National leader Judith Collins' "very literal come-to-Jesus moment" this week has raised suspicions among some people that she is politicising her faith to win over conservative Christians.
Some political commentators say her public comments and actions about her religion seem to have come out of nowhere, and the New Conservative Party thinks she's targeting voters who may be more inclined to side with them.
Collins is adamant that she has been upfront about her faith throughout her political career.
"I have always been a Christian and I have never been a lapsed anything."
But it didn't take long for NZ First leader Winston Peters to criticise Collins and her very public prayer.
Matthew 6: 5-6. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others...But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”— Winston Peters (@winstonpeters) October 4, 2020
Collins has mentioned her faith a number of times over the past week.
In the second leaders' debate, she called herself a "Christian and a feminist" and even started an answer to one question with "as a Christian".
Today, Collins attended St Thomas Church to pray before she cast her vote – a moment captured by media invited along to watch the National leader vote.
Collins said she did not invite the media to take photos of her praying but "didn't want to make a fuss" when they followed her into the chapel.
"It's a very stark literal come-to-Jesus moment for Judith Collins," political commentator Ben Thomas said.
Neale Jones, another political commentator, says there appears to have been a deliberate decision for Collins to heavily lean into her Christian faith as part of the election campaign.
It looked to be about shoring up National's base, he said.
"This suggests Collins is concerned about National's vote splintering off to fringe parties on the right such as the New Conservatives."
Politics lecturer at Victoria University Bryce Edwards was cynical about Collins' overt referencing of her Christianity.
"Collins' use of her faith is entirely strategic, rather than heartfelt," he said, adding that she has chosen to "politicise" her religion.
Speaking to the Herald, Collins said her Christian faith had been a matter of public record for 18 years.
She quoted her maiden speech in Parliament in 2002: "I believe in God and I believe that every human being is created with free will to do either good or evil".
Collins told media today she prays every day and, although she does not go to church every week, she tries to go as often as she can.
Jones said that he was not questioning if her faith was genuine, rather he was pointing out the fact that it has never been "part of her brand as a politician" until the last week or so.
Thomas said he could not remember a time during Collins' political career where she had been so overt in talking about her faith.
Thomas, Jones and Edwards agreed the move appeared to be a calculated one to target the conservative Christian vote.
"She is trying to position herself in a way to collapse the social conservative vote – especially that of the New Conservatives," Edwards said.
That party is polling at roughly one per cent, but a Colmar Brunton poll released last year revealed 33 per cent of New Zealanders said they would consider voting for a Christian or conservative party.
New Conservatives leader Leighton Baker said Collins' deliberate focusing on her Christianity "raises suspicions" that she's going after his party's votes.
Thomas said although the New Conservatives have next to no chance of getting into Parliament, the party is absorbing the centre-right vote.
He said Collins' apparent new tactic was "a gamble".
"The median voter has not tended to respond to that in New Zealand."