beyond value, and protect them.”

I guess this is what it comes down to.

What is priceless and beyond value?

Your ability to get up in the morning, go where you want, travel overseas, attend a church building?

Or the lives of your children? Our nieces? Our nephews?

The lives of our whānau living on our streets today?

The lives of our elderly, our koro and kuia? Or perhaps our disabled whānau, those with pre-existing conditions, who without Covid have the oppurtunity to live long and meaningful lives?

For follower’s of Jesus, freedom bows down to Love. Love for neighbour, Love for the marginalized, for the weak, vulnerable, and oppressed. In contrast to the vision the Mortlocks and Tamaki’s have laid for us, Christ lays out a vision of freedom that involves sacrifice. A freedom that involves becoming a slave to Love, willing to sacrifice one’s own needs and desires, in order to Love our neighbour, as we would Love ourselves.

And so, for the Christian, lockdowns, vaccines, public health measures, these do not deny us our freedoms.

They provide us with the oppurtunity to exercise them.

To sacrifice our own needs and desires, in order to serve our community, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves, in order to Love.

#LoveIsTheWay

A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also a an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.

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