From chapter 10 of Thinking Theologically in Aotearoa/New Zealand, by John Roberts, published by ColCom Press 2000. [For translations of Maori words, look at the end of this extract.]
The theology brought by the missionaries in the early nineteenth century arose out of the evangelical revival. Rua Rakena [Tumuaki of Te Taha Maori of the Methodist Church] considers that it tended to set sin rather than God at the centre of life. Some of the missionaries were inclined to conceive their task solely as a ‘rescue from sin’ operation. In the belief that Maori were pagans, the missionaries set out to undermine much of Maori life. They had many Maori carved figures removed from meeting houses in the mistaken belief they were idols. Ancestral karakia were also discouraged and so were many traditional customs and behaviours that were considered depraved. This was a destructive life-denying process.
Although the missionary cause amongst the Maori was slow to develop, the missionaries did make significant inroads into Maori society. It was not all negative either. When Pakeha settlers began to arrive in significant numbers in the 1840s, the missionaries closely identified with Maori and sought to protect their interests. [Later] Maori began to reject missionary teaching. But they did not completely abandon the scriptures of the missionaries. They favoured the Old Testament where in the exodus they found a story which reminded them of their own situation and which held out the promise of life beyond oppression. So they identified themselves with the Israelites. Te Whitio Rongomai saw the story of the Israelites as one embracing life and death: ‘There are two roads, one to life and one to death…God said to Moses, do not strive against me or you will die; by faith only can this tribe live.’ These words are reminiscent of the words of God to Moses, ‘I put before you lie and death…choose life.’ In the face of oppression and death, Maori were seeking a new theology of life. And that is the task we still have before us.
What does it mean to reject death and opt for the way of life in our churches today? Te Taha Maori of the Methodist Church has done some thinking about that. During 1989 and 1990 at its staff consultations the themes of ‘ka mate’ and ‘ka ora’ emerged as being of significance in thinking about the future. Discussion centred on how to move from ‘ka mate’ to ‘ka ora’ modes of theology, ministry and being church. It was then seventeen years since Te Taha Maori had emerged from the old Home and Maori Mission structure dominated by Pakeha personnel and ways. Nearly twenty years later it was a time for review.
Some of the realities that had to be faced were a reliance on the old forms of the past, including colonial understandings of what it means to be church, hanging onto old redundant church buildings that no longer served us, reliance on liturgies that were translations from those of the old prayer book, and dependence on the minister figure for things to happen. Going forward in a ‘ka ora’ way meant embracing Maori styles of Christian life, witness and service, new forms of liturgy rooted in Aotearoa and expressed in Maori, every member becoming a minister, everyone working at theology, centres that facilitate mission for today and enabling styles of ministry.
Tumuaki = used of someone in a position of authority.
karakia = religious songs/chants
ka mate/ka ora = death and life
compare: Te hunga ora me te hunga mate = The quick and the dead