In 2004 I joined Brain Tamaki’s Enough is Enough march.
I was 12 at the time and it was the first protest I’d ever been to. It was a warm sunny day, and we joined at the back of the line with all the other families. There are a lot of stories that lead people to participate in that march, a lot of intersecting narratives, threads in a larger tapestry, drawing individuals and groups to place their feet upon Queen Street that day.
For myself, my family, my church, reflecting back on it now, we were afraid.
I was a member of City Impact Church at the time, and though the leadership of City Impact hadn’t been as publicly vocal as Tamaki and our Destiny Church whānau, internally they had made it clear that they supported Brian and Destiny’s political activism.
You see this was a moment in time where – for many (specifically pākehā) Christians – the world felt like it was undergoing a systemic shift. We had the civil unions legislation, the prostitution law reform, and I believe the anti-smacking bill was right around the corner. In the eyes of many Christians our country was shrugging off it’s Christian identity, and for us, that was terrifying.
If you feel at home wearing the label of liberal or progressive, you will possibly be wondering how bigoted or hateful people must be to oppose these forms of social reform. And yet, the majority of people that I know who participated in that march, who supported this movement, were not hateful people. We didn’t hate gay people or people who worked in the sex industry, in fact in our view, this protest was an act of our Love for them.
For you see, we all live out of narratives that shape our world and enable us to interpret and interact with it. And our narrative was under siege. For those of us within this Christian tradition, we were suddenly being told that our worldview, which we had always assumed was not just the dominant worldview, but the only true worldview, was not shared nor welcome to occupy the dominate space within society.
If you’ve ever had a carpet pulled out from beneath you, you might understand a little of what was going on for us. We hit the floor hard, and then we had a choice to make.
Run. Disappear into the shadows. Accept the role that we felt was being handed to us – the role of a marginal voice on the sidelines of society – or stand up and fight.
And so, when Brian Tamaki and the Destiny Church whānau rose, we rose with them.
It is important here to clarify that what we felt we were fighting for was the Liberation and Freedom of not just those within our faith communities, but everyone. In the worldview we held, we believed sincerely that the reforms being made by the than Labour Government were undermining the moral fabric of our society. We believed this would harm everyone. For many of us, it was unquestioned that the only way to be truly free, was to follow our understanding of the Christian faith, to renounce sin, to live a moral life (defined by the moral codes that we took from our reading of the Christian Scriptures). We saw the Government’s reforms as encouraging sinfulness within our society and believed this would lead to an environment where more and more people were antagonistic to Christianity, and thus would be at risk of the fires of hell.
Look I know that sounds extreme, but from some perspectives within the Christian tradition, there is the belief that if you don’t believe in Jesus, and if you don’t at least do all you can to live up to this particular moral standard, then your soul is at risk of eternal torment in hell.
Can you imagine believing that?
Believing that if you’re friends and family don’t make the right decision, if they don’t choose Jesus, that the ones you love will be tormented and burned for eternity?
When we marched that day, we did not believe that our actions were hateful.
We did not see ourselves as standing in the way of progress or fighting against another’s liberation.
In our narrative we were the freedom fighters.
We were standing for the soul of our nation.
Enough is Enough was more than just a message to politicians.
It was a spiritual proclamation over the nation. We believed we were sending a message in the spiritual realm that would help us reclaim Aotearoa for Jesus.
I remember walking up Queen St with my family and seeing so many angry people. Some counter-protesters threw eggs at us, I remember wondering why they were so angry. I didn’t understand, not back then. But I also didn’t hate them. I remember feeling love, I believed that this was persecution, that they hate us because they are the captives, and we had the truth. If only they could see it they could be saved. We could save them.
This was why we marched.
I’ve come a long way since this time.
There is a part of me that feel’s sadness that I was involved in that march. Yet, another part accepts that this was just where I was at. It doesn’t make it right, nor justify my support or involvement in this movement, it just is what it is. We’re all on a journey, and none of us can move faster than the next step that lies in front of us.
And I’ve taken a few steps since then. My worldview, my understanding of the world, how I interact with it, a lot has changed. But, one thing hasn’t. It was Love that drove me to march. And it was Love that lead me out of that worldview.
Coming under attack for my faith and understanding of the world never helped me shift my thinking. My worldview changed gradually as I followed the most important teaching within my faith tradition. As I took to heart what Jesus taught about loving our neighbors, I was lead into places and spaces where my worldview was exposed. Not by anger or hatred being thrown my way. But, by those who had the courage to share their lives and their stories with me. By my māori brother who pulled the veil of white supremacy from my eyes and showed me a taste of what it looked like to live in his shoes. By a sister, who shared with me the pain she experienced and taught me about how colonialism and my faith had shaped society in such a way that she had become other. By that courageous, gutsy lil bro who told me he was gay, and then was brutally honest about how the worldview I held had harmed him.
My view changed as I was both listened too and also as I learnt to listen to others.
Over the last few weeks Destiny Church and the Freedoms & Rights Coalition have been turning up the heat on their political engagement. The reality is their voice is a minority one within our society. And whenever a voice is on the margins, it becomes easy for those who hold the dominant view to define them as other, to ignore them, to dehumanize them and to mischaracterize their motivations and intent.
I don’t believe that gets us anywhere.
As I’ve spoken with people who support this movement, what I hear is very similar to what I felt when I joined Enough is Enough. Fear of a changing world, love for those who they believe will be marginalized and oppressed by the changes being made, anxiety as they seek to renegotiate their place in a society and space they no longer understand.
You may disagree with their viewpoint. You may disagree with the assertion that the health restrictions are oppressive, and that people are being marginalized, but ignoring and mischaracterizing the real fear and anxiety that sits behind a lot of this political action does not do any of us any good.
So many of the people turning up to these marches are normal people. They’re our brothers and sisters, our aunties and uncles, perhaps even our own parents. Some have never been political before in their life, others are from already marginalized communities, and are simply doing what they’ve had to do their entire life. Fight the power in order to be heard.
It’s always easy to blame them for causing division and stoking the seeds of fear and hate within society.
But before we do, we need to look at ourselves.
When in engaging in this space, what is our hope, and what is our intention?
Are we just trying to throw stones for the sake of it? Or do we actually want to foster unity, and hopefully, support people to turn away from worldviews and perspectives that have the potential to cause harm to our whānau and our communities?
Attacking and misrepresenting people doesn’t bring change. All it does is cause people to retract, to dig in, and to fight harder to assert that their view and way of seeing the world is right.
If we want to have productive kōrero with our whānau about this stuff, then the only way forward is Love. We must learn to listen to each other, to seek to understand each other’s worldviews, and how that shapes people to react and respond the way that they do.
And as we do this, we will find ways to communicate with each other that foster unity and protect against hatred and division.
At the end of the day, hatred and antagonism only causes more of the same.
Only Love is the way.
Only Love has any hope of bringing us forward… together.
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 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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