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Election night

Learning From The Election

Election night

Much of New Zealand’s election on Saturday, and discussions around it, forms parables for the church.

First the difference: anyone can examine detailed political statistics, drill down, and analyse them. But, although NZ Anglicanism keeps some localised statistics (diocese by diocese), it insists on keeping no national statistics.

Saturday’s NZ election result was a surprise. In spite of Dirty Politics, Dotcom’s ‘Moment of Truth‘, even the resignation of a minister, John Key and National have returned with an even larger majority, now with 48 per cent of the vote and, hence, able to govern alone should they so wish. Labour only received about half this percentage.

Soul-searching in response to the decimation of the vote for Labour and the Left has already begun. Clearly an approach that says, “the voters are wrong”, is no solution. There is a cultural issue on the Left; this may involve a change of leadership, but changing the leadership will not be sufficient to change the culture. Financially, the Left is now also broke. This was alluded to in David Cunliffe’s speech on Saturday night.

One very important point is that whenever people describe their perspectives, their hopes, when they answer questions, for example, on the online voting tool Vote Compass, then the majority indicated the policies they prefer are more those of Labour. Yet this is not the party they voted for. There is a disconnect between what the party centrally affirms that it stands for, and what people generally see the party as standing for.

The party needs to communicate its message better; it needs to be refreshed; it needs more funds.

Another point, now often repeated, is that the parties on the Left failed to be seen as working together, failed to be seen as a viable government in waiting.

I’d be surprised if you haven’t picked up the parable. But, I’ll unpack what some of it means…

Pretty much any church statistics we do have are trending downwards: numbers attending, numbers of stipended clergy, numbers of baptisms, sizes of church buildings (current and planned; current buildings are made to look fuller by removing pews), numbers of parishes (two decades ago I would have put a church community with a stipended priest for every 10,000 population – I don’t know what church strategists would do now, do they plan one for every 20,000?).

Failing to communicate our message

We say we are about sharing the good news, nurturing believers, loving service to those in need, transforming injustice and pursuing peace, and caring for and renewing creation. Ordinary, non-church people would probably tick a good four or five of those “five marks” of our church mission statement. That’s what they probably want to put real energy into. That’s probably what they would love to be part of supporting, and having people support them in. But how many people in the church would even be able to articulate those five marks clearly? And instead there is a disconnect between what the church centrally affirms that it stands for, and what people generally see the church as standing for.

People see us as

  • obsessing about sexuality; especially being against homosexuals
  • being against evolution, science, and reason generally
  • being hypocritical (watch the film Calvary if you are not aware of the way the church’s sex scandals have completely turned those formerly for us against us)
  • being judgmental

In my experience non-churchgoing people are intensely interested in spirituality, often have a deep spirituality themselves (maybe more than many churchgoing people), are caring about people and the environment (again, often more than many churchgoing people), love grappling intelligently with issues of meaning, love, justice, suffering, and so on – but just do not have any sense that church is a place to do this, and that church would aid and support them in their interests… Clearly an approach that says, “the non-churchgoers are wrong”, is no solution.

Needing to be refreshed

One statistic that has resounded for me was the recent announcement that the average age of curates now is over 50 years old. Two decades ago, I warrant, it was two decades younger. The shift to hazy pathways to ordination has generally failed to attract younger postulants for ordination and leadership, in a world that continues to provide clear pathways to other lifelong vocations and careers. The youth are not as averse to sacrifice and discipline as the older, who lower expectations, may presume.

The church needs more funds

This needs little unpacking. Even to continue the cut-back activities still remaining, demands funds beyond our imagining to find.

Christian communities and denominations fail to be seen as working together

Statistics corroborate the sense that Christian communities and denominations are fighting over the shrinking remnant still willing to attend church. Disagreement and difference is what is seen. Even within denominations, subgroups are identified with evermore dividing adjectives.

As with the election, so with the church: my thoughts of what some of the problems and possible solutions are may be way off the mark, you may have a much better idea, but this is a time to be open to each other’s thoughts, not threatened by them and shutting and shouting each other down.

As with the election, so with the church: the seeds of the solutions must be sown in the soil of honesty about the problems. And that includes statistical honesty. As with the election, so with the church: we must not skip over the question – is it worth solving, and if so, why?

So do add your thoughts here.

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26 thoughts on “Learning From The Election”

  1. Excellent, Bosco!

    I am broadly in support of the direction you head in here. However an obvious caveat would be that the church is responsive to God’s revelation as well as to the people. (Political parties that claim to be responsive to God’s revelation … !!) Thus we are always working out (what statistics mean, how we work ecumenically, etc) in a tension … but it is not always a creative tension.

