Unlatching from the Amerimormon cultural teat

As I gaze on with admiration as my friend Joanna Brookes becomes Mormonism’s media darling in the US I’m both thrilled and excited about this moment in our religious history.  Joanna’s love of a faith that we share, combined with her take no prisoners honesty about its complexities, inconsistencies and fractures is a rare compound that is deeply missing in the alchemy of our religious conversations.   Her freshness, her openness and her willingness to hold meaningful, non-evangelizing discussions with the national media, as has been recently noted by Matthew Nokleby,  has probably done more for Mormonism than the millions of dollars budgeted for PR by the Corporation of the President – and she hasn’t picked up a cent for it from the COB.   What is happily more, Joanna hasn’t been censured, there have been no threats of excommuncation, and she remains a faithfully serving Sunday School teacher in her San Diego Ward.  All of this at the same time as she raises gay marriage placards at gay pride parades, and organizes feminist collaborations.  She has her detractors who claim that Mormonism is not big enough to accomodate a left leaning, gay ally, working mother, married outside the temple to a Jew, unorthodox, feminist, pioneer bonnet sewing,  intellectual, but they are I fear, a bastion of fearful Amerimormons who are too tightly clenched about their religion for it to become an inviting, vibrant and relevant faith community.  Without a significant cultural shift Mormonism will become clannish, flat, punitive and unengaging.   As Dan Wotherspoon reminded me on a recent Mormon Matters Podcast, the church  is growing into a thousand gardens.

In the US, spearheaded by important thinky, writty, bloggy types who refuse to be afraid of the fraternity, Mormonism is unraveling beautifully from its chrysalis of immaturity into a religion that might just be coming of age in the same way that we come of age in our marriages when we can still love our spouses even though they occasionally back up their arses and  fart on our thighs in bed.  What people like Joanna  and John Dehlin have done is show that there are more conversations than one to be had about our religion.  That the frankly unhinged notion that Mormonism is, must, or should be intertwined with a conservative political agenda, is fallacious and ridiculous.   They have shown that Mormons can be both Republicans and Democrats, they can be black, brown and white, they can be gay, bi and straight, in, out or balancing on a precipice between, orthodox,  progressive and independent, thinkers and doers, stage 3 and stage 4, answerers and questioners.  They understand that Mormonism can and must be 50 shades (excuse the grubby pun) for it to be truly beautiful.   And thus far, aside from dodging a few misfired bullets, the ecclesiastical reins have been unloosed from the pommel.

But how will all of this shake down at the periphery?  What hope do we have out here, where Jon Stewart’s ‘The Daily Show’ is buried somewhere on expensive cable? Where the Mosto community is about 5 strong and where I’m the only New Zealand Mormon I know who blogs about this stuff?   In our ward, a couple of weeks ago, a combined meeting was lead by the bishopric who wanted to take the pulse of the people.  We were asked if we have any major issues about the church and it was clear that it was a case of ‘anything goes’.  The first registered complaint was the lack of lighting in the car park.

We have a way to go in New Zealand to arrive at a  place that feels like a Mormonism that  thrives in this space rather than behaving like something that is borrowed from America.  My good friend Mere and I were chatting about Mormonism in New Zealand just last week.  She isn’t a member of the church but for better or for worse (worse as it so happens) she married a less active member from strong Mormon family up North.   As a strong, extraordinarily well educated, feminist, Māori woman, Mormonism in a New Zealand context baffles her.  She sent her eldest to Church College of New Zealand, a recently closed Mormon school in Hamilton.  CCNZ was American Mormonism in Māori drag.  Even though most of the students and many of the teachers at the school were Māori, the language wasn’t used, there were no attempts at intercultural practice, no conversations about the racial politics that characterize  and continue to constitute our identities, and very few pedagogical resources that would help their students navigate the treacherous terrain as an indigenous person in a colonial outpost.   What they offered was a glitzy road show with good-looking Māori kids and a spot on Kapa Haka show that would wow the socks of any passing Pākeha.   This lack of effort to hit the cultural sweet spot saw a noticeable cohort of CCNZ students take their cue from these misplaced cultural appropriations and behave like American Māori in Mormon drag.   Even the Board of Trustees – who are set the managerial agenda and culture for schools in New Zealand – remained the Quorum of the Twelve until its end.   There is nothing like cultural alienation, to create cracks and fissures big enough to drive a reckless train through.   As a non-member Mere was appalled by the outrageous sexual impropriety among too many students (but not all), the bullying and the blatant nepotism (notwithstanding its clean cut image) that riddled CCNZ and was relieved when she transferred her lad to an Anglican boys school.

On the one hand in New Zealand, we seem (anecdotally at least) to produce a good number of Māori university graduates, but on the other hand this new Māori Mormon middle-class struggles to find a place for their language activism, for the kinds of social justice issues that the Anglican church continue to promulgate, or  for a political orientation that seeks redress for the violence of a white colonial incursion.    Many of us middle-class Māori Mormons look comparatively good in the census but we have had to be silent in sacred spaces about our deep and abiding interest in both our language, our culture and our politics.  Our language doesn’t feel tolerated in church meetings – even though its continued use might just bring it back from the verge of extinction, our protocols are over-looked as we find ourselves subject to  white corporate colonial processes in our religious services,  and in living memory there has been no talk  in a  sacrament service that I have attended about the  Treaty of Waitangi  and its importance in the formation of our bicultural nation.  Even as Americans sing their  national anthem with hand on heart, and speak tearfully of their nation’s genesis on July 4th (which seems to miss the indigenous beat somehow), out here we are hushed by a fabric of feeling that tells us ‘no, that’s inappropriate because it doesn’t happen in America’.   Here at the periphery we continue to allow the church to be American and we cringe away from the possibility that the church could be truly present here if  we would just own up to it as a theology dressed up  with its American cultural accessories,  a foreign egg in our nest with a good yolk but an unusual number of stars on the shell,  another colonizing venture that seems to  require us to leave part of ourselves behind at the door.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  There are currently no laws or rules, nor are their edicts from HQ preventing us from domesticating our faith tradition and making it relevant in our own non-American places – this is a new time with new opportunities.

