Key Points:

Monday's editorial 'Church call to go back 17 years' must, on several counts, be challenged.

Firstly, the editorial hinges around the date 1991, and alleges that we, the church leaders and the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, pine for a restoration of benefits to the level they were at before the cuts of that year.

Yet, in fact, the official texts we prepared made no mention of 1991. The editorial turns on an informal comment made by one person - a comment that was not in the agreed texts.

In our view, it was misleading for the writer of your editorial not to acknowledge this - and the whole editorial therefore swings on a faulty hinge.

The writer unfairly alleges this "return to the fray at this stage can only be taken as an attempt to keep Labour in power". The statements were neither for nor against National, Labour nor any other party.

The aim was to challenge all policy being shaped in an election year in terms of the platforms of the Hikoi of Hope. Those platforms sought:

1. Real jobs; 2. A health system that people can trust; 3. Affordable housing; 4. Affordable and accessible education, and, 5. The addressing of poverty.

Church leaders and the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services have already begun, and will continue to seek meetings with leaders of every political party on these issues before the election.

The writer of the editorial has also chosen to ignore the fact that the Anglican Church has challenged the present Government on its discussion papers about Easter Sunday trading, and over the issue of prayer at state school assemblies.

Groups including the Anglican Social Justice Commission, Caritas, the Salvation Army and other ecumenical church bodies have also worked consistently over the last decade on the Hikoi themes, in terms of social service action, advocacy and political engagement.

Towards the end of 2007, for example, a cross-section of church leaders from various denominations met the Prime Minister and various Cabinet ministers specifically to challenge the Government and confer with it on housing, violence and aged care. Three well-researched papers from the churches' own social service agencies were considered at this meeting.

The churches were also major contributors of policy advice for the Working for Families package.

The editorial ends by appearing to suggest that rather than engage in political advocacy, the churches should restrict themselves to providing instruction on building better marriages, families and parents.

This ignores the reality that, outside the state, the churches are the biggest providers of social services in this country. This field is our daily reality.

Challenging political policy and wanting to influence the shaping of policy with Christian values in these areas is crucial. It always has been and always will be.

* Archbishop David Moxon and Archbishop Brown Turei are Co-Presiding Bishops of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia.