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Comment: You have to be encapsulated

Wed 24 Jun 2015 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

Sectarianism. It's the habitual status and curse of antigay pressure groups, but what does the term actually mean for LGBT organisations and individuals who oppose 'sectarians?' And how does this affect current insights into the unfolding crisis within New Zealand's Conservative Party? See the outer layer insulating the inner constituents from having to encounter the outside world Whenever one thinks of sectarianism, no doubt specific memories come to mind. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were fought between predominantly Catholic supporters of Irish republicanism against mostly fundamentalist Protestant supporters of retained Union with the rest of the United Kingdom, although religious affiliation was often vestigial and nominal, except in the case of Reverend Ian Paisley and members of his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), most of whom seem to be professing fundamentalist Protestants. Or, more recently, the Balkan crises of the nineties, in which the Serbian Orthodox Church blessed the ruthless actions of Slobodan Milosevic's racist and sectarianism anti-Muslim and anti-Croat Serbian nationalist armies against Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Or, to demonstrate that the problem isn't solely with Christianity, the current hostilities in Iraq between Sunni ISIS and Shia Muslim paramilitary militia over control of that unfortunate nation. Sectarianism need not be religious, either. Both marxism and libertarianism have their own arcane internal ideological schisms over tactics, strategy, interpretation of core texts and public policy. However, for the purposes of this article, I will emphasise questions of conservative Christian sectarianism, given that they dominate opponents of LGBT rights. What are conservative Christian sectarians? They are those who tend to have supremacist ideas about religious affiliation, who believe that religious affiliation should be a core social category and source of public policy. They are affiliated to particular denominations or cohesive religious sects which have strong emphases on central doctrine, hierarchical structures and obedience to them, and often isolated from mainstream social interactions, which are controlled by their churches. These discourage them from engaging in meaningful dialogue and collaborative engagement with others. It's not difficult to think of New Zealand churches that have played such roles in the past and present when it comes to antigay (and other) Christian Right activism. For example, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, a small Dutch emigrant-dominated conservative Calvinist sect, dominated the Christian Heritage Party of the eighties and nineties. Destiny Church founded a political party named after that church, Destiny New Zealand, and the Conservative Party largely seems to consist of fundamentalist Pentecostal Christians. Conservative Catholic sectarianism is rarer in New Zealand, although the Democratic Labor Party of Australia is a good example of otherwise. Ironically, given the current headaches that have arisen for the Conservative Party, comparable ructions have arisen between conservative Catholic sectarians and ecumenists who favour collaboration with Orthodox and fundamentalist Protestant Christians, Orthodox Jews and other religious social conservatives. In sociological terms, the core elements to consider are rhetoric/doctrine and isolation from significant social interactions with "non"-believers. Sects have particular in-house jargon that distinguish adherents from those outside the 'charmed circle.' They are encouraged to think along particular narrow channels and thus interpret the world in blinkered ways, that discourage critical inquiry and analysis of the presuppositions of that religious or political sect. They do not enter coalitions easily and emphasise their own sectarian and partisan interests above all else while involved. They despise those who do undertake meaningful coalitions and political dialogue within their particular religious and philosophical tradition, particularly those who do so from a liberal vantage point within it. If they take over mainstream religious denominations, they kill them through strangulation and constriction of potential participants. One witnesses the fates of the Presbyterian and Baptist churches within New Zealand. Theirs, and only theirs is the 'traditional,' 'moral,' 'Christian' (or 'Muslim') or 'family" philosophy and public policy. For example, Family First pretentiously remarks that "Families" (read: Right-wing fundamentalist Christian activist families) 'oppose' particular progressive social policies. Sectarianism and isolationism can become a disincentive for collaboration and coalition politics within antigay and Christian Right politics over time. The Christian Heritage Party's sectarian bias led to the formation of the Christian Democrats/Kiwi Party, whose own sectarianism led them to break away from United Future over Peter Dunne's independence over parental corporal punishment. Destiny Church thinks that pakeha-dominated fundamentalist churches are 'spiritually dead.' Pentecostals boast of church growth, leading some wry non-Pentecostals to compare such growth to germs or metastasising cancer cells within the human body, which end up killing their host. The Conservative Party's populism turns off pragmatic centre-right social liberals and the party's rhetoric amusingly made excessive boasts about its leader, its brand and its level of public support. As I listened to John Stringer discuss his party's recent woes on TV3's The Nation (20/06/2015), I noted how the curse of sectarianism had blighted the Conservative Party's particular recent political trajectory. John Stringer claims that former party leader Colin Craig apparently behaved as an absolute ruler within his party, abusing processes of confidentiality to sabotage transparency, governance and accountability and isolate and discourage internal party dissidents. Meanwhile, his party's board had tried to raise these serious concerns about absence of organisational due process and collegiality and had allegedly confronted Colin Craig over the question of Rachel McGregor and her claims of sexual harassment. However, Colin Craig deflected criticism and intimidated critics, until documented evidence about his alleged misbehaviour became too public to ignore. Even his abrupt resignation as party leader sidestepped established processes within his party. While I have considerable respect for John Stringer as a person, and admire him for his deep personal integrity, the real problem here is sectarian philosophy and its attendant cult of authoritarian leadership, which enabled Colin Craig to carry on like a martinet, even if it meant that his own political party became too paralysed to operate coherently for the last nine months. On 3 News that evening, Colin Craig said that he'd be seeking a retraction from Stringer, threatening legal action, and disputing Stringer's version of events. This has had the side-effect of discouraging leadership aspirants, such as Garth