I would like to encourage all of us at the periphery who are asked to shed something of our cultural selves each time we venture into our  chapels – take your whole selves into your sacred spaces and see what happens.    Yes, we share some of the complexities that face the church in the US which makes what Joanna Brookes is doing significant and important for us all, but out here we also have some of our cultural work to do, we have our own tensions, our own struggles, and our own  Mormon trail to traverse to bring not only our religion but also ourselves out of cultural obscurity.  This might mean pulling pins out of grenades, and having bigger conversations than our weekly correlated materials facilitate.  But if we want to grow up as Mormons in this place rather than simpering second-class cousins to the USA it’s a conversation that we urgently need to have.

And by the way, no bishop, Stake President, General Authority or other has the legal right to instruct us not to use te reo Māori in our services.  It’s an official language here and its a human right’s violation to prevent it.   This isn’t  the USA.

Na, reira e te iwi Māori, e te iwi Mormona, me kōrero ngātahi tātou i tō tātou nei reo, ko te kai a te rangatira!! 

  • Danielle

    While I appreciate the efforts made by people Joanna Brooks and other bloggers here in the USA, the majority of liberal thinking Mormons in the USA are on the periphery as well. The few bloggers who are public enough to be protected from discipline by the Church have found a safe haven for themselves. They are allowed to say and do what they want because any action against them would be bad publicity for the Church. But they are a slim minority. For those who are not in the public eye, we are still at risk of being disciplined for the same actions as people like Joanna and John. So it’s not just you New Zealanders who still have to be silent, most of us Americans have to be silent as well or face the threat of expulsion. We have a long way to go here in America as well before the Church allows voices of every kind in their meetings.

    • Helen Bee

      You are so right about all of that!

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com Aaron Brown

    Danielle, how do you know that’s true? What evidence would you point to suggesting that non-prominent liberal Mormons are at risk of expulsion? Are there excommunications regularly taking place of lesser known folks that we’re not hearing about? I tend to doubt it. I agree that cultural pressures against Mormon liberalness are probably strong in many or most areas, and I agree that the threat of bad publicity may go a long way toward protecting alternative voices’ membership statuses. But I doubt one needs to be as prominent as Joanna or John (or prominent at all) to be relatively safe from formal expulsion from the community. We don’t live in the early 1990s anymore.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.r.marsh Stephen R. Marsh

      Aaron — just because you are right …

  • http://www.facebook.com/melanierc74 Melanie Riwai-Couch

    I find myself reflecting on my own church experience as a “middle-class academic female Maori Mormon” and agree that there are many opportunities to affirm the cultural identity of individuals in any group setting – but I’m not sure how far the Church might reasonably be expected to go to achieve that. I have, myself, advocated for things like inclusion of the NZ anthem, Maori hymns and opportunities for education about Church history in NZ – particularly given the rich regional histories where the synergy of Maori and Mormon went a long way to supporting people into the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The recent publication of “He Hokinga Mahara: Linking our past to our future” is a great example of the history of the Church in the Masterton area with emphasis on the relationship with Maori iwi (see http://www.mormonnewsroom.org.nz/article/belonging-to-a-latter-day-saint-ward-is-something-to-celebrate-2012-01-07)

    On Anzac Day our ward stood for a minutes silence at the start of sacrament meeting. One sister bore her testimony in te reo on Sunday just gone, my children do so occasionally too. They have not been chastised for doing so (that I know of). But, their ability to do so is because they are in Maori medium schooling and for two of them Te Reo Maori is their first language, we use Te Reo Maori at home (albeit not the most poetic speakers in the world) and one of our daughters uses Te Pukapuka o Moromona for her scripture study.

    Masterton is a good example – their ward has a much stronger whanau feeling about it – most likely because you have people who live Maori culture outside of the Sunday 3 hour block and a strength of their ward is intergenerational Maori families – when Maori language is used, great – it is easier to make the cultural connections and name them, like Manaakitanga is being Christ like etc.

    I guess that the scarcity of te reo Maori in our meetings is not a deal breaker for me – I’m not looking for that need to be met by the Church and so while I appreciate it when te reo is used or aspects of tikanga like whakatauki are used to communicate Gospel messages, I’m not left feeling disappointed if this doesn’t happen.

    Statistically – in our (yours and mine) Stake we have 1. A Maori Stake President, 2. 2 Maori Bishops (out of 5) and One Maori Branch President (out of 2) – Not bad representation per capita – esp. given we are in CHCH. While I do not think this was part of affirmative action for Maori, it is interesting none the less if we use senior local leadership as an indicator of inclusivity.

    Why is more reo Maori not spoken in our meetings? Possibly because our membership doesn’t have the Te Reo Maori proficiency needed to participate in meetings in Maori. I remember when I was a YSA we use to have a fireside each month for Maori members – the problem was getting people who could speak in Maori to participate in them. Not sure what happened to those – possibly as matriarchs like Aunty Patty Ruki passed on so did the drive.

    For me, CCNZ provided a positive exposure and affirmation of Maori as confident participants in sports, the arts and education, and very much was a catalyst for me wanting to become a teacher. The Cultural Group at CCNZ was first rate and recognised as such nationally.

    I do not think it is the Church’s responsibility to educate me about my identity language and culture – its focus “should” be Gospel, not culture – although yes I appreciate the cultural creep that comes from many influences. Celebrate and recognise diversity – yes, recognise that we are all individuals (who happen to be culturally located) – yes, use the Church to mobilise divergent ways of thinking at a Gospel level – I don’t think so. I just don’t see it as a core purpose of the Church. That said, I appreciate that others might see things differently.

    I think it would be a great idea to look at and plan for opportunities to promote more understanding about NZ Church history and the Church and Iwi/Maori.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I’m not suggesting that ‘the church’ has a responsibility to educate any one group about their culture – I’m arguing that the church HAS a dominant culture which washes up with it where ever it goes and it will fail to be truly relevant unless we have the courage to bring our whole cultural selves into our sacred spaces. What you have so beautifully demonstrated is that it is indeed possible. But to be honest, I think I would be more comfortable using the language in your ward than in my own because of the support I know I would get from your husband/bishop.

