Clay Nelson: Zealots block road to religious diversity

If my resistance to deem New Zealand to be a Christian nation makes me a traitor, as Brian Tamaki suggests, take me to the Tower, or the New Zealand equivalent, for it would be greatly preferable to living in such a country.

You might think, then, that I am one of the 48.8 per cent of non-Christian New Zealanders.

I am not. I am an Anglican priest serving an Auckland church. And no, I'm not Bishop Richard Randerson under a nom de plume.

As an immigrant from America I know what it means to live in a Christian nation. That's why I left. New Zealand's respect for human rights is why I chose to live here as a permanent resident.

Before Christians hasten to denounce my position, take a close look at the only Christian nation. To be fair it should be described as a Fundamentalist Christian nation.

Such Christians, in my experience, imagine that no faith is more loving or forgiving than theirs, while hating and devaluing all other beliefs. They are totally intolerant of criticism, especially of the Bible they hold inerrant and the doctrines they draw from it.

When so many countries, such as New Zealand, have been clearly blessed and cursed by Christianity, how can I say the United States is the only Christian nation? It is not because its motto in support of diversity, "E pluribus unum", (Out of many, one) was ominously replaced with "In God we trust". And it is not because politicians who want to get elected end their speeches with "God bless America" and - by implication - no one else.

It is because the evangelical Christian right, after losing the battle to have God mentioned in the Constitution in 1789, now strongly influences or controls every branch of government. They are using this power to rapidly dismantle the wall separating church and state so carefully constructed by the founding fathers. This could not happen without the support of the American people.

A Gallop poll shows that 53 per cent of Americans believe the world was created in six days and the universe was created 6000 years ago. Only 12 per cent don't think an external personal deity had a hand in creation.

If the American public had to vote on evolution v intelligent design, scientists would lose three to one.

This is an embarrassing statistic to me as an American, but no less so than the statistic that 44 per cent are convinced Jesus will return, according to biblical prophecy, some time in the next 50 years - and the sooner the better. They base this on Scripture and their conservative Christian dogma.

How does such a belief in the impending end of the world affect how they plan for a future that doesn't exist? No worries for them about wars with Iraq, or possibly Iran. Global warming? No problem.

Better roads, education, medical research, eradication of Aids, ending extreme poverty, lowering infant mortality, and the rest of the long list of social, economic, environmental and geopolitical ills that face us can be ignored.

What is ultimately important in a Christian nation is that all its citizens experience Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Personal salvation is their sole concern. Personally experiencing Jesus' ultimate return in sword-brandishing glory is their goal.

Survival of the species isn't even on the list. Not only is it not on the list, they actively oppose anything that might delay Jesus' estimated time of arrival. He is expected, according to Scripture, to come in a time of great tribulation.

So bring on war, famine, disease and natural disaster. The more the better, for it will be that much sooner a vengeful Jesus will come to square accounts with the infidel and lift the saved to heaven.

Anyone who works for peace, especially in the Middle East, seeks to live respectfully with their non-Christian neighbours, feeds the non-Christian hungry without concern for their beliefs, or seeks to preserve gays and lesbians from the Aids virus, is in league with the antichrist. Ending human suffering is not what they are about.

They were President Bush's biggest supporters in going to war with Iraq and why Democrats are having such trouble bringing it to an end. Their present unhappiness with Bush is not because he went to war, but because he is losing it.

They are why the country has rejected the balanced approach of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to support only the Israeli position. Israel is the site of the final battle between Jesus and the antichrist, according to the Bible.

And they are why the country with the best resources for medical research in the world is hampered in its use of stem cells, the most promising approach to curing an extensive number of diseases.

They are why the present Administration is indifferent to global warming. Earth is merely a steppingstone to something better.

It could be argued fairly that New Zealand has a different religious history, so it wouldn't be an American version of a Christian nation. Maybe. But I suggest that only Christians who see the world like American evangelical fundamentalists think that declaring ourselves a Christian nation is a good thing.

The rest of us welcome the proposed National Statement on Religious Diversity. We only hope it will become law and not merely an aspiration.

Our only reservation is that it promotes tolerating all beliefs.

That sounds noble, but not all beliefs are created equal.

As we see in America, some work against the common good.

* The Rev Clay Nelson is a priest at St Matthew-in-the-City, Auckland.

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