Pursuing Peace in Godzone

Pursuing Peace in Godzone

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Subtitle: Christianity and the Peace Tradition in New Zealand

This is a book about how New Zealanders have been inspired by visions for peace. Focusing on diverse Christian communities, it explores some of the ways that peace has influenced their practices, lifestyles and politics from the Second World War to the present—the period in which New Zealand’s peaceable image and reputation as ‘God’s Own Country’ grew and flourished. New Zealand Christians and others have worked for peace in many different ways, from attention-grabbing protests against nuclear weapons, apartheid and war, to quieter but no less important efforts to improve relationships within their churches, communities and the natural environment. Taken together their stories reveal a multifaceted but deeply influential thread of Christian peacemaking within New Zealand culture. These stories are by turns challenging and inspiring, poignant and amusing, and they continue to reverberate today in a world where peace remains elusive for many.

For earlier stories of New Zealand Christian peacemaking, see the companion to this volume: Saints and Stirrers: Christianity, Conflict and Peacemaking in New Zealand, 1814–1945, edited by Geoffrey Troughton.

Contributors: Jamie Allen, George Armstrong, Joseph A. Bulbulia, Manu Caddie, Jono Campbell, John Chote, Dorcas Dennis, Elizabeth Duke, Philip Fountain, Karen Kemp, Judy Kumeroa, Adi Leason, Chris Marshall, Peter Matheson, Tom Noakes-Duncan, Mike Ross, John H. Shaver, Andrew Shepherd, Chris G. Sibley, Geoffrey Troughton, Pamela Welch      

From: Pursuing Peace in Godzone, edited by Geoffrey Troughton and Philip Fountain

Chapter 1

Pursuing Peace in Godzone

Geoffrey Troughton & Philip Fountain

For many Kiwis, Anzac Day in 2017 began with attendance at dawn services to commemorate New Zealand troops who had died in action—a solemn form of remembrance that has grown in popularity in recent years. Later in the day, Anzac parades were held across the country with marching, bagpipes and other displays of military pageantry. The day was also marked, however, by small yet highly disruptive protests. These protests were part of a long tradition in this country of people opposing warfare and militarism under the banner of peace. Such opposition has always been controversial and the 2017 protests were no different.

In the capital city, protestors from Peace Action Wellington laid a wreath at the Wellington Cenotaph during the dawn ceremonies. They aimed to commemorate the deaths of civilians allegedly killed during New Zealand military operations in Afghanistan.1 Initially provocative, the action won the protestors publicity in the form of an interview with Newshub, a nationally televised news programme. As two of the protestors were discussing their motivations, the interview was dramatically interrupted. A twelve-year-old, along with his father, sharply condemned the activists. Wagging his finger, the precocious ‘tween’ declared that it was ‘wrong, wrong, wrong’ to protest on Anzac Day and that they had been shamelessly disrespectful.2 One of the protestors responded that Anzac Day should be a time to remember all those who died during war, including civilians. The exchange, which went back and forth for some minutes, was a broadcaster’s dream and ignited a national debate that continued in the media for weeks.

The attention-grabbing Newshub clip dominated Anzac Day coverage, obscuring other dynamics, and also overshadowing protests carried out elsewhere on that day. In Whanganui, for example, a small group of Quakers, mostly elderly women, held a quiet peace vigil at the local Anzac parade. The Religious Society of Friends, as the Quakers are more formally known, is a small Christian denomination that has been present in New Zealand since the early nineteenth century. It is a historically pacifist movement which has long advocated for a forthright peace stance. Holding up signs declaring ‘Honour the dead by ending war’ and ‘Build peace, cherish people, protect the planet’, this unassuming group of protestors sought to articulate a vision for Anzac Day which mourned the destruction and loss of armed conflict. Their hope was that war might be relegated to history, remembered only as a past tragedy, and replaced by an expansive, comprehensive peace.


These events on Anzac Day 2017 highlight some curious tensions in New Zealanders’ attitudes. One tension relates to martial and pacific tendencies, and the pride that New Zealanders take in the nation’s peacefulness as well as its legacy of military prowess. Another relates to the role of religion, and more specifically Christianity, in the contested spaces between conflict and peace.