      Sadly that isn’t the case universally. I am aware of other situations where our Maori members have been asked to use English in our services in deference to those who don’t speak Maori and have suffered a sense of considerable sadness because of such treatment.

      While I’ve narrowed in on the need to bring ones Maori identity into sacred spaces, I’m aware that the New Zealand church is more than Maori. I’m simply advocating for a Mormon space that is confident enough to bring its cultural diversity, its differences from US, its languages and its contexts rather than borrowing its religious identity from America. We have people here in NZ who actually believe that Mormons must be Republican, that capitalism is ordained as God’s economic preference, that Mitt Romney is clearly Jesus’ pick because he’s Mormon etc. We are poverty stricken in our discourse because we don’t know how to talk about our religion in the context of our own blimin nation! Until we do – we will sputter along losing opportunities to be really present as a vibrant centred New Zealand religion.

  • Breck Greenwall

    I loved your comment Melanie, said it all for me.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Aaah yes! I love it too. A great example of exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis. The necessity to highlight an exception proves the existence of the rule in most other cases (wink, wink) – anyway Greenwall – what the heck bro??!

      • http://www.facebook.com/melanierc74 Melanie Riwai-Couch

        In any debate arguments can usually be used both ways ie. is the exception that people can use te reo Maori or is the exception that people are being chastised for using it? That someone thinks all Mormons are Republican, or that someone else knows that 15% are Democrats. It really just depends on which way you want to swing. What’s that quote? something like – “In God we trust, everyone else just brings data”. All good though – great points made.

  • Bob Hamon

    I have followed your blog for a couple of months now and have enjoyed them. As a NZ Christchurch missionary, and being married to someone from Christchurch you often remind me of the uniqueness of the Church there.
    Your recent blog seems to diss CCNZ a little more than it deserves. Obviously it had its faults. Everyone, like your friend Mere and her son, have their own experience but any objective look at the school will show that it did an outstanding job of educating LDS youth, the majority of which were Maori or Polynesian. Particularly in the last couple of decades. This paper by Tereapii Solomon wrote may help to give you a more impartial view on its outstanding record than you may have received from Mere. http://ojs.review.mai.ac.nz/index.php/MR/article/view/39/39
    Of course there were some remaining ‘Americanisms’ but they were not all bad. You just have to look at the record of the A1 Girls and Boys Basketball teams. American influence of course, but did much more good than harm.
    Academically it achieved as well, among its old students is the first Maori Coroner, and the second, a recent Maori women MP, the first Maori women Optometrist and many others who made life choices that were expanded beyond what they may have been if they hadn’t attended CCNZ.
    While not actively promoting a radical Maori agenda CCNZ did provide a sense of identity to an indigenous and spiritual heritage. Sure, more could have been done to promote a Maori perspective but by enlarge the NZ school curriculum was followed at CCNZ in a similar way to the majority of other secondary schools in the country.
    There were glitzy road shows with good-looking Māori kids, but in their own way they provided a sense of identity that may not fit your image of a well rounded Maori young people but produced some outstanding Maori entertainers. Many of them continue to promote a Maori connection in their own way. I suggest you take a look at these clips from the Maori Television show Unsung Heroes to give you some perspective on their contribution to the fabric of modern Maori society. While not activist or radical, still valid.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuKRhVBDCuw Taisha Tari http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jm-J1LC3OKQ Hal and Kimi Tupaea

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bpjvi43ErU Leon Wharekura
    Or check out Katchfire with Jamie Ferguson Poly regae groove. Not much cookie cutter Mormon in this clip
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIySfQ6Qurs
    Your description of CCNZ as American Mormonism in Māori drag is quite insulting to many of the Maori teachers at CCNZ, some of whom I have the upmost respect for, as teachers, Maori role models and as righteous members of the Church. Just flat out good people doing their best. It is demeaning to those who have, with all the sincerity and goodness of their hearts done all they can to help out Maori youth in the best way they know. I should point out that it was not only Maori teachers and staff, who did this but also Pakeha. Not perfect but generally did their best.
    Your repetition of Mere’s narrow experience of outrageous sexual impropriety, bullying and the blatant nepotism that riddled CCNZ, just perpetuates a image that since at least the late ‘80s does not reflect the reality of the experience of by far majority of students.
    Of course the school had its problems but you seem to disregard the good it did which just perpetuates a myth that is simply untrue.
    Finally, it is a bit mischievous to suggest that Bishops or Stake Presidents may instruct Church members not to use te reo Māori in our services. Perhaps that is a reflection of your Christchurch LDS experience. Come to Hamilton, or better still Nuhaka, Tokomaru Bay, Pipiwai, Kaikohe or Kawhia and you will experience a culture that is unique in all the world, where te reo Māori is often heard on a Sunday and that special Maori LDS identity is celebrated.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Kia ora and thanks for your comment. Yes, I was anticipating this reaction to my criticism of CCNZ! Throwing out a diss on CCNZ in NZ is a bit like thumbing ones nose at BYU if you live in Utah! I absolutely agree that CCNZ had its merits and my comments were by no means a reflection on some of the schools fine teaching or teachers or the great successes that the school enjoyed. What you mention here is a good part of the story, even the privileged one – but its not the whole story. And that is the point of this blog – somewhere in the tension created between these two contested stories is the authentic NZ experience, with all of its heart aches and failures and all of its successes and joys. We’ve all heard the high praise of CCNZ and the fervent loyalty of its more outspoken alumni. But you and I both know that thats not the full picture.

      So either we do that thing one can see on the US message boards and parse this out into a case of a simple binary, we gang up and point the finger – where I tell you it was rotten, and you tell me it was wonderful. Or, we put our big people panties on and acknowledge that in many respects there was much about the school that was deeply, deeply problematic even at the same time as it was deserving of the praise you give it. Mere deserved her story to be told, as does Melanie who loved it, as do my Pakeha siblings who will likely never go back to church again because of it, as do the A1s who loved it so much they played ball for the school even into their 20′s. Grappling with these many conflicting stories is what will give us some authenticity. I stand by my statement about CCNZ being American Mormonism in Maori drag because – as you so aptly demonstrate- when it comes to CCNZ we have long defaulted to an inherited American Mormon cultural habit – and that is the demand for absolute loyalty – the line in the sand, the either/or, in/out, for/against, the ‘this is the Lord’s school’ rhetoric that so incapacitated the damned place that they didn’t manage to make the necessary changes to keep the friggen school open!!!!

