Skip to main content

Racism, Crime, and the Church

One of the things I was surprised about on coming to NZ was the implicit racism among so many Kiwis who had a view of themselves as enlightened and progressive. The prevailing national attitude is that the most appropriate and effective response to crime is to increase punishments and the length of detention. The fact is that in NZ certain ethnic groups commit crime out of all proportion to the population statistics. By pinning all the blame for criminality on the individual and seeking redress for crime through punishment you are implicitly stating that all responsibility for crime rests on the individual's essential nature. As certain ethnic groups contain a higher proportion of these criminal individuals it can only follow that these ethnic groups are inherently more criminal than others. The only way out of this racist cul-de-sac is for society to accept its own responsibility for the crime as well. Middle class Kiwi's hate this suggestion. They refuse to acknowledge that the historical, cultural and social legacies of NZ have resulted in large groups of disadvantaged people who are inevitably going to make a higher proportion of bad decisions because they have inherited a legacy of bad choices.

This concept of collective guilt is very distasteful to the individual. They do not see how it can be right for them to be blamed for those things done in the past by people long since dead. But injustice is not just perpetrated by individuals but also by societies -often without even the conscious assent of individuals in that society. It is not that we who prosper in NZ should feel guilt about things in history over which we had no control, but that as a society we need to take responsibility for those members of our society who -also through no fault of their own- have inherited negative cultural legacies, and will inevitably be presented with a range of bad choices which the middle class will never face. So much crime is not actually a sign of a particular individual or group of people being inherently evil, but simply a symptom of a society in which whole groups of society are disenfranchised and dis-empowered before they are even born. Only when those imbalances have been redressed does it make sense to blame the individual alone for their bad decisions.

Part of the work of the church therefore is to bring justice to the criminal, to recognise that the one who sins has also been sinned against. It is so easy to prosecute a mugger, burglar, or murderer. It is much harder to prosecute the society that created the conditions in which that human would become a criminal. In taking responsibility for those who society has sinned against the church bears the burden of society's sins and creates a place of redemption where the criminal can find both forgiveness for what they did but also restoration for what was done to them. The church's unique demographic, composed as it is of self-confessed sinners in need of a saviour, leaves it uniquely qualified for the task. The church's Lord, the redeemer and renewer of all creation, means it is also uniquely called to that task.

If you like that, have a look at this. Either way, let me know what you think :)


Popular posts from this blog

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

Thor Ragnarok and Parihaka: Postcolonial Apocalypse

Thor: Ragnarok is a riot of colour, sound, violence, humour, sci-fi and fantasy. As a piece of entertainment it is the best Marvel has produced so far. As in many of Taika Waititi's films the plot often seems secondary to the humour and a number of quirky moments seemed only to serve for a quick giggle. I left the theatre overwhelmed by the sensory experience, but ultimately unimpressed by any deeper meaning.

It wasn't until the second morning after my trip to the movies that I woke to the realisation that the movie could function as a profound postcolonial metaphor (I do some of my best thinking while alseep, also it can take me a while for the penny to drop). Unfortunately a quick google showed me that I was neither the first, nor the second to have this thought.

[Spoiler Alert!]

It's easy to miss with all the other stuff going on but Thor undergoes a postcolonial awakening during the film as he slowly realises that his beloved Asgard and its dominion of the nine realms …

Dale Martin does Mark

Dale Martin is an important and frequently controversial NT scholar. Those of us who can't make it to Yale to hear him teach can access some of his lectures, in fact his entire introduction to the NT course, through the magic of the internet.

Here he is holding forth on Mark . . .