Over the course of the twentieth century, and especially after the Second World War, New Zealand established a strong peace identity. This identity was forged at the state level through the nation’s historic participation in the formation of the United Nations in 1947, and subsequently through alignment with internationalism, ‘peacekeeping’ mandates, and attempts to cultivate an ‘independent foreign policy’.3 The growth of grassroots activism was also crucial, particularly around anti-nuclear campaigning, which ultimately resulted in the landmark ‘nuclear free’ legislation in 1987.4 Through these and other means, New Zealand came to regard itself as a ‘good international citizen’, valuing its reputation as a liberal, tolerant nation committed to peace.

Pride in New Zealand’s peacefulness was never only associated with opposition to war, however, or pursuit of what Johan Galtung and others have dubbed ‘negative peace’—cease-fire, or the absence of direct violence and armed conflict.5 New Zealanders have savoured for much longer the relative social harmony and prosperity that the nation has enjoyed. Colonial boosters touted New Zealand as an exceptionally beautiful and bounteous paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey. Comparatively open opportunity structures, relative freedom, support for egalitarian ideals, and legal and political stability lent credence to the image—popularised by Richard Seddon (New Zealand’s Premier from 1893 to 1906)—of New Zealand as God’s Own Country.6 The peacefulness of New Zealand, its quaint serenity, has bestowed on it the distinction of being ‘a great place to bring up kids’. In the contemporary era, indices measuring ‘positive peace’—including factors such as co-operative values, equity and equality within society—suggest that the nation has indeed fared well in this regard. For example, New Zealand consistently ranks highly in the Global Peace Index (second in 2017), while in 2017 it also ranked eighth in the World Happiness Report.7

Yet this peaceable reputation and identity stands in tension with other starker trajectories. New Zealand has contributed extensively to military conflicts throughout its history, and taken considerable pride in doing so. Historian Keith Sinclair famously referred to New Zealanders as ‘the Prussians of the Pacific’ on account of New Zealand’s militaristic national spirit.8 Such militarism was expressed, he believed, in an over-eagerness for deployment in global military conflagrations. This tendency had been evident from the South African War through to the total war conflicts of the First and Second World Wars and beyond. It was also apparent in the valorisation of war and war heroes in the national imagination, and in the shocking and unusually harsh treatment dished out to pacifists and war objectors during both World Wars.9 Tellingly, there is a far greater national historiography of war and war remembrance than of peace or peaceable protest.

Pride in New Zealand’s peacefulness also tends to belie the extent to which the nation has been troubled by internal conflict. As scholars of nineteenth-century New Zealand have emphasised, modern New Zealand was forged in conflict and contestation. Colonisation was not peaceful. It was expressed in forms of structural and outright violence. Indeed, the New Zealand Land Wars of the nineteenth century must be regarded as wars of suppression that decisively shaped the nation’s subsequent history.10 Tensions have also erupted periodically along class, ethnic and sectarian lines. Pervasive expressions of violence remain embedded in societal structures and cultural patterns—as is apparent in New Zealand’s troublingly high rates of domestic and sexual violence, and its abysmal statistics on youth suicide.11

In the tension between peaceable and martial narratives of New Zealand nationhood, Anzac Day occupies an ambiguous symbolic space. The landing of the troops at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, at the start of the Gallipoli campaign, has often been invoked as a key moment in the formation of New Zealand’s national identity. Myths of origin are important: they ascribe meanings to past events in order to give form and shape to the future. This raises significant questions about the Anzac imaginary. Is Anzac Day an emblem of militarism and glorification of war? Is it a day for celebrating bravery and heroism, or one of remembrance—of mourning for suffering, sacrifice and loss? And whose bravery, which loss? Like most rituals, Anzac Day is susceptible to different interpretations—not all of which are compatible.

Little wonder then that Anzac Day is contested in New Zealand, and across the Tasman, where Tom Frame describes it as Australia’s unofficial national day but also ‘one of its most controversial cultural habits’.12 The clashes of 2017 sit within a long, deep history of often heated debates about the meaning of Anzac Day, and concerning New Zealand’s participation in military action more generally. These confrontations point to recurring tensions over New Zealand’s national identity and the place of peace and violence within it.

Another tension from these stories concerns the role of religion in New Zealand culture and society. A striking feature of the Anzac Day dawn service is the extent to which it follows distinctively Christian patterns, including the singing of Christian hymns, despite New Zealand being thought of as a decidedly secular country.13 The invisibility of the quiet Quaker protest mimics the dominant trend of marginalising religion within public discourse. Moral codes grounded in explicitly religious convictions are often regarded with suspicion, if not disdain, and are all too easily neglected. This displacement is regrettable because New Zealand’s history is littered with colourful characters and remarkable events in which religious dynamics played a leading role.

