Something odd is happening inside the parliamentary National Party. It appears to be fracturing along religious lines.
For the past few years, there's been a hard core of Christian National MPs known somewhat disparagingly by their less-observant colleagues as "The Taliban". Chief among them is Simon Bridges, who recently stirred up a small storm on social media when it became plain that he, former MP Alfred Ngaro and the Jesus for NZ group are to host a large religious service called the Power of One in the Beehive Banquet Hall on May 10.
Bridges struck back against his online critics, saying, "Some Christians have a church service in Parliament as they have before and need an MP to host. Stop being so intolerant." The critics are intolerant? The Jesus for NZ team is run by a pastor, Ross Smith, who holds hardline anti-Muslim views that are intolerant, to say the least.
After the murderous Christchurch mosque attacks, Smith denounced Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's embracing of the Islamic community, at one point reportedly posting, "Apparently, we, the church are going to have to declare it louder and clearer, 'What you are representing, Prime Minister, is NOT who we are!'"
As for his claim that he is merely hosting the group to Parliament, Bridges might check its Facebook page, which has a photo of the "core team of JesusforNZ". In the centre of that picture are a beaming Bridges and Ngaro.
Religious faith is a fine thing, but any group that fosters intolerance and fear of Muslims after an attack that left 51 dead and 40 wounded is way over the line.
So our prime minister wore a scarf over her head and asked the country to support the Islamic community in their horrific loss. That's something for which she should be praised, not condemned.
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In his maiden speech, National's Christopher Luxon, often talked of as leader material, defended his strong religious faith, saying it didn't mean he held extreme views. Jesus does not "judge, discriminate or reject people", he said, adding, "My faith is personal to me. It is not in itself a political agenda." Quite right, too.
It seems to me Luxon was trying to placate those in the National caucus who are increasingly nervous about their "Taliban" colleagues, while at the same time perhaps getting support from the religious right, because he, too, is vocally Christian.
Whatever Luxon may say about his faith not being a political agenda, Jesus for NZ appears to disagree, saying online, "Spiritual principles cannot be ignored." It went on to attack Speaker Trevor Mallard for removing Jesus' name from Parliament's prayer, and claiming Ardern was asking us all to "embrace the Muslim call to prayer".
Making the prayer ecumenical simply recognises that a large number of Kiwis, whose House it is, are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and a host of other faiths. Parliament has long had people of diverse religious faith on all sides, although their beliefs are generally only publicly invoked on conscience issues. Catholic MPs such as Labour's Damien O'Connor voted against same-sex marriage on those grounds.
But faith is generally worn discreetly, which is why Judith Collins' allowing herself to be photographed praying in church last election caused such a fuss. As for fraternising with divisive pastors, MPs Shane Jones, Hone Harawira, Tau Henare and Pita Sharples once allowed themselves to receive a public blessing from Bishop Brian Tāmaki, whose views – including that homosexuality is the cause of earthquakes – they undoubtedly do not endorse.