Citizenship: Overcoming Cultural Divisions - Paula Morrison

Updated: May 12, 2020

This year in October my husband and I will have lived in NZ 20 years. Although permanent residents from day 1, it has taken us almost 20 years to apply to become citizens.

It has got me thinking about the issue of citizenship.

As a Christian I believe that God created mankind in his own image (Genesis 1:27). We are all part of the same human race and of equal value. However, throughout history there have always been groups of people that have been treated less than others and certainly not as if created in the image of God.

I grew up in Northern Ireland amidst religious tension. I was born 2 years after all the troubles start and so I learnt at a young age that there were two groups of people: Protestants and Catholics. Each group wanted a different political outcome. I am forever grateful to have been raised by parents that were moderate in their political views.

However, when I became a Christian as a teenager, I learnt a number of believers held extreme political views despite their professed Christian faith. I heard hatred preached in evangelical churches towards those of a different faith/political view. I could understand this from a human perspective: there was a lot of pain and loss of loved ones. But, from a Biblical perspective, I just couldn’t.

Negating political bias

A verse from one of Depeche Mode’s songs stuck with me during that time:

“People are people so how can it be that you and I should get along so awfully

Help me understand what makes a man hate another man?

Help me understand”

I moved to England for university and was relieved to learn that the beliefs on Christians in Northern Ireland were not the same as believers in England.

The beliefs in Northern Ireland were culture and political, not Biblical.

In England, I lived alongside various cultures and faiths where I learnt that people are people, whatever race or religion. Since then I’ve always loved getting to know people from other countries and I see it as a privilege to have made friends of many.

As Christians we have to discern what is cultural and what is Biblical.

A lot of cultural values are ingrained, and we may not be even aware of some. Moving from Ireland to England to NZ I have experienced how the different cultures affect our flavour of Christianity.

In the NZ bi-cultural context, both Maori and Pakeha cultures should make up the church where people from other cultures can be welcomed into and learn the value of both. I recently read Huia Come Home written by Jay Ruka. The book pleads for Kiwis to draw their attention to the assumptions made by Christians in NZ. Also, to remember the history of the NZ church and the integral part that the Treaty of Waitangi plays.

Our past matters and we haven’t always got it right. But, thank goodness for the Cross that can restore relationships between Maori and Pakeha.

Embracing the eternal

I know that my earthly passports are a privilege. But it is also true that I don’t fit in 100% to any one of the countries they represent. Yet, that is ok with me. It is my eternal citizenship in heaven which gives me my identity and my security.

I love the vision John describes in Revelation 7:9 as he sees heaven having every nation, tribe, people and language around the throne.

Unfortunately, we have become all too familiar with hearing news of people who have been displaced or refugees who no longer have a home. They seek a new country to become citizens, but don’t have the paperwork required. Immediately, they become dehumanised. We see these people as less than human, certainly not seeing them as God does.

As Christians we have to discern what is cultural and what is Biblical.

We should remember the way that Jesus modelled compassion. Such as when he was teaching the disciples in the parable of the sheep and the goats. It ends with this challenge:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." Matthew 25:45

Fear is at the root of hatred against fellow human beings. In Northern Ireland, it was fear of losing their way of life, their identity, their citizenship.

In a world of refugees or those seeking asylum and where immigration issues are fiercely debated, I pray we as the Church reach out and give them hope of an eternal citizenship in heaven.

I pray we search our own hearts to become aware of cultural biases and beliefs that prevent us from getting to know people from other nations at a deeper level in our own community.

Remembering our roots

For my husband and I we have learned the history of the NZ church and how the early missionaries from our side of the world first came to New Zealand. The ship at the top of this article is called the Tainui and in 1928 it carried my grandfather’s 2 sisters: Margaret, who was unmarried, and Annabella, who was married to Tom and they had 6 children on board. The seventh child Sarah was born a few weeks after arrival. They had an eight child Isabell who is their only surviving child today.

She lives on the same farm in Karaka South Auckland that her parents lived during their time in NZ. I will be inviting her to our citizenship ceremony to represent my ancestors who came before me and, like us, made NZ home.

As Christians in NZ may we learn to value our church history and remember where we have come from. It gives us roots where the church can grow and thrive. I pray we learn from our history as Christians in beautiful Aotearoa so we follow our own unique path as New Zealanders and not be carbon copies of other church cultures.

Paula is a speech language therapist with pre-schoolers who have a disability. She and her husband, Jim, have been part of Windsor Park since moving from the UK 20 years ago.They are parents of two teens and have recently become team leaders for year 9 youth. Writing is a new thing but one which she is enjoying as a way of expressing how God speaks and leads her in everyday life. //

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