    May I gently tease a point with you? In seeking to be responsive to the people and what they want re spirituality, our liturgical rules as Anglicans have not always been, are not always presently helpful in working out what it means to be faithful to our heritage and to be adaptive to present day spirituality. Taking a cue from your post, I am keen to be responsive to congregational reality!

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      I would put a caveat on your caveat, that the church intends/hopes to be responsive to God’s revelation – not that it always is.

      I’m not sure what your “teasing” point is, sorry.


      1. One way to think about our liturgical rules is that they constrain what we would like to do in certain contexts where we believe that responding to the people around us leads us to do liturgy in a way which is inconsistent with our rules.

        1. Thanks, Peter. So we don’t risk sidetracking into liturgical minutiae (there are other posts where that would be fine), yes – the church is not called to satisfy everyone’s every whim or surface desire. To stay within the parable – the solution for Labour is not just to be National-lite (light blue). The solution for the church is not just to be “World”-lite. I think we can be true (truer) to our calling and nature and be more attractive/attracting. Blessings.

          1. Indeed, Bosco. But isn’t Labour’s problem that National is (despite vilification of its rightist leanings) Red-lite? 🙂

    2. Peter, I agree with your comment – with a caveat 🙂
      The point is that we (‘the church’) too often insist that we understand God’s revelation and they (‘the wider populace’) do not. We too easily forget that God’s revelation is an ongoing, constant process, which none of us has a full understanding of, and important moments of revelation take place from outside the established religion. (there are plenty of examples of this in the Bible and since).
      So I believe we need to be much more open to what ‘others’ can teach us about God.

      1. Possibly true. God made it very clear on Saturday night that he doesn’t think much of socialism!

        (Or perhaps people don’t agree that God speaks from the ‘wrong’ side of the political divide)

  2. “the parties on the Left failed to be seen as working together” – is, I believe, a major issue surrounding the issues running up to the election. Despite the ‘problems’ thrown at them, the nats remained united/together, and that was seen as a very strong plus, in their favour.
    The Church as a whole needs, in it’s appropriate ways, to come together. Isn’t this exactly what Pope Francis is saying? Sadly I don’t hear that from Archbishop Welby or any of the Anglican leaders, ( except dear +Tutu ).
    In recent months I have heard many Anglican friends say ‘there is no national ( Anglican )church’ – each Dio appears to be doing it’s own thing without much reference to each other. Is that good?
    What you outline Bosco is right. A unified opposition, AND a unified Church in the true sense of ecumenism, could both be very powerful forces in this Country.
    Just one more thought. I really wish people would stop using the ‘Gay Vote’ and same-sex marriage as the latest scapegoats to avoid getting on with issues that matter.
    Prayers and blessings, Graham-Michoel

  3. Very well written and an excellent parallel. My experience comes from within the Pentecostal church and I confirm everything you have said. And you’re right about honesty. If leaders don’t recognise that there is a problem in the first place, there is no solution. But here’s the thing…I think there is a growing movement of dissatisfaction in Christendom. We’re not disgruntled and bitter, but focussed on what the Bible says about Church and what it looks like…bare bones stuff. Who are we really as the Bride of Christ? What is our purpose? It certainly isn’t to attract more bums on seats. There may not be a solution for the mainstream churches who refuse to acknowledge the problem. But there is a solution for each of us which is to make sure our own hearts are pointed to Christ. Bring glory to Jesus in what we say and do and don’t worry about the establishment going astray, expect to continue to speak the Truth when led, which is what you have done here. Thanks for this.

  4. Excellent post Bosco – you challenge me as to how closely my life matches the points you ascribe to the Church, and yet which few of us live out authentically. The parallel with the Labour Party and their election outcome is apt in my view. Your reflection is worthy of wider consideration and appropriate application by those who regard ourselves as disciples of Christ. I’m reminded of Philip Yanceys anecdote, at least as I recall it, in ‘What’s so amazing about Grace?’ of the young woman attempting to support her infant child by engaging in prostitution and feeling bad about herself. On being encouraged to seek out a church, her response was along the lines ‘why would I do that, they’d only make me feel bad about myself’

    1. Thanks, Stephen, like Susan Dominikovich, for your encouragement and affirmation. I don’t think either of you have commented here previously – so, welcome. How did you come to find this site? Blessings.