      And with respect to your final comment – the genesis for this blog was an email I received from a bishop over the weekend who had exactly this experience -and he wasn’t from Christchurch. I am aware of a number of similar experiences, not just with Maori but also with our Pasifika brothers and sisters. I was in a meeting some years back with a group of visiting authorities who concluded their Pacific tour in Hamilton (where I used to live) with their soaring recommendation that we keep our culture out of church meetings. Not mischievous – just ticked off!!!

      • http://www.facebook.com/melanierc74 Melanie Riwai-Couch

        Umm… just to qualify – I am very grateful for my time at CCNZ, it definitely served its purpose for me. It was not because of rose tinted glasses. I worked double student aide to pay to be there (which is always great for an adolescent’s self image), and there were plenty of challenges being from a very poor family between paying for travel and uniforms etc. Add to that, being from the South Island usually made you a bit more peculiar that the average Jo (thanks for the unique reference Bob!). You have used the word “love” to describe my experience, but its more like, love in the way that you have an appreciation of things that give you a safe space, opportunity, experience and personal growth. Add to that – CCNZ gave me exposure to the Gospel and the Church that I had not had before. Plenty to be grateful about me thinks. Sorry, but I feel like you are pushing the either/or on this one – we don’t have to be polarized and either blinded by love or shoot it in the head. I think it is possible to honour an institution/school even if there were imperfections, to respect the people and appreciate their efforts, as well as the collective good without having to compromise intellect or ambition. If only perfect things were loved what chance would any of us have? Ka nui tena. Nunyte.

  • Matua

    The thoughts of sitting down at the table to have a kai of kina and freshly hot baked rewena with melted butter and silently desiring for that taste to last forever, (i suppose that’s a greedy desire) and  knowing full well that soon the effects of gout (for some) or less severe a release of an unpleasant smell will linger. These thoughts came to my mind while reading this post, not sure why. Maybe it’s the thought of expressing how One really feels (the sweet taste) and await for the backlash that will surely come (gout, or that unpleasant smell). As my 8 year old son reminds me” better out than in dad”.

    I dont have any letters beside my name to suggest my level of intelligence, but i know how to peel potatoes and kumara at the back of the marae. I’m proud to say I’m maori of kahungunu heritage, im a latter day saint male and father of 4. I’ve been in the church all my life 43 yrs, various callings, served a mission in Australian 24 yrs ago, currently serving as a bishop the past 8 years and seminary teacher 14 yrs, but still get told what to do by my tamariki ages 12,8,5,8mnths. My wife is from Tainui/whaingaroa, Rangitane.

    Thanks kiwimormon for a forum/blog to share ones whakaaro, 
    It was I who sent her an email and asked the question or presented my feelings re: Te Reo in church meetings. I arrived at her blog by typing the words Maori Mormon.

    May I share a few experiences in no particular order, in relation to my initial message to kiwimormon

    When my daughter was about 6 she said “dad I don’t want to go to primary class no more” i was thinking ohh no not already, thats teenager talk. Why I asked ” because the boys laugh at me cause I can’t read English .. Natural man reaction was ehh laugh at them cause they can’t speak or read Maori. I approached my file leader and asked if it was okay to teach primary in Te Reo, not because of my daughter but due to the incresed amount of children attending kohanga reo and Kura kaupapa in our ward 18 out of 43 active children. The reply was we are an English speaking ward. 

    A sister stood to do a karanga when a deceased was bought into the church foyer, then whanau done a haka as the deceased was carried out. Same day same funeral same reprimand we are an English speaking ward. 

    A kaumatua  e tu ana hei whaaki  hinengaro (bear testimony) A sister whakapuaki karakia, (said prayer) The response from an individual leader was I haven’t come to listen to the Maori language. 

    Various visiting authorities over the years, where part of the hui held  allowed for local members to ask questions. The question was asked can we speak Te Reo Maori also other cultural related questions were asked. The reply was that’s up to your local leaders but the gospel of Christ is the culture that we are apart of.

    I understand that these examples may be few and far and may not exist in your part of Aotearoa.

    I asked a member in one of the wards mentioned by brother Hamond the reply was Ae ka korero Maori ahau i te whare karakia erangi ka ahua puku te rae a etahi..

    I believe it exists if in Otautahi, Wairoa, Ruatoki, Taranaki, Ngaruawahia Heretaunga or Maromaku. That the statement will be made “this is an English speaking ward” how we deal with it will vary. For some they will say well the Reo really isn’t a back breaker for me. For some especially our kaumatua who may say it’s okay boy 

     You may read this blog and say well get over it move on and harden up. That’s fine it was more of a gauge to see if this is a common occurrence, in your sacred spaces. (if I can use your phrase) and do we know how to answer these questions when asked or do we say go and ask bishop he knows everything. Aue, he ihu hupe noaiho. 

     Is it due to the close extinction then revival of Te Reo over the past 150 years that this question has been presented.

    Do local leaders have the choice to promote, allow, welcome Te Reo or the opposite.

     Is no speaking Te Reo in church an official church policy. 

    Why would a person want to speak Te Reo if 3/4 of the congregation can’t understand or speak it.

    Or have we been sucking on the teat too long that it’s time to say well nah actually the gospel  is bigger than being told when I can speak our native tongue and how and where. I’m born with a cultural identity not by mistake. It is with these questions in mind that I come here. I don’t feel I’m pricking against the pricks or being disobedient to whomever for presenting these patai, my belief  hasn’t dwindled 
    I know there are heaps of grammatical mistakes in this post. Hei aha

     “Ko toku reo, toku ohooho   
    Ko toku reo, toku mapihi maurea”   
    My language is my awakening   
    My language is the window to my soul   

    Actually ironically I passed school cert Maori at ccnz. Plus I enjoyed student aid, the temple bus food parcels from Hawkes Bay were the best.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      E hoa! What you said was beautiful, important, heart-breaking, infuriating and a much needed perspective! Ka nui taku mihi ki a koe mo tēnei kōrero whakahirahira.

