Hero photograph
The recent general election saw fewer Members of Parliament (than in the previous election) with and from Pasifika heritage.
Photo by Ady Shannon

Voices Matter

Rev Dr Jione Havea —

October 14, 2023, was a troubling day across the Tasman Sea.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the general election saw fewer Members of Parliament (than in the previous election) with and from Pasifika heritage. At the time of writing, there is one Pasifika elected MP within the National Party – to be confirmed after the count of special votes.

What does the result of the general election mean for the interests of Pasifika people?

Of course, one does not have to be of Pasifika heritage to understand and speak for Pasifika people. But to understand and to speak requires listening and hearing first, and there are so many voices and so much diversity across Pasifika communities. There are also many obstacles against hearing – including the arrogance of supremacism and the temptation to patronize.

On the same date, 14 October 2023, in Australia, the Voice Referendum – inspired by the Uluru Statement of the Heart – was knocked back, insulted and humiliated. The Australian Constitution is not to be amended, and the status quo remains.

The voices of Indigenous Australia(ns) are shut out from the eyes of the Constitution and from the opportunity to be legally gathered and protected. They have gathered for thousands of years, including at the event that produced the Uluru Statement of the Heart, but without the sanction and support of the so-called commonwealth government.

How might we in Te Hāhi Weteriana o Aotearoa respond to the shushing events of 14 October 2023? I invite your response along the three steps advocated by liberation theologians: see, judge and act.

See: we need to see beyond the limits of our churches – that is, beyond the agendas and the spaces of our churches. What is happening in public places? Whose interests do they serve, promote and protect? Based on those events, we need to also see ourselves: what do those events say to and about us?

This set of questions may be raised to both the NZ general election and the Australian Voice Referendum. The questions invite us into public places where we see and position ourselves in political struggles.

Judge: Did the result of the NZ general election reflect the kind of society that Te Hāhi Weteriana advocates? What did we – in Methodist households – do to make that society possible in and through the general election? The same questions may be raised with respect to the Voice Referendum on the cluster of islands now known as Australia.

It is easy to judge political parties, politicians and voters, but to excuse church members on the premise that churches stay out of politics and manoeuvres of the state. But churches operate within the arms of the state and the laws of the land. We should therefore be concerned with the selection of voices to our parliaments and into the Constitution (written and unwritten).

Act: What are we to do then?

John Wesley is reported to have seen, judged, and acted as if the world was his parish. Should we appropriate Wesley’s mission? There are dangers with Wesley’s view, if one takes it to mean that we should convert the world. Similarly, there are dangers with the great commission in Matthew 28:16–20, and with the Doctrine of Discovery that inspired the colonial project.

Nonetheless, there can be social and political benefits in Wesley’s view. For instance, ‘parish’ refers to a community, a gathering, in which one serves and collaborates. When people see and judge that public places are their parish, then they will act as servers and collaborators.

When people see that the voices of Pasifika (migrants and New Zealand-born) and Indigenous Australians matter, they will vote responsibly – at the next general election, and at the next referendum across the Tasman Sea – watch this space. Of course, people need to show up at the booth to vote.

When people see beyond the borders of Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia, they will judge and act in solidarity with voices that are suppressed, from West Papua to Myanmar, to Gaza, to Ukraine, to Tigray, to Uganda, to South Sudan ... and in between and around.

When people see and judge that earth, sea, sky and underworld are their parish, then they will do responsible acts that promote their—earth, sea, sky, underworld, with their energies and cohorts—wellbeing.

When people act so that silenced voices matter, may we see and hear justice in the streets. But we have to work at it, for justice is like the dream in the late Lucky Dube’s Touch your Dreams lyrics:

Have you ever seen a dream (read: justice) walking?

Have you ever heard a dream (read: justice) talking? …

If you pull the right strings

It could be talking to you

If you pull the right strings

It could be walking to you.