Whether Coalition New Zealand is a Christian party or not (the Tamakis themselves are divided), the idea that they, the New Conservatives, an Alfred Ngaro-led vehicle or any religious party can get into parliament does not stand scrutiny

Three Christians walk into a bar. A Catholic, a Presbyterian and a Life Church member... None of them vote for the same party. No, it's not much of a punch line, I confess. But then the idea of a Christian Party isn't much of an idea.

The theory that there's room for a Christian party in New Zealand politics has been tossed about quite a bit in recent years. The idea is that it is a missing piece in the New Zealand political jigsaw, but there's very little evidence to suggest it's a piece New Zealand voters are looking for. Or that it would be able to join together easily with other pieces.

Alfred Ngaro looked destined to test that theory in recent days, with the suggestion from both him and his current leader, Simon Bridges, that he could breakaway from National and lead a conservative Christian party that could become a useful coalition partner for National one day. That was a bad idea badly floated. From the get-go it cursed any party Ngaro might start with the stigma of being a National Party stalking horse. A convenience. A political calculation. It looks cynical, something New Zealanders have made clear they don't like.

Then, today, the announcement that Destiny Church would launch a party called Coalition New Zealand. Hannah Tamaki, the wife of church leader Brian, will lead the party. That's the one smart thing about this otherwise doomed manoeuvre. They join the New Conservative Party in what looks to suddenly be a very busy political space.

Busy, but ultimately barren. Why? First, the maths.

Trying to win and keep and electorate seat in New Zealand – unless you're called Labour, National or David – is seriously hard. Ask the Greens and Kim Dotcom. Or the old Conservatives. Incumbency matters and local loyalties run deep. So the best – probably the only – chance for these new parties is to hit five percent. That means roughly 135,000 votes. 

Now if you look at the 2013 census, you'll see about 90,000 New Zealanders label themselves as members of churches at the pentecostal end of the spectrum. These are mostly fundamentialists, who tend to consider the bible as the literal word of God and take a conservative world view. Even if I'm generous and include the Baptists and Salvation Army in that, I can only get to around 150,000.

Sure, you might rightly say that plenty more in the more mainline Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian demoninations share conservative views. But my point at the top remains; it is incredibly hard to throw any kind of blanket over the political views of these people. 

Through 2000 years of persecution, domination, reformation and enlightenment, Christians have morphed into all kinds of ideological shapes and sizes. Even supposed fundamentals of the faith – including the fully divine, fully human theology around Christ and belief in his resurrection – are fudgy in many churches. To argue there is a common dogma on which to base a political movement, is (to be biblical) a bit like the blind leading the blind.

Some have tried to tie these parties to conservative views on abortion, ethanasia and drug laws. If they did the same to other faiths, they would likely be mocked for lazy stereotyping. Yes, church-goers would skew more conservative on those issues than New Zealanders as a whole, but these are not defining Christian issues. Not in New Zealand. In short, the chance to pulling the numbers together is miniscule.

Next, the history. Think Graeme Lee and Graham Capill. Think Taito Phillip Field. Think Colin Craig (kind of). Think Brian Tamaki, the last time he tried to start a political party, Destiny New Zealand, back when he was a new and vibrant voice. Yes, this is a second coming for Brian Tamaki, whose first attempt at politics garnered just 0.6 percent in 2005. For many years, both BC (before Capill) and AD (After Destiny [NZ]), New Zealanders have shown severe scepticism when it comes to bringing religion into politics.

Further, those attempts at Christian political parties are a liturgy of scandal and failure. And to remind us of that, the Tamakis today drew on the legacy of the party that has got closest to the five percent threshold, the Christian Coalition. It got to 4.33 percent in the 1996 election, and it offers two pertinent lessons to the Tamaki's Coalition New Zealand.

The first is that even with a sitting MP and a single, united Christian party at a time when MMP was new and faith in the major parties low, the Christian Coalition couldn't get over the line. Second, part of the Christian Coalition's problem was internal squabbling over policy and theology. The two are a potent combination. Fine theological lines can equate to political chasms. While Hannah Tamaki offered Alfred Ngaro a suitably biblical "olive branch" today, the chance of them coming together is next to zero. 

Even in a half hour launch today, the Tamakis couldn't agree. Clearly conscious of the near-impossible maths, Hannah insisted this was not a Christian party, something few New Zealanders will believe. At the end of the press conference, Brian said it was a Christian party, which is more honest, but shows the confusion.