      • Matua

        Ae ra e te tuahine, Ki a koe hoki ma tenei Wharangi.
        Yes you too sis, thanks also for this site.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.r.marsh Stephen R. Marsh

      “Why would a person want to speak Te Reo if 3/4 of the congregation can’t understand or speak it.”

      Interesting question, the reverse also being true.

      What is the answer you have? Is it spoken with a desire to exclude the 3/4ths, to make a statement against them or for some other reason.

      Locally, when people speak languages 90% of the congregation can not understand, the general consensus is that it is coming from the heart and the congregation listens with the heart rather than the ears.

      I do not think the question would be asked locally, in Texas “Why would a person want to speak Te Reo if 3/4 of the congregation can’t understand or speak it.”

      • Matua

        Yes there in is the answer, “speak from the heart, listen with the heart”

  • Bob Hamon

    As with many of your blogs you have helped me to think about and articulate in my own mind some things that some times get pushed to the back. Thanks for that.

    The experiences and reactions mentioned by Matua are as heart wrenching. There is no excuse for any one to be reprimanded for karanga or haka at a chapel funeral. I hope these are isolated incidents. I have been to many funerals with Bishops, Stake Presidents and one that I recall a member of the Area Presidency presiding where karanga and haka provided comfort and assurance.

    A month ago two young men performed a very spontaneous haka in the foyer as their mate emerged from the chapel where he had just been set apart. Last Sunday a wonderful testimony was borne about half in te reo and half in English. Just guessing, but probably only my father perhaps a half dozen others would have understood the words, but I have no doubt many more were moved by the spirit.

    Teaching primary in te reo may be a bit of a challenge in some wards, but if there is a desire and a teacher with the ability go for it. Our children (and all of us) need to be taught in the language that will enable them to grasp the principles of the Gospel in whatever language enlightens them most. Unfortunately in some wards Primary Presidents are having a hard enough time getting teachers to turn up let alone to teach in te reo.

    But we can make some small steps, many years ago when I was a Bishop we had our senior primary children learn the Articles of Faith in te reo. I don’t think it was a token gesture, the old Aunties would have had no hesitation in giving me a clip on the ear if they thought it was. It was an acknowledgment of our real heritage. I think for most Sacrament Meeting Primary Presentations would sing at least one song in te reo. We hoped this would give them in some small way a sense of their LDS Aotearoa identity.

    I hope these examples don’t diminish Matua’s experiences, and pray that they are exceptions in the Church. They cannot be justified.

    But KM, isn’t it is a bit linear to argue that because some have been told they can’t speak their language in Church that we are all cringing under some spiritual colonial shackles that we have been too weak, to acknowledge or do anything about. Perhaps it is the inexperience or admittedly in some cases, intolerance of some individual leaders that should be addressed.

    We do belong to a Church that believes Zion will be built upon the American continent. So a significant American influence is inevitable.

    However I think that many are helping to carve out an identity that is our own within the Church and Gospel context. Check out the art of James Ormsby blending his Maori, Scottish and Mormon heritage. http://jamesormsby.com/largedrawings.htm

    Or the beautiful testimony on Mormon Scholars Testify of Rob Josephs, the first Maori male to receive a PhD in Law. http://mormonscholarstestify.org/955/robert-joseph

    No simpering second-class cousins there but bold statements of who they are and by some hazy extension who we are. Can we do better? Absolutely, the experiences of Matua show that, but we should also acknowledge that beautiful blended heritage that is very real here.

    Back in my tight jeans now, of course there were problems at CCNZ over the years, but those should never diminish the tremendous good that came out of the school. The last stats I saw in 2009 were that 50% of the Temple Marriages involved an ex CCNZ student. Generally we have about 220 missionaries serving from NZ about 50% of them attended CCNZ before it closed. Not bad for a school that taught about 7% of LDS youth in NZ.

    Again not wanting to trivialise the experience of your siblings, but isn’t it a bit simplistic to say that they had a bad experience at CCNZ so now it’s unlikely they will ever enter a Chapel. Generally the reasons for not actively participating are usually a bit more complex than that. Not wanting to threadjack or anything, but please pass on to them my personal invitation to the 55th year CCNZ Reunion next Easter http://ccnz2013.com perhaps time may soothe a wounded soul.

    Anyway, thanks again for forcing me (in the nicest possible way) to think about my own place and identity in this wonderful place we call church, that I hope far more often than not folds us into that warm blanket we call the Gospel.

    • Matua

      Tena koe matua Bob. Gladdened to hear the culture
      Isn’t left at the door. Totally agree re: to not understanding
      The words but moved by the spirit.

    • Ritchie

      The objective of the Church is to teach the gospel first and foremost. And the Church always accommodates to ensure that the gospel is taught in the language of the members of a ward/branch. This is how it is done all around the world and in the early days of the church in New Zealand. However, the situation is different now in New Zealand where all members of Maori descent speak English fluently with only a few members who speak Maori fluently. While formally injecting Te Reo into a service (where everyone speaks/understands English) sounds like a great idea and would be embraced by Maori members, it runs the risk of alienating those who are not Maori. But if a parent wants to take the initiative to teach the 13 Articles of Faith in Maori, I also think they should “go for it.”

      • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

        Yes, that’s been the argument for many – lets default to the language, the habits, the politics, the systems, the processes, the institutions etc of the majority – in order to meet the needs of the majority because its clear that the majority don’t have nearly enough social, linguistic, economic, political and cultural privileges in this country!! Do you really think that Maori should feel obliged to curb their aspirations because they might hurt the feelings of Pakeha and upset their spiritual constitution? Perhaps if CCNZ had apprised their students of the political context behind New Zealand’s colonisation, the legal violations, the cultural and material appropriations, the physical violence that rendered generations of people landless, resourceless, languageless, disenfranchised and alienated etc. etc. ex-CCNZ students might be more active today in seeking some much needed redress in saving another generation of Maori from the vicissitudes of colonisation!