  5. obsessing about sexuality; especially being against homosexuals
    being against evolution, science, and reason generally
    being hypocritical (watch the film Calvary if you are not aware of the way the church’s sex scandals have completely turned those formerly for us against us)
    being judgmental

    I can but agree! I also think the hierarchy are intellectually dishonest for failing to vigorously promote what is common knowledge in the world of secular scholarship about gender, sex and sexuality. The church is the very last place I would recommend anyone struggling with their gender or sexual identity to turn to.

  6. Interesting reflection, and parallel. The difficulty for the church is that its problems, and relative/absolute decline seem much more deeply entrenched. We’ve seen numerous dramatic turns in the political fortunes of each major party in the time when the church has been headed only one way (in this country, and in most of the advanced world). But our hope is in the Lord who made the heaven and the earth, and who promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his kingdom,

  7. Thanks Bosco. After reading your post, I thought there are probably also parables in the failures of coalitions.
    For example, Labour lost support when it said it wouldn’t work with the Greens. But a lot of its support base are Labour-Green.
    ACT and the Conservatives between them had over 5% of the vote but only one MP in Parliament. Their insistence on maintaining separate identities has damaged them both.
    On the other hand, we can see the damage done by the ill considered coalition of Mana and the Internet party, with the one standing MP losing his seat.
    One irony, I personally spotted on election night, was the Green party had their function what used to be Beresford Street Congregational Church. A large part of the Congregational Church united with the Presbyterian Church around 1969. In the long run, neither church benefited from this process as they could not work out how to build strength from it.

    So the things I pull out from this are that if we continue with ardent denominationalism, we will gradually fade into irrelevance (many people are no longer interested in denominations as historically defined). But we also need to be wary if ill-considered alliances that are based more on the urge to survive than the potential to grow.

  8. I’m very glad that you’ve highlighted the average age of curates as an issue. These days the phrase ‘late vocation’ seems to apply to someone in their 70s, not their 40s as it used to. It is no wonder that the Church is bereft of vigour when the bishops won’t ordain younger candidates. That isn’t to say that older candidates don’t being their own gifts, of course, but nobody has as much energy in their 50s as in their 20s. Bishops ought to realize this and ordain a mix of candidates, with an emphasis on the younger, energetic ones. Sure, sometimes younger clergy can stuff things up because of inexperience, but give me a priest with enthusiasm over one without any day!

    I remember attending a parish a few years ago as a guest speaker. The parish priest was youngish, in his mid 30s, I imagine. He was more than ably assisted by a high school student who’d come to the parish youth group having been referred by a teacher at his local state school as his parents were splitting up. The student was clearly in his element, treating the elderly parishioners with great love and respect and treating me far better than I could have hoped for, setting up audiovisual stuff without my having to ask. At the end of the morning I said to the priest that, after a theology degree the young man really ought to be ordained as his vocation was so obvious. The priest just looked at me sadly, and said to me, ‘We both know that won’t happen. The bishop will just send him away, telling him to get a life, and thus that life will be lost to the Church’. So true, so sad. Nonetheless, I can just pray that, despite the likely response from the episcopate, he may be an ‘early’ vocation to the priesthood somehow.

    1. Thanks for this perspective, Robert. I think this may possibly be quite different here than in Australia. I don’t think a significant issue here (maybe I am mistaken in my understanding) is bishops being unwilling to ordain younger people that is leading to the average age of ordinands being so high. In Australia would the normal path to ordination still be via residential seminary/theological college formation? If so, that is no longer the case here. Young people here no longer see a clear path leading to, and in, a lifelong vocational career of priesthood. Blessings.

      1. This has apparently been an issue in American mainline churches for a while now, especially the Episcopal Church–there was a whole volume edited by Fr. Nathan Humphrey on how the clergy of his cohort (about 10 years ago) were facing this bias in favor of ordaining older people. Things might be changing. I don’t know.

  9. I wonder if the challenge of building unity in the church is better compared with the challenge of getting unity in the whole country rather than unity on one half of the political spectrum? Having said that we should not think that unity in Christ will mean that we end up with the same position on various social or political issues. One of our mistakes in this regard may be that we expect more from the political sphere than we should. My observation is that there is significant unity in the Church in NZ, and many if not most local churches I visit display signs of authentic Christian community and service to their local communities.

  10. Bosco I disagree with you here. I don’t

    “People see us as

    obsessing about sexuality; especially being against homosexuals
    being against evolution, science, and reason generally
    being hypocritical (watch the film Calvary if you are not aware of the way the church’s sex scandals have completely turned those formerly for us against us)
    being judgmental”

    I don’t thinks any of these things and I don’t know anyone who does.

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