Story: Anglican Church

Page 5. Church debate and dissent

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War and peace

Anglicans supported the country’s involvement in the major 20th century wars, and some clergy actively participated as military chaplains. During the Second World War a tiny number of Anglicans were pacifists. Archbishop Campbell West-Watson and Bishops C. A. Cherrington and Herbert Holland gave them sympathetic but cautious support.

New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War provoked both endorsement and opposition from Anglicans. Bishops Henry Baines and Allan Pyatt were among the outspoken critics.

From the 1970s the anti-nuclear movement gained increasing church support. George Armstrong, an Anglican priest, was involved in founding the Peace Squadron in Auckland to oppose nuclear ship visits. This protest contributed to the passing of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987.

Race relations

From the 1960s many New Zealand churchgoers regarded sporting contacts with South Africa as supporting apartheid. Anglicans were divided on this issue. Some joined in the protests that culminated in the fierce opposition to the 1981 Springbok rugby tour. St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Auckland provided a venue for anti-tour meetings, and the church’s curate, Andrew Beyer, chaired the combined protest organisation MOST (Mobilisation to Stop the Tour). Archbishop Paul Reeves, with other church leaders, was prominent in opposing the tour. In 1995 Nelson Mandela visited St Matthew’s to thank those who had protested against apartheid.

The anti-tour protests raised awareness about race relations in New Zealand. Anglicans joined with others in protesting at Waitangi about breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi. Clergy and theological students were among protesters arrested there during a service of worship in 1983. Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe’s dramatic sermon at the 150th anniversary of the treaty’s signing in 1990, in the presence of the Queen, was a call to honour the treaty.

Walking for change

The 1998 Hīkoi of Hope was a nationwide march on Parliament, headed by Anglican and other church leaders, to draw attention to rising poverty and social inequality in New Zealand. ‘The Hīkoi is a way of letting physical presence do the talking. It is not simply a protest march against an issue, or an exercise in partisan politics seeking someone to blame. Instead, the Hīkoi declares a hope for new policies which will address structural issues contributing to financial hardship, ill-health, lack of employment opportunities and social exclusion.’1

The Anglican Bicultural Commission on the Treaty of Waitangi in 1984 led to a revision of the constitution in 1992 which reshaped the church. Bishop Manu Bennett’s membership of the Waitangi Tribunal from 1986 to 1997 brought a notable Māori Anglican voice to its deliberations.

Social justice

Richard Randerson’s appointment as Anglican Social Responsibility Commissioner in 1990, and subsequent appointees, have helped provide national leadership on social justice issues ranging from economic wellbeing and genetic modification to environmental concerns.

Throughout the 1990s the growth of poverty in New Zealand, and the difficulties faced by voluntary agencies attempting to meet the needs of the poor, provoked church responses. Before the 1993 election church leaders issued a Social Justice Statement. Three years later the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services published An open letter about poverty in New Zealand which included 11 Anglican bishops among the signatories.

The Anglican General Synod initiated the Hīkoi of Hope in 1998. Thousands of marchers, led by Anglican bishops, converged on Wellington. They expressed concerns about housing, poverty, jobs, education and health. This resulted in regular meetings between church leaders, government ministers and politicians at which the churches’ social concerns were raised.

  1. ‘Voices on the Hikoi of Hope’, (last accessed 31 March 2010). Back
How to cite this page:

Allan K. Davidson, 'Anglican Church - Church debate and dissent', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 4 July 2022)

Story by Allan K. Davidson, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 20 Apr 2018