      • Ritchie

        It may have been the argument for many, but that isn’t my argument at all. The Church in New Zealand is not defaulting to the English language and expecting people to default to it. The Maori people have defaulted to it and the Church has obliged. If the Maori people had stayed with the Maori language, the Church would have equally obliged. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but are implying that by teaching the gospel in English that is somehow curbing the aspirations of the Maori people to speak Maori? My aunt (bless her heart) led this cause when I was growing up and her argument was if the Samoans and Tongans have their own Ward, why can’t we have a Maori Ward. In my mind (of course, otherwise I’d get a slap) I thought, “Ummmm….because we don’t speak Maori….?”

      • Ritchie

        As far as the teaching CCNZ students about political context, they were no different than any other school in the country in teaching them anything beyond what was taught in a 5th Form History class (now I am showing my age, I don’t think they call it 5th Form anymore) with regard to the Treaty of Waitangi, Bastion Point, Raglan etc. But if they did teach more than the rest of the country, it is conjecture that many of them would have joined Maori land protest movement, I know it would have made no difference to me.

  • DJ Park

    I believe in freedom, especially the right to use your own language. But keep writing your blog in English. I enjoy your writing and couldn’t read it otherwise.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      That’s funny

  • Ritchie

    I find that you opinion of CCNZ a little unnerving not because I don’t agree with it but because you tried to criticize the school for what it wasn’t doing in advancing Maori language, issues, and culture when that was never its primary aims. I am a Maori who went to CCNZ. While I did learn about Maori Issues and Maori Culture, and probably no more or less than any other school in NZ,
    I had no interest in being fluent in Maori and if that was the school’s primary purpose, I probably would not have gone.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Kia ora Ritchie

      Regardless of the context there have been significant research evidence that strongly points to the relationship between a strong culturally responsive curriculum and academic success. So much so that every teacher in New Zealand now needs to be demonstrably competent in the areas that I highlight in order to be registered with the New Zealand teacher’s council and its not just pandering and political correctness gone mad. It makes a significant academic difference for Maori children.

      • Ritchie

        I agree with the research to a degree but you will have to define exactly what culture you are talking about because as we all know not every Maori like myself comes from a cultural background that is exclusively Maori. Still I think you are making a circular argument here. if academic success is the “primary” objective, didn’t studies show (I can’t cite the research for sure but something I read) that Maori students who attended CCNZ scored higher than Maori students nationally? If that is the case, can that be attributed to CCNZ’s “culturally responsive curriculum”? But then again, you have to consider also that the primary objectives of CCNZ was neither a culturally responsive curriculum nor academics but the seminary and institute program. Whether that was primary objective or not is debatable but that was what I was reminded of when I went to CCNZ.

  • Ritchie

    I would like to point out a few misnomers (for what is worth) regarding the comparison between the Treaty of Waitangi and American patriotism in sacrament meetings. Yes, it is true that Americans sing patriotic songs in Church during the 4th of July but I have yet to see them do it with their hand to their heart. Maybe some do it and I have never noticed. But members are usually have their hands full with either their green hymnal or managing kids. Usually during this time the emphasis or theme is about the freedoms that God has given them in order for them to not only practice religion but to also give them the freedom to establish the church in last dispensation. Americans usually don’t go into detail in church about the Constitution or the events leading up to Independence Day. Also, I don’t think you can compare that with Waitangi Day because it means something else entirely. The 4th of July to America is a day of celebration and unity, and Waitangi Day is a day of controversy that seems to affect different New Zealanders in a different way. Maybe I am missing something here but I guess if you can fit Waitangi Day and its significance within a gospel context, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be talked about in Church. Also, aren’t all patriotic songs for each respective country are available as an insert. I remember seeing “Advance Australia Fair” and I am sure I saw “God Defend New Zealand.” I think it depends on the ward/branch.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      If the Americans can construct a heady patriotic that links the divine with their genesis I’m sure we can as well. In fact we might even have greater cause to inasmuch as the CMS missionaries were deeply involved in shaping the Treaty of Waitangi. Bishop Pompallier even insisted on the 4th article (religion freedom). Waitangi Day might popularly be constituted as a day of controversy but religious traditions have the capacity and freedom to step over that and create a more positive narrative about it. The Anglican church does that all the time because it has a commitment to this place and has domesticated their faith tradition in New Zealand. It uses te reo in its liturgy and even high Anglican services frequently us reo and references to the Treaty of Waitangi in their sermons (I know this because 3 of my children attend Anglican schools).

      • Ritchie

        Kia Ora Kiwimormon,

        I agree with you so far as that if it can be done then I personally have no problem with it. Part of me is a little skeptical. Partly because I have not seen it done, and also because I have always seen Waitangi Day as a day of controversy marking one of the biggest land deals of the 19th century where one side didn’t have a lawyer. Also, it comes from my ignorance as I have not studied the Treaty as well as maybe many others have to understand its true significance in these modern times as well as in a gospel context. I will however admit as we all generally agree that Americans are very patriotic when it comes to 4th of July. Americans mostly believe that the country was set up through Providence or as Madison through the “finger of that Almighty hand.” (I read this funny enough last night in my attempt to finish reading the Federalist Papers). Mormon doctrine has supported this as well through events prophesied in the Book of Mormon so it seems to be an easy fit. However, just because New Zealand is not mentioned specifically (or even symbolically) doesn’t mean that that Godly finger didn’t have his hand in moving the gospel forward in Aotearoa. Whether through the Treaty or the resulting system of government, New Zealand is a country that encourages religious freedom and tolerance which has enabled the gospel to come forth. I would daresay that religious tolerance is stronger in New Zealand than in the United States, and therefore New Zealand Mormons have every right to celebrate that in their congregations. Like Matua, I am also of Kahungungu heritage and I have often shared in U.S. congregations of the prophecies made by my ancestors about the arrival of Church in New Zealand. New Zealand Mormons both Maori and non-Maori have a lot to be proud of.