What's more, Hannah said she would not want to over-turn the Marriage Equality Act. Ngaro voted against that and the New Conservatives define "marriage as between one biological man and one biological woman". Good luck squaring that circle.

Finally, you come to the calibre and political nous of the people involved. Hannah Tamaki is likeable, no doubt. She had some nifty phrases today ("succulent chicken") and her mish-mash comments touched on potentially profitable areas, such as more money for poor families as long as it goes on the kids or looking after New Zealanders before immigrants (although that is hardly in accord with Leviticus 18). But she clearly has no idea how to turn cant into policy. And for those who feel strongly about those things, political options already exist.

If you heard Hannah Tamaki's interview with Lisa Owen on Checkpoint this evening, it would have been hard not to write-off Coalition New Zealand as an ill-prepared family indulgence. She had no policy beyond passion for families and wanting abortions to be illegal. She had spoken in her announcement about harmful government policies, but asked to name one she talked about "discrimination" againt her husband, not allowing Destiny's Man Up programme into prisons. Asked about her own policies, she talked about more women getting mammograms because of her daughter's cancer. Asked about funding, she referred to friends funding the party. She said homosexuality is a sin, comparing it to beating a spouse, but that if someone was gay and non-Christian is was "their choice". It shows every sign of being a family folly.

Ill-prepared? Asked about immigration she said 500 people "coming in" might be OK, but 5000 might be "too many". The latest migrant arrival numbers from March total 152,000. Asked whether she agreed with lifting the debt cap to fund welfare, she clearly had no idea what the debt cap was.

There is no united Christian culture on which to build a political movement that could get to five percent. And even if there was, these aren't the people to do it. And even if Ngaro or the New Conservatives might have had a chance (they wouldn't have, but I'm being generous), Coalition New Zealand sinks those aspirations. 

While these voices will get more public exposure as moral issues and conscience votes come to the fore in the coming months, don't expect any of these so-called Christian parties to trouble the scorers. More likely they wither on the vine. 

Three Christians walk into politics? The joke is on them.

Comments (13)

by Lee Churchman on May 24, 2019
Lee Churchman

Ten years ago, I would have immediately agreed with you. Given the significant rise in public authoritarianism since then, anything could happen–although with Brian Tamaki in charge, it probably won't. You'd be surprised how many people have gone hard right. I recently met a middle-aged Māori man who is a fervent Tommy Robinson supporter (go figure). 

If they run as a Christian party, they won't get in, but if they run as grievance-based authoritarians defending 'decent people' against the liberal scourge, they have a decent chance.

by Gavan O'Farrell on May 24, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

I agree with @Lee Churchman, except I would add that, when Christianish parties failed in the past, the environment lacked not only the public authoritarianism Lee refers to but also the steady spray of anti-Christian vitriol one finds in today's press.

Mind you, the latter factor is relatively minor in electoral terms because we Christians are only a shrinking minority, and we can't be counted on to agree on all matters of policy.  

Interestingly, our critics like to describe us as people who don't vary at all.  This is what has been thrown at us in "discussion" about euthanasia - the notion that we follow some single, fixed party line.  

by Liam Hehir on May 24, 2019
Liam Hehir

Good piece, Tim. But I feel bound to point out that Catholicism is not a "denomination."

by Gavan O'Farrell on May 24, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Liam, What is it?

by Liam Hehir on May 24, 2019
Liam Hehir

Well, it’s pre-denominational really. The splinter is not the branch. You could possibly say the same thing for the Orthodox. i accept that’s a very particular reading of history.

by Lee Churchman on May 24, 2019
Lee Churchman

@Gavan

...the steady spray of anti-Christian vitriol one finds in today's press.

I can understand that in the case of Brian Tamaki, who is probably the most unpopular non-criminal in New Zealand, but what is the other stuff?

by Tim Watkin on May 24, 2019
Tim Watkin

Um, yeah, a particular reading... Heh.

Lee, there is a whole other post about Hannah Tamaki's partial skill at referring to that line of thinking... she spoke about lefties not allowing others to disagree with them and a few other things. But a) I don't think that's what motivates the Tamakis or what they are on about (hence the family indulgence line) and B) I still don't think that authorian streak runs as deep here. 

by Gavan O'Farrell on May 24, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Lee.  The Folau furore was one. You have to be despised to be so deliberately misunderstood.  And, besides, much of the commentary was general raging about Christianity.

