Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Why I am Voting for the Old Flag

It seems likely that NZ will vote to retain its flag in the referendum which is on at the moment. I suspect that even if a lot of NZers might be keen to have a new flag, there is no reason at present to make the shift. It seems to me this is the sort of thing you do when and if you become a republic. As there is no reason, many people are miffed at the whole thing and the money spent. The process was poorly conceived and destined to fail from the beginning. I say this quite liking the new flag myself, but hey, many people liked the Wallabies before last year’s RWC, but they were never going to win.

On Sunday at church we were singing ‘We want to see Jesus lifted high, a banner that flies across this land,’ and we started pondering what it would be like to have a flag with Jesus on it.


After the service I thought more about it and realised that in a roundabout way we do have Jesus on the flag, four times. The Union Jack sits in the left corner. It is made up of three crosses, the cross of St Andrew, the Cross of Saint Patrick, and the Cross of St George.

Current NZ Flag  



Cross of St Patrick Ireland



Cross of St Andrew Scotland 



Cross of St George England and Wales 



Saint Andrew takes us back into the Scriptures to the brother of Simon Peter who, according to the Gospels, was a fisherman with his brother, James, and John (Mark 1). He was one of the first disciples to follow Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. Andrew in the Gospels is the one who finds the food for the feeding of the 5000 and tells Jesus that some Greeks in Jerusalem at Pentecost want to meet with him (John 6; 12). His prominence in John’s Gospel likely indicates he was known in the Asia Minor region later on—it being Ephesus where the Gospel likely originated. Andrew is associated with Scotland because legends say he helped them win some wars—dodgy stuff this may be, but his origins are less so.  

Originally a slave, Saint Patrick was a fifth century missionary to Ireland where he was known as the ‘Apostle of Ireland,’ became bishop, and is Ireland’s patron saint. The day remembering him, March 17, is a day of great festivity in Ireland and among the Irish abroad.

St George (AD 280-303) was a Roman soldier ultimately ordered to death for refusing to deny his Christian faith. In Catholic tradition, he is a key military saint. He is the patron saint of a number of nations.

So the Union Jack is three blended crosses all pointing to the one who hung on a cross to save a world and show the world the extent of ‘love your enemies.’ If only we would listen.
In addition, the NZ flag has the Southern Cross on it. 

The Southern Cross


While a natural astral phenomenon, the choice of the Southern Cross to be placed on the flag is not merely because it looks cool—it is shaped like a cross—for the Christian NZ founders, invoking again the basis of their faith, Christ crucified and risen.

The early NZ founders were almost all Christians, albeit imperfect and from a range of denominations and commitments ranging from token (nominal) to full-on faith. The Southern Cross flew on the first United Tribes Flag commissioned in 1835 and which still flies in Waitangi. Notably, it sits in the corner of a flag carrying the cross of St George (above).

The Flag of the United Tribes of NZ


After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the Union Jack was NZ’s flag. After this a variety of flags were developed, the current NZ flag was adopted.

So, the current NZ flag is embedded with Jesus Christ with four crosses, one a natural phenomenon from the southern sky, one linking our story to Jesus calling the first fishermen, and two linked into the religious and political history of the UK.

As I have researched and written this brief blog I have realised that whereas I was intending to vote for the new flag, I will not—not because of the politics (untimely waste of time and money), nor because of the design (the new one I like), but because it invokes in me my faith and our story which is founded indisputably on the blend of the Maori story and our European (especially British) Christian story—albeit a very marred version of the Christian narrative.

It reminds us as Kiwis that we have a history based on the Christian story. We can deny this as much as we like, blaming the worlds wars on religion, denying the bible as a lot of myth, calling the Christ of faith a fable built on a Jesus of history who may not even have existed, preferring faith in a flying spaghetti monster, or whatever—the problem with Christianity is not the Christ on whom it is founded, it is his followers (me included). His ideals rock! If only we would live them.

What can’t be denied is that we live in one of the greatest nations in the world, and one of the prime reasons for this is that it has been built to a large extent on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which at its core is compassion, love, mercy, honesty, decency, tolerance, moral goodness, justice, and egalitarianism and the like. Our systems of government, education, justice, welfare, and more, were carved out by people seeking to bring practical Christianity into being.

As a person whose life was seriously on the skids in my late teens and early twenties, my experiences of Jesus are undeniably real and he has transformed me from a drunken narcissistic arrogant twat into someone who, while still tending in all those directions at times, has become a decent person (I think). I am certain that there is no one who knew me from ages 13-23 who would believe that I would be a NT scholar and a Christian leader. I laugh myself remembering that lost soul. I also give thanks, because he saved my life.