  • http://melanierc.wordpress.com melanierc

    Mena ka pirangi te tangata ki te ako i te reo me ona tikanga Maori – he wahi ano mo tena. Ko te tino kaupapa o te whakapono i Ihu Karaiti te tikanga to To Tatou Matua i Te Rangi, e ai ki te Pukapuka Tapu nona te ara, te pono me te marama. Ahakoa he Maori ahau no Rangitane me Ngati Kuia, tuatahi he tamahine ahau o Te Matua ki runga. Ko Ihu Karaiti te toka tu moana. E te tuakana, ka tautoko ahau ki o wawata mo te ahua kaha mo Ngai Tatou ko te iwi Maori, engari – kaua e wareware he rereke nga whakaahua, nga whakaaro me nga wawata o etahi o Ngai Tatou hoki, ahakoa kei raro tatou i te tuanui kotahi.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Pehea nga tangata Maori e hiahia ana ki te mau i a ratou reo Maori, a ratou tikanga Maori, me nga mea katoa no a ratou tupuna matua ki te hahi? Ko nga ahuatanga Moromona he ahuatanga ngawari mo aua tangata? Ae, ko te hahi, ko te ahuatanga hei whitiwhiti korero e pa ana te rongo pai of Ihu Karaiti, engari ki etahi ko te tikanga Maori te tino ahuatanga ki te ako, ki te korero hoki mo te rongopai. I nehera i mohio nga mihinare Mormona e taua take, inaianei kua whakakapi te hahi mormona ki te whakaaro Pakeha. Ki ahau he mea raupatu tera, he mea tino pouri hoki.

      • Matua

        Karawhuia mai te reo. Tena korua. E oku tuahine e whakatinana ana ou whakaaro i nga kupu maori. He patai ano te patai, ko taku me patai. Nera na toku patai ka hua mai tenei korero.

        Me korero maori I nga wa katoa I nga wahi katoa. Ko au ano tetahi na tenei ra tonu, mehemea hiahia ana koingo ana ranei Kia reo maori…wepua, amene.

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  • Marina

    Tena koe Gina. I have not only felt refreshed by reading your blogs but have also felt more empowered to use my own voice and be free with my own opinions so I have to thank you for that. I do not want in anyway to belittle your opinions as I appreciate them but would merely like to give my view as far as my non-academic abilities allow! Firstly I would like to say that I did attend CCNZ. I wanted to attend that particular school so that I could learn to become a good mormon and hopefully find a husband. Sad but true. I have 5 siblings and we all attended CCNZ apart from the oldest one. My sisters married ex CCNZ students. I did manage to find a husband there (although it was not until 26 years after we met at CCNZ) and I am still working on becoming a good mormon. I appreciate the grounding that I had at CCNZ as that was about the only time in my life that I strived to educate myself about the gospel. Thankfully attending an LDS institution made that task a lot easier. I personally did not attend CCNZ with the motive of learning how to become a good Maori. I am from Christchurch and I am Maori but I did not have an upbringing that taught me about my culture. This never bothered me until I attended CCNZ. In my first year there I was very conscious of having “white Maori” status. I was overwhelmed at times by the use of Maori language (which certainly was there when I attended) and by the Maori/Polynesian culture that did have influence at the school. For those that did want to learn how to be a Maori there certainly were ample opportunities to do so – not in a political sense no – but if you wanted to learn the language and the culture those avenues were open to you. Thankfully those opportunities weren’t compulsory as I would have been very unhappy at being forced into it at that stage of my life. Personally I believe if you want your children to be strong in their culture then you should send them to schools where that is the focus. It was not the focus of CCNZ. It was a Church school and the motto was “Build Now for Eternity”, not “Build Now for Maoritanga”. I would also like to address the comments that are made by many people about the bullying that they experienced at CCNZ. Did bullying occur? Yes it absolutely did. I experienced it myself. But I’ve also experienced bullying at every other New Zealand school that I’ve attended. I’ve even experienced bullying in the workplace including during a time when I worked at Te Runanga O Ngai Tahu – where I experienced the worst bullying I’ve ever encountered. Bullying is a pervasive problem and is not particular to any one institution. It says more about the culture of New Zealand or even about the culture of humanity than it does about CCNZ. Certainly we would hope that such things would not occur at a Church school but if Stake Presidents and Bishops can commit adultery and leave their wives and families, how can we expect perfection from LDS children in the school place? Regarding the sexual impropriety that you mention yes, it also happened. As it happens in other schools. I’ve heard stories about BYU Provo and BYU Hawaii that are pretty terrible. Again I think these things say more about the culture of our society, and also about the helplessness of the Church when it comes to dealing with these issues. Yet another reason why we need to talk about it. Once again I thank you for giving us your voice even if we may not agree with your views at times I think we need to be free to speak about the unspeakable. I personally am grateful for the connection that I have with CCNZ – in all of it’s imperfect and incredible beauty. I wish that everyone could understand the love that many of us have for it. My heart will always lie there.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Nga mihi Marina

      Thanks for your comments. I think you are absolutely right. CCNZ was in so many ways a wonderful school for so many and like we do too often in the church we expect a level of thinking, conduct and circumspection to match our moral convictions and are often disappointed when they aren’t met in practice. However, I don’t think my reference to Mere’s experience was meant to refer to the complete story, but it is part of the story of CCNZ and if we are to ever grow up as a church we simply can’t just take parts of stories and make them the entire story because it suits our religious sales pitch. The story of CCNZ is that it was good, bad, bullying, supportive, kupapa, tikanga etc. all of that and more. The story of the church is contested, complex and full of goodness as well as frustration all at the same time. If you are who I think you are, I remember one day in Relief Society somebody mentioned Bruce R. McConkie. Your mum responded very emphatically, ‘I don’t like that man’ (as only she can). As an 18 year old I suddenly lit up with interest. In the middle of this flowering rhetoric that was supposed to seduce us into the narcotised sleep of the self-righteous, she comes up with this one thing that told me that our sacralized church narratives can be problematic and what’s more everyone needs to be heard. I wanted to know why she didn’t like McConkie, I wished that the lesson had stopped at that point and she had her say. Predictably it didn’t, there were nervous shufflings and it moved quickly on. More than anything else -that irritated me as I saw the circle close with her on the outside – because she didn’t say it like it was supposed to be said. Now, I realise that it might not be judicious to always give your mum the microphone but I hope you get my point. We aren’t helped by taking only parts of our truth and eschewing the rest, just as we aren’t helped by leaving our whole selves at the door of the chapel and asked to perform a kind of Mormonism that meets some normative standard that has washed up on our shorelines.