This is another, in the Dom Post this week: https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/112899947/can-the-one-christian-god-please-stand-up-being-religious-in-2019-aint-easy

The euthanasia "discussion" included a great deal of resentment that Catholics had the effrontery to make submissions to a Select Committee and online discussion included a lot of attempts to "out" Christian contributors.  Indeed, there are many accounts that the Select Committee then went and did the same thing:  "world view profiling", I would call it.    Here is another in Stuff (8 May):   https://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/112540202/christchurch-call-fall-short-of-the-scale-of-terror-online-report-says#commentsSee commenter Balrog's reference to "sky fairies" and consider the fairness of not allow me to reply.

 

Even the languid, blokey Joe Bennett, pontificating from his hammock, has a regular crack at Christians for being irrational and believing in the Tooth Fairy etc.

It's pervasive.  The sort of thing only Christians will really notice, I think.  We are all less likely to notice mistreatment of "others".

by Gavan O'Farrell on May 24, 2019
Gavan O'Farrell

@Tim.  You don't think the authoritarian streak "runs as deep here".  

Compared with what?  It's not as bad as the US, and possibly less entrenched than in Australia.  Is that the comparison?  The internet, where much of this is happening and catching, crosses the Pacific and the Tasman.

Could we ask instead whether it's deeper than it should be for a free society?  

It seems to me that we now live in an environment of denunciation, in which people are increasingly afraid to speak their mind.  If, that is, their mind is not in harmony with the current orthodoxy.  (I hope I haven't misunderstood you.)

by Matthew Percival on May 25, 2019
Matthew Percival

There is a vote there for a Christian Party and/or a party to the right of National (not ACT they are a libetarian party). However, without a leader who has pre-existing public appeal it's 3-4%. 

What could change things is an electorate seat. I'm not as convinced as Tim that kiwi's hate such arrangements.

What will scupper such a party is the association with Brian & Hannah Tamaki. Yes, they have their supporters but you'd be struggling to find anyone outside of their parish who would entertain voting for them.

by Lee Churchman on May 25, 2019
Lee Churchman

@Gavan

The Folau affair was to me an issue of employee's rights to freedom of religion and belief rather than freedom of expression. I don't think his beliefs (or any others for that matter) should be protected from dissent or even ridicule. But it's entirely odious for his employer to sack him for quoting the Bible on his own time (I looked up the passage myself, and although my Greek is a bit rusty these days, that is pretty what it says). 

It seems to me that we now live in an environment of denunciation, in which people are increasingly afraid to speak their mind.

This, it seems to me, is the heart of the matter. Whether you are a female tech journalist, Hillary Clinton, or a religious rugby player, you don't seem to be able to express yourself without attracting online hate mobs (egged on by news sites for which fanning the flames  is now a business model).

Even some radical feminists, many of whom were prone to dogpiling others are now subject to it for their unpopular beliefs about transwomen (I must admit to a degree of schadenfreude on that one). That's not the mark of a liberal or tolerant society. 

The internet has made people horrible and intolerant, and it's turning democracy into a menace instead of a boon. While we're not India, Hungary, or Australia, things could conceivably get quite poisonous here. 

by Tim Watkin on May 27, 2019
Tim Watkin

Gavan and Tim... the envionment of denunciation concerns me too. Regardless of our connection to the internet, I don't see the authoritarianism that has taken hold in the US and parts of central Europe taking hold here. I still think our DNA is quite resistant to being told what to do – especially by people lecturing us from a pulpit. 

But I do see the polarisation and dragonfire of denunciation (which are different from the above). It really worries me. We have to learn how to disagree better. Rather than stand up for ourselves with courtesy, more and more people feel the 'right' thing to do is to denounce others. And Folau was as guilty of that as the people who pilled on with such vengence. Here's hoping we can recall some common ground.

by Gregor W on May 31, 2019
Gregor W

"But I feel bound to point out that Catholicism is not a "denomination"....The splinter is not the branch."

Sort of.

The Latin Church is more accurately a schism (one of the five patriarchies), but in general usage, denomination basically fits the bill in that it is acknowledges the RC as an autonimous branch of the Christian faith with its own liturgical doctrine.

Hair splitting though, I guess, but it's really only Catholics and the Holy See itself who view themselves as pre-denominational originators rather than as a schism / denomination.

 

 

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