Christianity and the Pursuit of Peace

This is a book about peace. It concerns ways that specifically Christian communities have engaged with peacemaking in New Zealand. The book explores the contours of Christian action on a range of fronts: ethical, institutional, theological. New Zealand Christianity is diverse, and Christian engagements with peace have reflected this diversity, in their varied conceptions of peacemaking and in the different methods they have employed. We emphasise questions of imagination and practice; the ways in which peace has been envisioned, embodied and enacted within particular communities, in connection with New Zealand society more broadly, and in relation to international currents.

Our focus is on the period from the Second World War to the present—the period in which New Zealand’s peaceable image and reputation grew and flourished. Another recent volume, Saints and Stirrers, has examined Christian peacemaking and opposition to war in the period from 1814 to 1945.14 Collectively, these two volumes establish the theme of peace as a vital dynamic in New Zealand history. Dreams of peace have animated communities’ imaginations, leading them to passionately pursue their visions of a better world. New Zealand historiography has tended to locate war as a decisive shaper of our national identity, with our experiences of war informing our sense of nationhood and place in the world. But these volumes show that other imaginaries—other sets of values, symbols and structures for making sense of social existence—have been just as decisive. They also locate Christianity as a vital dynamic within this unfurling history.

Peace has motivated New Zealand Christians in compelling ways, resulting in some remarkable stories that are delightful, disturbing, provocative and challenging. These stories deserve to be told and debated. This volume includes some stories that have grabbed media attention and attained a degree of celebrity, or notoriety. Others have been virtually invisible to all but those most immediately affected. Some tales are told in first person by those who were directly involved. All of the chapters seek to capture a sense of the urgency and necessity of their protagonists. These are stories about commitment and humanity captured through evocative narrative. Taken together they reveal a multifaceted but deeply influential thread within New Zealand culture that illuminates distinctive outlooks and sensibilities.

Since the 9/11 attacks in the United States, ‘religious terrorism’ has become a regular subject reported on by the global media, such that it now seems like an everyday occurrence. These two words have become welded together, with religion being imagined as especially prone toward violence.15 A dominant script asserts that religion breeds conflict and division. Yet religion is neither merely the ‘angel in the house’ nor an ‘irrational maniac’ that must be tamed, caged or eliminated.16 It is clearly implicated in the full spectrum of our political and social relationships, and plays complex, varied and dynamic roles across diverse societies.17 Rejecting trite stereotypes, this volume illustrates a more textured understanding of religion by focusing on the peaceable—if still highly political and frequently also disruptive—forces informing New Zealand Christianity.

The centennial of the First World War (1914–1918) has elicited a vast outpouring of literature and commemoration. Despite the diversity of this material, one effect has been to reinforce the centrality of warfare in shaping global geopolitics and national identities. Another effect has been to further normalise and entrench the institution of war. War and conflict are part of the backdrop behind many of the chapters in this volume, but the authors choose instead to foreground a different set of impulses; these reveal a more complex role for violence in society, in which it is alternatively embraced, subverted and negated. By attending to the impetus for making peace, this volume offers a valuable and necessary counterweight to the prevailing tendency to focus on war. Religious communities loom large as potential incubators of alternative imaginations and as agents of peaceable practices.

Framing Peace

As the preceding paragraph makes clear, peace is dynamically related to the question of war. The relationship can be oppositional, with peacemakers being deployed as anti-war agents. But peace also includes a broader spectrum of goals and practices. Peace can be thought of as being fundamentally about flourishing, wholeness and well-being. Conceptions of peace are rightly regarded as central to Christian Scripture, theology and ethics.18 In the Christian tradition, peace includes: the absence of conflict and violence, and the overcoming of hostility of all kinds; the enactment of justice, including putting things right; and delight and joy in all our relationships—with God, others, creation, and oneself.19 This expansive framing offers not a prescriptive set of tasks but rather a diverse repertoire of possible practices. Accordingly, a number of the following chapters are directly concerned with Christian peace commitments framed as opposition to militarism and war. Others address the question of peace in different forms, including in relation to bureaucratic infrastructure, ecological projects, community building and social justice initiatives.

There is something of a tension in Christian traditions over the primacy of peace understood as a matter of gift or of calling; that is, whether peace is primarily a divine action to be received and enjoyed, or a task that we must take up and actively pursue. While some would not preclude that peace may be a gift, the chapters in this volume are all weighted heavily toward investigations of Christian moral action. A striking feature is the common sense of Christian conviction that compels an activist stance toward the making of peace. Peace compels intentional, purposeful action.

