Why are we on a Treaty Journey?
1. The gospel of reconciliation inspires us.
The Baptist Union’s Treaty Affirmation statement puts it this way: “the gospel of Christ breaks down barriers and brings people into new relationships.” The gospel proclaims that in Jesus Christ all people groups are reconciled (Eph 2:19) and that the Church, the body of Christ, are ambassadors of this ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19-20). Churches witness to this gospel when they become genuinely inter-cultural communities, united under the lordship of Christ across lines of race, class, culture and gender (Gal 3:28). In our country, where historically relationships between indigenous Māori and European settlers (primarily but not exclusively), continue to be strained, it is church communities like Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, inspired by this gospel vision, that can show the way toward unity.
2. The covenant of Te Tiriti compels us.
According to the Baptist Union’s Treaty Affirmation statements, Te Tiriti o Waitangi was considered a “kawenata (covenant) that was witnessed and affirmed in the presence of God.” The treaty was brokered and translated by Christian missionaries and signed by both tangata whenua (people of the land) and the British Crown on February 6th 1840. The Crown subsequently asserted themselves as governors of this land and took control of entry into it, thus, all who have made New Zealand home are tangata tiriti (people of the treaty). As people under Te Tiriti and as Christians who carry on the legacy and mission of those first missionaries who brokered its signing, we at Oxford Terrace Baptist Church have a responsibility to uphold treaty principles (such as partnership with Māori tribes/organisations, protection of Māori customs, and equal participation of Māori people). We should also hold the government to account for ensuring they keep promises they made to Māori and rectify wrongs they have committed.
3. The justice of God commands us.
In the Baptist Union’s Treaty Affirmation Statements, our churches promised to “encourage our members to acknowledge injustices inflicted upon Māori locally, nationally, and within our movement, and to support all attempts to redress the wrongs of the past, and to prevent further wrongs being inflicted…” (2.3). Justice is a biblical imperative. Our God is a God of justice (Ps 50:6). Through the prophets of the Old Testament, God holds his people accountable for neglecting justice and taking advantage of the vulnerable (Isa 1:21–23; Jer 22:13–16). It is vital that we at Oxford Terrace Baptist Church are both aware, and willing to repent, of past and present ways we benefit(ed) from the breaking of covenant promises embedded in the Treaty. The God of justice also asks us to become active agents in restoring justice and enhancing the mana (dignity) of our Māori brothers and sisters in Christ.
4. The mission of God calls us.
A further point specified by the Baptist Union in the Treaty Affirmation Statements is a desire to “break down institutional and other cultural barriers that prevent Māori responding as ‘Māori’, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (1.2) It is fair to say that the mission of the Church in New Zealand has been seriously compromised not only through explicit racist attitudes, but also implicit racist systems that side-line Māori and others at best, and at worst, exclude them from becoming full participants, alongside Pākehā, within our churches. Last year NZBMS apologised for the “historic abandoning of mission to Māori by the Baptist Churches of New Zealand.” For the majority of our history, we as NZ Baptists have directed our missionary focus and resources globally towards overseas evangelism endeavours, at the expense of local efforts among Māori. While there is much to celebrate in the global mission history of NZBMS over the past century and a half, we must also accept that this success has come at the expense of seeing Māori come to Christ and come into our churches. NZBMS are coming to terms with this past neglect and are seeking forgiveness as they “work to reengage with Māori as genuine partners” in the call of God’s mission. Oxford Terrace Baptist, a church integral to the founding of NZBMS, should consider what this means for us too.
Quotes taken from:
“Treaty Affirmation Statements (Amended October 2018)”, Baptist Churches of New Zealand Admin Manual, Chapter 1, Appendix 1-G, p.42.
“NZBMS & biculturalism – a journey just begun”, NZ Baptist Magazine, 2 August 2020, https://baptistmag.org.nz/nzbms-biculturalism/