A Heartfelt Critique of the Three Tikanga Church

To say my fate is not tied to your fate is like saying,
‘Your end of the boat is sinking’

This is a summary of the very moving and  heartfelt critique of the three tikanga church given by Dr Jenny Te-Paa Daniel at a dinner to honour her contribution to the Anglican Church, both locally and globally.  Read Full Text here.

E toku whanau ki roto i a te Karaiti- I know I have done my best. Forgive me for the wrong I may have done and for the good I may not have done –neither lapse was ever intentional. I am profoundly grateful for the extraordinarily privileged opportunities I have had to serve and to represent this Church nationally and internationally. From now on, albeit from a very different vantage point, I will continue to be your sister in Christ.

In reflecting on the experience of working professionally for the Church at St John’s College during the last 23 years I have abundant material worthy of a somewhat sordid and yet, ultimately a hope-filled and compelling best seller.

My story, while personally unique has significant resonance with the stories of others pioneers before me and alongside me. Many of them have shared with me their professional experiences, which were similarly characterized by both the very best and the very worst of human behaviours.

Mine is a story featuring controversy, challenge, cruelty, condescension, criticism, undermining, deceit, misrepresentation, jealousy, institutional bullying and clerical abuse. Yet equally it is undeniably also a story of deservedly shared triumph against considerable and often relentless odds. I say shared emphatically for behind all the narratives of pain and outrage, of joy and success lie critical and treasured relationships of personal, political and institutional solidarity. These are relationships forged and grounded in the blessings and challenges of the political struggles, which inevitably arise in the pursuit of God’s justice.

I left the College supremely proud of the student successes contributed toward, the very significant professional gains made, the national and international accolades earned, together with the wide-ranging key academic and ecclesial relationships established. I left the College outraged at the depth and breadth of racism, clericalism and sexism still so deeply, determinedly entrenched. It surely is not acceptable that such abhorrent behaviours can continue to find avenues for their expression within a household of God.

st JohnsI appeal to those responsible for leadership, not only in the College but also everywhere in the Church, to take very seriously what I am alleging for sadly the evidence across the Church is irrefutable. We are now actually wounding and diminishing one another at an astonishing rate.

It is my oft stated firm belief that this is occurring now more frequently as a direct result of our long unexamined, uncritiqued three tikanga understandings and the resultant practices, attitudes and behaviours.

It is because of all I have experienced over the past as a leader both within the College and the wider Church that I speak again quite publicly on this matter with both confidence and deep concern and this time with a greater sense of urgency than ever before.

I firmly believe that the problems arising have their genesis in deeply systemically flawed, politically and theologically bereft understandings of the 1992 Constitutional Revision.

From the outset, tikanga became popularly understood as firstly the name (noun) of an uncritically racially or ethnically determined group of Anglicans. The group then undertook to do ‘culturally’ or tikanga (passive verb) inspired things primarily, if not solely, for their own theological educational advantage and advancement.

At the College, the canonically prescribed establishment of first two and then three culturally distinctive societies (which by default eventually became known as the uniquely named tikanga colleges) was indicative.

thm_3tikangacross_thumbTikanga at the College has therefore never ever had a theologically grounded strong common good undergirding. It has instead evolved into group based behaviours, attitudes, understandings and ultimately myriad policies driven by self-interested tikanga/group driven competition for finite resources rather than by selfless Gospel driven commitment to solidarity with those who are the least in any given situation.

It has never ever been about everyone in the boat first checking, noticing and caring about where any structural or personnel weakness might be. It has never therefore been about first working together to restore or to redeem any weak points in order to ensure everyone gets to stay afloat!

Philosophically and pragmatically tikanga has thus never been about launching a common boat, one big enough for all to be aboard. Neither has it been about ensuring all on board might be safe and able to sail with confidence and mutual assurance into an open and just future.

For example, in spite of relentless efforts as Te Ahorangi to give effect to the Treaty based transformative changes necessary for enabling Maori success in theological education, (especially given the overwhelming evidence of historic injustice experienced in disproportionate measure by Maori at the College) there was never ever any consideration given to the possibility of shared responsibility being undertaken among and between the tikanga partners to transform and redeem that irrefutable and pervasive injustice.

jennyInstead of three partners working cooperatively with an eye to God’s justice and therefore with loving and generous hearts for the common good of all, the partners have instead over all the years of my leadership been encouraged and enabled to function as distinctive tikanga based units each primarily self-interested in advancing the so called tikanga based theological educational priorities of their respective constituencies.

