GUEST BLOG: Michael Wood – Faith and politics



In a week which has seen our collective focus shift to those who see politics as a great game to be manipulated for their own ends, it is timely to reflect on the fact that many people are in fact still engaged in the system because of genuinely held values. A recent series of papers entitled the “Gospel Manifesto 2014” is a helpful starting point for those of us engaged in progressive politics whose values are shaped by a Christian faith.

This is a vexed area. For many on the left, there are legitimate reasons to be suspicious of those who carry a faith with them as a part of their political identity. There is of course a deep and unpleasant history of the church sanctioning intolerance and persecution of certain groups in society, most notably the LGBT community. As a general principle most on the left also hold that the state and its institutions ought to be secular, and neutral on matters of personal belief. And finally, there is a deep uneasiness about the way that faith has been used and abused as a political tool, particularly by the religious right.

All of these concerns are rooted in reality, and it’s up to those of us whose political identities are shaped by faith to show that there can and should be space in the modern progressive movement for an open and tolerant faith perspective. While our political and civic institutions should remain secular and neutral, there needs to be space for authentic voices from different faith and cultural traditions if we want to connect with the many citizens who themselves hold those values.

The Gospel Manifesto brings together an impressive array of researchers and hands-on ‘doers, including; Susan St John, Mike O’Brien, and Kim Workman to draw the links between core gospel values, and some of the issues of justice we face in Aotearoa/New Zealand today. For example, Mike O’Brien’s piece ‘Providing for all children’ provides a gospel narrative to support a concerted focus on the needs of children in our political dialogue:

“Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus saying the children should be allowed to come to him and not be hindered from doing so. In this, and other contexts, children were to be given a special and promoted place in the society in which they lived. Here then lies the genesis for reflecting on how well we provide (or fail to provide) for children and their needs in contemporary society. While New Zealand does well in providing for many of its children, there are far too many for whom our care and provision is woefully inadequate”

This particular narrative doesn’t need to take the place of all of the other sound moral and practical reasons for addressing child poverty, but reaching out to people of faith with relevant language and themes is an important part of building a national consensus around this and other issues of justice. It can be done. Already the Living Wage campaign has seen faith groups join a coalition of unions and community to build one of the more effective movements for social justice we have seen in recent years.

My own faith speaks to the equality of all people, the sacredness of the earth that we live on, the importance of just structures, and our call as human beings to live together in community. For others the slant is different, and people with secular belief systems can hold moral convictions just as strong and valid. The labour movement has always been at its strongest when we draw on the strengths of everyone in our coalition, and people of faith have often made critical contributions – think of the radical preacher Keir Hardy raging for justice, the quiet ‘applied Christianity’ of our First Labour Government, or the Hikoi of Hope in 1998 signalling the terminal decline of the Shipley government.

Just as there was a role for progressive people of faith at those points of our history, so too is there today. With 280,000 children living in poverty, the most basic of human needs such as adequate food and housing going unmet, and a foul political culture of revenge and persecution in the halls of power, we must present our values and our argument for change with real moral conviction.

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Michael Wood is the Labour candidate for Epsom. He is an elected member of the Puketapapa Local Board, with a background as a union negotiator and retail worker. As co-Secretary of the Labour Policy Council he has been involved in the development of Labour’s Policy Platform and Manifesto. He has two young boys, a super smart wife, and loves cricket and Pink Floyd.






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  1. So Michael, can you please tell me, do you agree with the Greens Education Policy. It reaches out to our children who need a hand.

    Will Labour work with the Green Party after the election, and allow them to implement their awesome policies that are directly aimed at giving the poorest and saddest of our children a well deserved hand up?

    Will Labour and Green work together without egos getting in the way of the betterment of our children?

    Can you please answer this question.

    • I am a Green Party member and I can assure you Mistery that egos are not just in Labour’s camp, the Greens have them too including in the MP and line up to be MPs. Most MPs in my view – having worked in parliament – have strong egos, a strong belief in yourself is one of the strategies for getting high up on the list.

      Labour ignored the children living in poverty over all of Clark’s time and for that reason along I could never ever support them. However they won’t have a choice they will have to work with the Greens and I am hoping that will be one of the greens bottom lines. Any future government must have strong Green credentials for no other reason than that is the future.

    • Hi Mistery. Obviously, Labour candidates primarily support Labour’s education policy and will work to see that implemented.

      Having said that, there is a lot of synergy between Labour and Green policy in this area. Both parties reject the damaging marketisation of our education system and will repeal National Standards and Charter Schools. Both favour greater investment in our schools and respect for the teaching profession. There is also a lot of commonality across ECE policy, where both parties favour expanded access in one way or another, and a better targetting of new investment into communities of real need.

      Can Labour and the Greens work together without egos getting in the way? We very often do now, and I am quite sure that we are both capable of working together for the good of NZ in the future too.

  2. Thanks Michael, the link to the Gospel Manifesto 2014 has been well used. I think the right wing church have a few huge elephants in the room:

    – They never question greed or down play it
    – The theological basis they work from is negative, I’d go as far to say flawed.
    – The take quite legalistic approach to issues
    – They give disproportionate weight to the old testament
    – They see individual prophecy as normal
    – This gets worse when some say, ‘god’ said this to me. Or they speak for ‘god’
    – There seems to be a lot of misogyny

    But before, the atheists and others go running off and bag the church. The church is a broad house with many different rooms, thought and beliefs.

    I think that an engagement by Christians, of other Christians is the only answer. It’s been coming for some time. I for one, am glad that engagement is happening.

    So again, thanks Michael.

  3. The Labour Party was formed in a time of great poverty with a social gospel from a Christian heritage.
    It lost its way as peoples living standards rose and NZ leaders declared our country a secular society.
    Michael Joseph Savage reportedly said that the people walked to the polls to vote the Labour Government in and drove in cars to vote it out.
    It needs to recover its foundations and stand firm on them.

    • Bob, that quote was from Peter Fraser. *people walked to the polls to vote the Labour Government in and drove in cars to vote it out.* New Zealand’s second Labour PM.

  4. Hi Michael, it’s reassuring to hear there’s a strand of left wing views within the faith. I have to admit that most of the Christians I know seem to be influenced by the moralising that the Christian Church is known for in the mainstream and I worry that the massive output of Christian media from the USA is having a powerful effect toward the right as well.

    Is it same to assume that your views are in the minority within the Christian world?

    • A big lesson I’ve learned over the years has been not to make assumptions. There are people of faith right across the political spectrum, denominations that veer conservative or liberal but nonetheless have counter-intuitive pockets within them, and the very same cleavages that influence political support within any community – class/income/gender etc…

      The thing I resent most about the religious right is that they have very carefully built up the impression of monolithic christian support for their own agenda, and then used faith as a political battering ram. In truth there are a plurality of views across people of faith, and if there is a challenge that I am issuing here, it is that we need to get better at engaging in a genuine way with the community. If we don’t, others certainly will

  5. Thank you Michael – I think these are brave, if somewhat controversial statements. However, I am one of the school that faith must not play a part in formation of government – secular and church must never mix. Sure, it may shape your personal ethics and the fundamentals of the way you think, but we must draw a line when quoting gospel as a policy foundation.

    We are all hybrids of our faith, education, experience and no doubt countless other influences. Embrace it, but park the theology at the door, and let humanism and social equality be the belief that forms policy, in our name, not in that of any deity

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