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Religion and politics lead separate lives in NZ

Nov 21st, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

Photo: Victoria.ac.nz

A RELIGIOUS studies professor of Victoria University says while religion is a significant aspect of life in New Zealand, it rarely features in our political lives.

Professor Paul Morris (right) says the lack of religion in the 2011 electoral campaign is normal for this country.

He says he is not disappointed religion is not a feature of this year’s electoral campaign, as he says the way it is reported is ill-informed.

He cites the 2005 electoral campaign as an example (where the then National Party leader Don Brash told the New Zealand public he knew nothing about anti-Green and anti-Labour leaflets that were produced by the Exclusive Brethren, and later admitted the Exclusive Brethren had told him prior to the leaflet drop).

“A huge issue was made of the brethren and if they may have cost Don Brash the election, but the way in which the brethren were reported was very misleading,” he says.

“Very often the public debate about religion is ill-informed.”

He says that New Zealand is different from other countries because religion is not as prevalent in leadership and this is clear in current Prime Minister John Key.

Religion is “not a feature of Key’s leadership, I don’t think that Key would have lost votes if he had declared himself an atheist”.

“John Key is both an agnostic and an atheist.”

Professor Morris says this contrasts with the political leadership of our neighbours in Australia, where former Prime Minister John Howard and his rival Kevin Rudd “both claimed to be Christians”.

“Religion does play a role in the lives of politicians, but not for the election.”

Religion in New Zealand life, however, is still a feature.

“Religion never goes very far away, but it isn’t highlighted,” he says.

“It is still significant in New Zealand, especially in certain elements of the community, for example migrant communities. We also have a small but noisy Evangelical and Pentecostal community.”

Photo: Parliament.nz

Conservative party candidate for Hutt South Gordon Copeland (left) agrees that politics and religion function separately.

Mr Copeland was also the former Future party turned Kiwi party founder and co-leader.

Both of these parties were based on religious values, but the Kiwi party did not pass the five per cent threshold to get into Parliament.

“The Government and the church operate in different domains.”

He explains that the Government’s role is to provide healthcare, imprisonment and the like, while the church’s primary role is to help people form a relationship with God.

 With this in mind he does acknowledge that peoples’ “faith obviously does influence” their political lives.

The new Conservative party includes former Kiwi party members and Mr Copeland says it is governed “indirectly” by religious values.

“Our values are consistent with the Judeo-Christian faith, but that does not mean you have to be a Christian to be part of the party.”

Mr Copeland says there is no question that people in New Zealand are looking away rather than up when it comes to religion.

He sees the “increased sexualisation of New Zealand, especially in the last thirty years” as evidence.

However, this country’s saving grace seems to be its increasing Pasifica community, “who are predominantly solid Christians”, he says.

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is a Whitireia journalism student.
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