Inevitably, in a competitive rather than a cooperative environment and in the absence of significant numbers of skilled and experienced Maori theological educators, governors, educational administrators or librarians, Maori interests at College have always remained vulnerable and largely unfulfilled.

Further, the ideologically seductive three tikanga requirement for consensus in all decisions in reality merely provides for either a delaying or an avoidance mechanism, or worse, a strategy for compromising proposals to the lowest common denominator of shared acceptability. Instead of healthy dissent over tikanga- based proposals what often occurs instead is a polite agreement reached for each tikanga to take turns at getting what they want. This practice so often makes for either weak or coerced decisions. Amidst the fiscally and theologically perverse struggle for resources, weak consensus driven by a prior need to safeguard self-interest also acts deftly to preclude strong dissent or critique.

Since 1992 far from being liberative and freeing, Maori Anglican aspirations at the College have nearly always been either co-opted or compromised, thwarted and or vetoed, delayed or rejected outright.

Tikanga ‘partnership’ in the Gospel, and in the Constitutional sense of Treaty based mutual care and interdependence, has at every level of the College’s leadership and governance therefore always been largely illusory.

It is not acceptable that the College as a whole has in this way been enabled to remain largely impervious to the radically altered priorities and progressions of the global theology academy. The public square educational needs of students, most of whom come with such admirable yearning to be the best possible Priests, Deacons and lay people in the world, have been ignored. Te Rau Kahikatea was consistently exemplary in its global outreach of students but the College as a whole remained consistently indifferent to the appeals of those far less fortunate especially those beyond our shores who are so often desperately seeking for access to quality theological educational opportunities.

As one of the most privileged Anglican theological educational institutions in the world it is surely incumbent on the College to be one of the leading lights in the Anglican Communion.

I pray that in the years ahead the College will indeed radically transform itself into being at the forefront of global Anglican theological education. I pray that it will exemplify the best of being Anglican, of being ecumenical and of being an icon of inter-faith education, instead of remaining adrift in the under examined culturally polarized backwaters of the Anglican Communion. Radical openness and unconditional inclusivity, creative, thoughtful educational visioning and generous heartedness will work wonders. So too will a radical reconsideration of the way in which the college has been laid captive to the most theologically bereft and thus relationally destructive interpretation of the three tikanga Constitutional arrangements.

It is my belief that the entire Church needs the same reconsideration.

This Province revised its Constitution twenty-two years ago. It did so primarily in the wider social and political context of agitation for Treaty based justice for Maori. At that time Anglican Church leaders admirably recognized they wanted to redeem the Church’s lengthy, and at times shame filled legacy, of injustice toward Maori. That was the essence of the Treaty based concept of te kaupapa tikanga rua – to put right, or to borrow the Catholic terminology, ‘to make tika’, the historically forged ecclesial relationships initially established between missionaries, and those who willingly and faithfully became Mihinare Maori.

The 1992 legislation was therefore to do with justice; with making ‘just’ the human relationships between Maori and Pakeha that had, over a century and more, been humanly rendered as deeply, profoundly unjust. It was irrefutably a Gospel moment of unprecedented opportunity. It was a blessed opportunity for us all to say sorry, for us all to seek for forgiveness and for us all with tenderness and tenacity, with courage and kindness, to commit to the continuous negotiation needed for establishing new ways, reconciled ways of being in right relationship with all in the beloved community.

In this sense tikanga was then, and I think still is, an action verb. It is about doing the right thing. It is about pursuing justice and rightness in any and all relationships regardless, irrespective of who you are as one of God’s precious created human beings.

Sadly, in fact tragically, since 1992 two utterly crucial errors occurred. These are errors, which to this day remain unexamined by the whole Church. The first was the almost immediate complete erasure of the Treaty as the foundational Gospel based premise for Constitutional Revision. The last minute structural accommodation so generously offered to the Diocese of Polynesia in 1992 was precipitate in nullifying the power of authentically Treaty based relationships.

Secondly, I believe that what has happened since 1992 is that the word tikanga has been uncritically misappropriated and popularly promoted by the Aotearoa Anglican doyens of identity politics, primarily as a noun.

Read Full Text of this here.



6 thoughts on “A Heartfelt Critique of the Three Tikanga Church”

Comments are closed.