McVicar, Bob McCoskrie and Christine Rankin, none of whom seem to want the job. The only Christian Right aspirant that hasn't sidestepped in this context has been Bob McCoskrie of Family First. Moreover, Craig has been using terms like "stepping down," implying that his retreat from office is only temporary and that he anticipates returning as party leader. His behaviour against Stringer is being met with defiance and opposition from the man himself, arguing that Craig will not return and he has denounced autocracy within the party organisation. He has also stated that there is documented evidence of Craig's unethical conduct. If this can be verified, then any defamation case against Stringer will fail. If not, then it will succeed. Either way, this looks like civil war within New Zealand's latest fundamentalist microparty, but why? Spin and counterspin escalated on Monday 22nd June. First, the Conservative Party Board threatened to expell their errant former leader, who then held a media conference with his wife alongside him. According to Craig, the situation had been that while there had been "inappropriate conduct" of an unspecified nature, there had not been sexual harassment against Ms McGregor. The problem had been one of an invoice that totalled $NZ 50,000, presumably for services rendered as media consultant and Craig denounced mischief-making from his former board member colleagues. However, in his disclosure, Craig apparently breached a confidentiality agreement with Ms McGregor, who stated to One Network News (22 June) that there were 'factual inaccuracies' in Craig's statement, although she confirmed that the two of them had never had a sexual relationship, nor had any sexual harassment been involved, although she confirmed that there had been financial relationships to resolve. Meanwhile, John Stringer asserted that he'd seen transcripts of "poems, sexts and letters" and stated that the relationship was unilateral, considering of possible unilateral and unwelcome overtures from Craig. Or not. Belinda Feek (New Zealand Herald, 23.06.2015) argued that the non-verbal communication cues of Colin and Helen Craig suggested a couple whose relationship was under strain, relying on body language and facial expressions to reach her conclusions. Whether they are accurate impressions or not is a moot point. They may primarily be the result of sustained stress due to the events of the last week. It's possible that the Conservative Party has done this so that it can avoid what damage befell the Maxim Institute and Christian Heritage Party in 2005 after revelations of unethical conduct. The Institute closed its Christchurch headquarters, Bruce Logan "resigned" and their Evidence magazine ceased to exist. With the CHP, Graham Capill's long tenure as leader caused its dissolution and permanent closure. It would therefore be understandable if the Conservatives board emphasised collective governance, accountability and transparency to exorcise Capill's metaphorical ghost. John Stringer certainly seems to have that ethos in mind as he confronts Colin Craig over what he sees as its absence in the context of his former party leader and seems determined to avoid another "Capillgate" situation arising and destroying the Conservative Party in its turn. Whether Colin Craig has a similar strong ethos of accountability and transparency comparable to those commendably displayed by this Conservative Party Board member remain to be seen. It took him time to disclose details about the financial transactions at the core of this debacle, but I accept that he may have been bound by confidentiality agreements with Ms. McGregor. Independent verification needs to occur in this context, preferably by a neutral source. On Tuesday June 23, things escalated still further. Former Conservative Chief Executive Christine Rankin has resigned from her position and the Conservative Party as well over the Colin Craig quagmire. She disparaged the Board for six months of inertia before tackling Craig head on. Later that day, former Auckland Central Conservative candidate Regan Monaghan and Colin Craig's own brother, Andrew Craig, joined her. Although Craig is still trying to appeal to the party rank and file over the Board's heads, Craig is also investigating the possibility of establishing yet another fundamentalist microparty. Depending on whether or not one counts the various incarnations of the Christian Democrats, Future New Zealand and Kiwi Party as seperate or consecutive versions of the same party, this will be New Zealand's eighth to tenth fundamentalist microparty if it happens. Sectarianism is very good at generating abundant sects if disagreements arise, whether Trotskyite or Maoist marxists, libertarians...or, ironically, conservative Christians, which may explain the origins of the term in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. But does the party rank and file see things this way? If this standoff continues, logic suggests that membership attrition, branch closure and opinion poll collapse will ensue. Either Colin Craig will triumph and silence his internal party critics,who will then presumably leave the party or face expulsion (apart from the courageous John Stringer, it would seem); or the party will have to expell its initial leader...and how many Craig loyalists will leave at the same time? Is it significant that the Conservative Party website still contains speeches and images of Colin Craig, almost a week after its departure? In the Manawatu Standard (23 June), columnist Liam Hehir noted that the Conservative Party risked not being seen as "authentic" in this context, and only time would tell whether it turned out to be a personality-driven populist "Colinista" movement, or could survive the messy departure of its founder under such murky circumstances. Even worse for the combatants, there is a looming party conference in September 2015. Things could become even more acrimonious if this schism is left unresolved. Sectarians are probably our safest bet and asset amongst our opponents. They represent a tower (actually, more of a bungalow) of babble and ideological 'purity' amongst antigay conservative Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants. Ideological purity may represent a source of consolation and strong personal identity for sectarian membership and leadership. However, when it comes to pragmatic coalition activity and advancing particular areas of public policy, they can become useless and counter-productive. Not all conservative Christians are sectarian and some are pragmatic enough to collaborate with other religious social conservatives, or even across party lines when the need arises. Recommended: "Interview: Conservative Party's John Stringer" The Nation: 20.06.2015: stringer-2015062012 Jacob Brown: "Colin Craig admits inappropriate conduct with Rachel McGregor": 3 News: 22.06.2015: 2015062216 Amanda Gillies: "Colin Craig demands retraction from Stringer" 3 News: 20.06.2015: stringer-2015062016 Nicholas Jones: "Craig in standoff with Conservative board" New Zealand Herald: 21.06.2015: Craig Young - 24th June 2015    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Wednesday, 24th June 2015 - 9:40am

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