      Thanks for commenting Marina!

      • Marina

        Yes Gina, that sounds like my mother. I myself have spent many years shuffling my feet and squirming in my seat while my mother gave voice to her opinions. Not that I was embarrassed by the opinions themselves but usually by the timing in which they were given. My coping mechanism was to keep my own mouth firmly shut which wasn’t difficult because my opinions were never asked for. But there must be something of her in me because at the ripe old age of 41 I am finally starting to open my mouth. BTW I asked her why she didn’t like Bruce R. Mckonkie but her memory isn’t as good as it used to be and she can’t remember. Sadly that will forever remain a mystery!

    • Ritchie

      Nice post Marina.

  • Jaimee

    I stumbled on your blog as an accident. I live in the states and have lived in many different wards and stakes. In several different places the area culture had alot of spansish speakers. One had lots of Pacific Island native speakers. One thing that I have always loved was hearing other’s native languages, but I did feel left out that I could not understand what they were saying, especially if it was their testimoney. One way around this problem, I.E people wanting to speak their own native tounge and others wanting to understand, is to ask someone to translate for them as they speak. I have seen this in every ward that I have ever lived in. Prayers, testimonies, talks, etc are given in the native launguage of the speaker, with a volunteer to translate it into English for the rest of us to understand. The person often stood next to the speaker, translating simultaneously. One stake in the south that I lived in had a whole ward and branch of just Latin American members. At stake conference, a translator was chosen, who sat up at the front, translating the whole conference into a little microphone. His words were transmitted to headsets that the native spanish speakers could wear. So they could be in the meeting and hear the message in their native tonuge at the same time. With some effort, kindness, and a little monitary investment, all can hear the gospel and share the gospel in their native tongue. The whole point of the gospel is for every person to hear the gospel in their native tongue. That is why we send missionaries to the MTC to learn a foriegn language. If we were all supposed to give up our native culture and language, we would not train them to speak different languages. OK, that’s my 2 cents worth from the other side of the globe! :)

  • Garth watene

    If you want to champion reo maori, the VERY least you can do is spell it correctly.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Aue e hoa! Ka nui tōku aroha ki a koe mo tēnei tino hara. Ae, tika ana tō kōrero, ko tēnā te mea nui – te tuhituhi reo! Ehara te kōrero te kai a te rangatira. Ko tāku – he maurea kai whiria.

      • Garth watene

        (incorrect) e te iwi mormona…..
        (translation) to all the fat people…..

        (correct) e te iwi moromona…..
        (translation) to all the mormons…..

        I hope you don’t pronouce the way you spell. If spelling correctly is not a big deal to you then maybe it should be.

        Personally I would have worded it this way

        E te hunga tapu…..
        (translation) to all the saints….

        Or

        E te hunga tapu o nga ra o muri nei…..
        (translation) to all the latter day saints…..

        Kia ora

        • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

          Well then, if we are going to be picky about these things then neither of us is correct.

          momona = fat, not mormona

    • Matua

      Bro hard enough to spell English correctly (for some) who are still sucking on the cultural teat.

  • garth watene

    kia ora kiwi mormon

    now that thats out of the way, there are a few comments i would like to make.

    Firstly reo Maori in the church. I choose not to speak maori in my ward as although there a number of reo speakers in the ward, the vast majority do not. As Has been mentioned in previous comments, I think understanding the message is paramount. If all you needed was the spirit to understand a talk, then all church resources around the world could be in english and everyone would understand . Furthermore i think you can run the risk of seeming like you are piggy backing a cultural/political message on the back of a talk that should have a spiritual message if you are speaking to a large congregation who doesn’t understand te reo Maori, in which case some people may ask, what is more important to the speaker. Making people feel left out because you want to feel better about your identity and place in the church in my opinion is the wrong direction to go. A better way would be to advocate for compulsory reo Maori in schools. Putting pressure on society at large which is historically responsible for the loss of our language is I believe the best avenue for results. That way it wouldn’t matter which language you spoke as everyone would understand. I realise this would have its challenges, but in my opinion would be less contentious. I also realise that many of our people were forced to speak english and punished for speaking Maori at school. I feel forcing reo Maori on a congregation that lacks understanding would take us down a similar path. I have whanaunga in pipiwai that regularly speak maori in church and i think its great, of course there are a large number of reo speakers there. We also have a kaumatua in our ward who when he speaks starts off with a mihi, then switches to english for the remainder of his talk and i think that is awesome.

    the reason i was pushing you on the spelling was because you are advocating reo Maori in church and yet you have a spelling mistake in the small amount of reo at the end of your blog.

    was going to make other comments but have to go.

    kia ora

  • Eileen

    I attended CCNZ way back in the 70′s, a white aussie pakeha (sp) and absolutely l0ved the culture classes that happened weekly. There was Maori, where I tried and failed to master the poi, I loved the slap dance of one of the other groups and saw the haka performed on a regular basis, I saw plenty of culture during my one year there. I remember arriving late to YW and hearing the opening hymn being sung in harmonies, in that beautiful Polynesian style, that I had never heard back home in Australia, I thought there must have been a choir visiting and performing but it was just the Young Women from our ward At that time we had both Maori, American and a wonderful Kiwi Institute teacher, they were all excelent, so different to what I had experienced in my local high school. I remember the installation of a sculpture in the school grounds of the Pohutakawa tree (sp), timber beatifully carved and finished in the traditional methods. Maori was not taught or spoken to my knowledge, a shame for the language, but from my experience the College tried very hard to integrate Culture into the curriculum and my life has been made richer from that experience. I look back with great affection to that year at CCNZ and was sorry to hear it had been closed.

    • Gina Colvin

      I’d have to agree, CCNZ was special for many reason. I taught there briefly and really enjoyed it. But it wasn’t without its difficulties, nor its justified criticisms. I wasn’t sorry it closed, I was sorry they didn’t attend to the issues that had plagued it for years so that it could continue!


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