So, tempted though I was to vote for the new flag, I am going to vote for the old one—‘cause I want to see Jesus lifted higher. Not the Jesus who is used as a pawn in political fights and wars—when he renounced such things. Not the Jesus who is used to justify bigotry and marginalization—when he hung out at the margins with the sinners and demonized. Not the Jesus who is just a nice teacher—when he is the power that transforms individual lives, communities, nations, and a world. But the Jesus I read of in the New Testament of the Bible—the embodiment of God, the lover of the lost, the healer of the sick, the transformer of the world, the compassionate and merciful Christ and Son of God who changed me and is changing a world. 

5 comments:

David Layzell said...

I understand what you say Mark. However I think there are some sound reasons for voting for the new flag.
1) Great Britain has severed itself from New Zealand and is really part of Europe. We do not have a right to live in Britain and go through a different entrance way from European Union passport holders when entering the UK.
2) Most immigrants no longer come from Britain but from countries like China and India. These have no connection with Britain or in the case of China a negative one with respect to the Opium Wars where Britain used naval force to compel China to take opium.
3) Overseas people associate the kiwi and the fern with NZ and often get confused between the NZ and Australian flags.

Mark Keown said...

That's the wonderful thing about our culture, again, thanks in large part to our Christian heritage--you can have a different view than me, and you can vote for it. I respect your choice David and very nearly did the same for similar reasons. One thing I would say in response, is by keeping the flag, we can use it in the citizenship process to teach them our heritage including our Christian and Maori stories. So, your arguments can be inverted to argue for keeping the flag. Interestingly, the majority on NZers seem to consider our British heritage is not completely to be jettisoned; hence, we do not vote to be a republic, we want to keep the flag, etc. But I am not criticising those who vote for the new one. I really like it. But I am going old school. :)

Phillip Donnell said...

While Christians (of which I am one) may have laudible (Lord-ible?) notions of lifting Jesus higher on some kind of banner, it is tantamount to using our national flag as a form of Bible bashing. It is seeking to overtly impose the beliefs of a minority (and the related symbolism) on all the rest. Less than 20% of our population espouse Christianity, and though its Saviour may be unique, its values are not. The Union Jack does not reflect our present no-faith/multi-faith reality, so we end up with a flag that does not truly reflect New Zealand. While we may recognise that our society is based on the Judeo-Christian ethic (should we have the Star of David there as well?), and we are grateful for that heritage, I seriously wonder whether it is appropriate or actually abusive for us make our religion the determining factor in this issue, or whether we are better served by supporting more neutral icons, such as those drawn from creation. Jesus, when he decides to have his banner raised, will not need our flag or any other. I have a strong suspicion that he will design one all of his own, inclusive of EVERY tribe, language, people and nation.

Howard Carter said...

Good reflections Mark, Taking the union jack back to its original story of Christian origins. Like you I feel there needs to be real change before we need a new flag. While I identify with the silver fern, I am also aware that a large number of countries do not place their sporting emblem on their flag. Scotland has a thistle on their rugby jersey and it is identified as very Scottish, but does not need to appear on their flag. England has the rose, and again it does not appear on their flag. Fiji is going through the same process we are in looking for a new flag, and I am assuming it is as a result of political change and turmoil and in the last 23 designs to go before the nation non of them actually have a white background with a black palm tree, despite Fiji like new Zealand having a passion for rugby. Canada is the only country that seems to have managed to combine a sporting image, icon and flag together successfully.

I voted to maintain the current flag, not because I'm old and stuck in the mud, but what is offered as an alternative is not up to scratch. even the explanation of the silver fern given by the designer as symbolising our multiculturalness is attempting to infuse an existing symbol with new meaning. AS the fern is a natural occurrence of a fractal in nature, the repetition of a specific design over and over again it does not naturally lend itself to such a forced interpretation.

The idea that we should do away with the union jack because the UK has historically moved away from us and we no longer have rights of citizenship and its part of Europe denies the fact that our governance is based on the Westminster form of government. It shows the historic commitment we have to that form of government and until that changes while I Don't like its colonial ties it seems appropriate to have it on our flag. People emigrating to New Zealand from other countries may find such a system of government actually one of the reasons they want to be part of New Zealand, because of the basic freedoms it protects, the openness of government and the rights of the people it maintains (although I do see these as under threat).

Like you I value the affirmation of our Christian heritage and faith in the inclusion of the southern cross and the crosses and Celtic Christian roots of the crosses on the union jack. While I grew up in a Christian home and the Christian faith has ben part of my life. Like you as I found myself slipping into a deep depression as a teenager I encountered the living Jesus Christ in a way that made my family traditions come alive, be more than what we do on a Sunday, and that has made the difference for me ever since. It wasn't that Jesus was the answer, rather life has been about a question... the quest of following Jesus.

Jeremiah Duomai said...

Very interesting bit of history from the flag. Never saw the crosses in the flag before!