Intentional enactment of peace can be achieved through a diverse set of methodologies. Indeed, peace in the Christian tradition is both end goal and method. In the final chapter, Chris Marshall presents a powerful argument for making the consistency of goal and method a decisive feature for a faithful Christianity. He contends that a forthright pacifism that disavows the use of violence is the only defensible Christian ethic. A number of the chapters present studies of activism inspired by such pacifist convictions. Yet New Zealand Christians concerned with peace have not solely couched their commitments in pacifist terms. This is striking, for example, in Dorcas Dennis’s account of ‘spiritual warfare’ in a migrant Pentecostal church, as well as in Elizabeth Duke’s account of New Zealand Quakers—a community that has deliberately styled itself as a ‘peace church’.

Many of the chapters that follow record the evocative use of Christian symbolism in the pursuit of peace. Christianity has always been seeped in multilayered symbols, metaphors, images and analogies. This volume attests to the creative deployment of this repository in Christian peacemaking efforts. Adi Leason’s dramatic narrative of a highly publicised protest, involving deflation of the radome covering an antenna at the Government Communications Security Bureau’s surveillance base at Waihopai, near Blenheim, provides a conspicuous example. That protest had the hallmarks of a David and Goliath scenario: an unlikely standoff between ludicrously mismatched powers, with elements of improvisation and farce. Yet it was also deeply reflective and carefully planned. In this parable of confrontation, the weapons of war were disarmed by the tools of agriculture, thus enacting—albeit temporarily—the biblical vision of a day when nations would ‘beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks’, and with this the cessation of war.20 Many of the chapters show similar patterns of creative use of symbolic capital.

Actions like these must be viewed as products of moral formation. They do not occur unprompted, without deliberation. In each of the chapters below we find examples of communities that have regarded peace as a virtue, and sought to cultivate, inspire and inculcate it through peaceable habits, dispositions, theologies and actions. The forging and remaking of different kinds of communities is a central feature in a number of chapters. Andrew Shepherd, for example, addresses ecological restoration work as a form of collective action; at Karioi, such action required co-operation between often fractured communities and interest groups, but it also became a means for achieving co-operation. Mike Ross, Manu Caddie, Jono Campbell and Judy Kumeroa, in their chapter on Te Ora Hou Aotearoa, highlight the power of disenfranchised youth finding healthy communities that they want to belong to, and the importance of helping them to reconcile as best as possible with the communities in which they are already embedded. By contrast, chapters by Karen Kemp and Elizabeth Duke focus on the communities of particular national denominations—the Anglicans and Quakers respectively—and their significance in the work of peace.

The chapters illustrate a range of different peacemaking methodologies. Protest methodologies feature prominently, with their attendant sense of conflict and theatre. As with Leason’s narrative, George Armstrong and Peter Matheson’s accounts of Christian anti-nuclear campaigning during the 1970s and 1980s involve stories of public action, with peacemaking bodies placed visibly in confrontation with the powers that be. These are accounts of movements. Yet within movements, individuals play particular roles—often at considerable cost to themselves as well as their families. Tom Noakes-Duncan notes that Christian pacifists were the most vocal anti-war critics during the Second World War. For Ormond Burton, opposition to war led to a breach with his own church, and, along with Archibald Barrington, to imprisonment. Two of Pamela Welch’s subjects—John Osmers and Michael Lapsley—suffered serious physical injuries, including lost hands, as a result of letter bombs sent as punishment for their anti-apartheid campaigning in southern Africa.

Notions of reconciliation and restoration have a rich resonance within Christianity; such language is widely employed as a way of understanding the work of Christ, but also as an ethical imperative. Restoration and reconciliation methodologies are evident in Dennis’s ethnographic vignette, which is partly a story about the overcoming of conflicts between ethnically diverse African Christian migrants in New Zealand. Significantly, though Welch primarily narrates their anti-apartheid activism, the later ministries of Osmers and Lapsley both gravitated towards healing, hospitality and reconciliation. In a moving account that weaves personal, institutional and community dynamics, Jamie Allen tells the story of attempts to reckon with Taranaki Cathedral’s chequered history. The chapter describes reconciliatory practice operating on a range of fronts: within a church, between church and society, and notably between Māori and Pākehā. In this latter respect, the chapter highlights the central, distinctive roles of the Treaty of Waitangi and biculturalism in New Zealand’s history of peacemaking.

