As a Christian minister I have been watching the Israel Folau saga unfold through the wary fingers of a repeated facepalm. I am dismayed at how Folau has engaged, and how he has been responded to.
Christianity is a diverse community that holds varied opinions on almost every topic. I love it and celebrate it, but I also see the abuses, the blunders, and know its problems well.
Christianity was once a dominant cultural voice in New Zealand. That has eroded over recent decades. There are those who have not grappled with what it means for Christianity to be a minority voice.
In losing that place of privilege, rightly or wrongly they have felt persecuted and reacted accordingly. Responses have ranged from the dignified, to the emotional, crass, and poorly thought out.
Some of us are taking our own faith community on a journey of accepting this new reality, and hearing the other voices sitting at the table of secular, pluralist New Zealand.
However, when I look at the responses to people like Folau and Bishop Brian Tamaki, I see a table that is becoming increasingly less pluralist. I see a tone in wider society that wants Christianity removed from the public square and at best, kept to a docile, private realm.
In public conversation I see an ignorance about religion. In particular I see an arrogance towards Christianity across social media and public commentary.
I understand why.
Christianity is the religion that has been and is most present in New Zealand. It is somewhat familiar and therefore easy to lash out at. Let's also be honest, Christianity in New Zealand is an easy punching bag. Apart from some verbal bluster here and there, New Zealand Christians aren't going to engage in violent responses to that which is offensive to our faith.
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A while ago I was watching a TV show after same-sex marriage had become law. It had a Jewish man, a Muslim man, and a Christian man. It sounds like the start of an offensive joke. At one point the hosts asked the panelists their views on marriage.
The Jewish man had a liberal view. Both the Muslim and the Christian had conservative views.
The hosts grilled only the Christian. He politely sat there and took it. This is typical of how the conservative Christian voice is often responded to.
It is valid for reasoned critique to be offered, and for questions to be asked when a view is put forward that we disagree with. Doing so is fundamental to secular pluralism and democracy.
Don't hear this as Christians shying away from that, but do pause and have a look at the nature of the conversations we are having.
We are becoming quick to label disagreeable opinions as "extreme". Tolerance of that which is different from us and our views is decreasing as social media ramps up our tribalism.
Metaphorical public crucifixions are on the rise. As we continue to talk about hate speech and free speech, we need wisdom.
At its height, Isis had a glossy magazine called Dabiq. One edition had an article outlining why they supported terrorist attacks in the West. The hope was to create a situation where Westerners no longer trusted Muslims in their midst and therefore, the environment would feel unsafe for Muslims. In turn they wanted Muslims to flee and fight for their caliphate. To do this they aimed to destroy what they called the "grayzone"; spaces where Muslims and non-Muslims coexist.
We could extend that wider and say that the grayzone is any space where people who differ from one another coexist. It's a space where the us vs them approach is rejected. Extremism of all stripes seeks to destroy such spaces and push people apart into warring camps.
Therefore the best response to extremism is to own our differences and welcome each other to the societal table. When we are quick to condemn and enforce our tribalism, we are giving in to extremism.
We need wisdom to know the difference between those times when strong critique is truly necessary vs those times when those differences can and should coexist in the grey zone. Secular pluralism and democracy cease to exist when we lose that wisdom.
Just before he was crucified, Jesus told his followers that we would be known by our love for one another. If a church is doing life well, it should be a community of people who are often very different from each other, yet they love each other, breaking bread together anyway.
Surely we can agree that a society that takes up that challenge is vastly better than one that runs towards a tribalism that ironically, in the name of tolerance, capitulates to extremism.
• Reverend Frank Ritchie is a co-host of Total Recall on Newstalk ZB every Sunday night from 6pm. He is also the minister of Commoners — a Wesleyan Methodist community in Hamilton.