Reconciliatory methodologies are often related with social justice, and many of the chapters point to this close relationship. In their discussion of Te Ora Hou’s work with Māori youth, Ross and his colleagues analyse the politics of marginalisation and address innovative attempts to respond to this displacement. John Chote’s study of St Joseph’s, in the Catholic Parish of Wellington South, is a compelling account of a church with a long history of commitment to peacemaking and social service. As in Duke’s account of the Quakers, this interweaving between peace and social justice is so tight so as to leave hardly any space between them.

A final set of methodologies relate to the use of iconography and ritual in peaceable formation and practice. In Dennis’s chapter, fighting the devil provides a startling example of Pentecostal ritualised action. There are also marked instances within other traditions, including the Anglican and Catholic churches. Allen’s narrative hinges on the reordering of sacred space, and ritualisation of this adjustment through deliberate processes of community engagement. Chote’s account of St Joseph’s identifies a range of peace-orienting ritual practices that are ingrained in the rhythm of community life, as well as the crucial influence of the form and aesthetics of the church’s facilities: its architecture, art and iconography.

All of these methods and actions raise important implicit questions about the success or otherwise of Christian moral formation in peacemaking. Expressed simply: how important is peace to New Zealand Christianity? How central has it really been? One of the concluding chapters in this volume, by John Shaver, Joseph Bulbulia and Chris Sibley, represents an attempt to address this question, offering an explanation for somewhat variegated and apparently conflicting patterns. Drawing upon rich quantitative data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, the chapter highlights a prevailing conservatism within New Zealand Christianity. The finding demonstrates the value of employing different analytical methodologies, and the insights they can yield. It also raises further questions, for we know that small traditions can also have effects out of proportion to their size, and that some dynamics are not captured by numbers alone.

How to Read This Book

Before moving to the chapters themselves, it is worth offering some clarifications about the book and guidance on how to read it. In terms of its contents, the book’s chapters represent an impressively broad range of Christian engagements with peacemaking, but they do not aspire to offer a comprehensive account of such action. Many further examples could be identified and explored. Indeed, it is our hope that this book will help to open up this field and stimulate further research.

Stylistically, most of the chapters in this volume pursue a strongly narrative approach. This approach is intentional. On the one hand, stories are basic to the social sciences because they represent perhaps the most fundamental form of interpersonal communication. Readers should not be surprised to find stories told in a number of different ways, using a range of social-scientific methods, including ethnography, history and biography. Autobiography and first-hand accounts also feature, for many of the chapters are written by participants in the events described. This lends an immediacy and evocativeness to the writing. Readers should not expect each author to conform to the purported virtue of scholarly detachment, which is in any case largely mythical. Likewise, theologising has not been expunged from the text, though neither has it been required. This inclusiveness of the theological is out of a conviction that a mature conversation about religion will not blindside practitioners themselves. The hope is that this approach is provocative and stimulating for readers, regardless of their own locations. Those authors who own a theological position themselves represent a range of different traditions and perspectives.

In its attempt to furnish accessible, engaging accounts available to a broad readership, the volume can be read as a form of ‘public history’ or ‘public anthropology’. A primary virtue of a narrative approach is the capacity of stories to engage a wide audience. Accessibility is further enhanced because of the brevity of each of the chapters. These are concise and focused interventions in particular themes, topics and events. References have been kept to a minimum, and are located in endnotes largely to signal places where those wanting further information might start.

In broad strokes, the organisation of the volume conforms to an historical arc, beginning during the Second World War and ending in contemporary responses to the Anzac Day commemorations. Despite this, the book is not necessarily the sort of volume that should be read in linear fashion from start to finish. Readers are encouraged to pick and choose and follow the strands they wish in the order they prefer. Each chapter stands alone, though we are confident that the value and significance of the volume adds up to more than the sum of its individual parts.

Our basic claim is that the will for peace, and peacemaking action, forms a more crucial element in New Zealand’s history than analyses have typically allowed. We also contend that Christianity has been an important part of this dynamic. These are not claims for New Zealand’s exceptionalism, or the uniqueness of Christianity. The collection of studies we provide here simply does not allow for adjudication over these issues. Nevertheless, our evidence does establish Christianity as a significant driver of peace action within New Zealand’s recent history. This striking observation will, we hope, spark further conversations and debates in New Zealand and also further afield.

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