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Paul Morris interviewed on National Radio

Fri 28 Oct 2005 In: Comment

National Radio, Nine to Noon programme 20th October, 2005 Interviewer: Eva Radich Published by permission of Radio New Zealand and slightly edited by for clarity. Radich: Professor Paul Morris is a specialist scholar in contemporary world religions and Professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University. He's recently published a book which looks at the right in religion and politics in this country and its connections with big business. I asked Professor Morris about the influence of the Maxim Institute. Morris: I think part of the success of their campaigns, and a measure of their influence is the way they rallied the sectors of the so-called Christian vote - and of the more morally conservative vote - in support of National at the last election. And part of National's electoral success might well be attributed to Maxim and a number of other groups. Radich: So how are they doing that? It's obviously something they do behind the scenes. Morris: Well no, they've done some work behind the scenes. Partly they're what I call stealth Christians, because Maxim very clearly considers it to be a liability to be known as a ‘Christian' think tank, a Christian lobby group, although they are all Christians, and when I spoke to [recently disgraced Maxim head] Bruce Logan recently, he said: “We wouldn't employ anyone who wasn't a Christian.” Radich: But they like to portray themselves as a ‘think tank,' as a vehicle of research? Morris: Very much so. In the discussion I had with Bruce Wednesday week ago, I said: “You don't really do any sort of research.” He said: “But we do advocacy research,” and advocacy research is a very strange animal, well known to think thanks, which is that you kind of know the answer before you start... you commission writings that will support your position and... Radich: So, rather than having an open mind and going out and looking for information, [they] go out looking, targeting information? Morris: Yes. It's not quite like university. So often when I've begun research projects I've changed my mind as I've learned many things on the way, and a lot of university research is like that. But this is a very different. Radich: They've got a lot of very strong background people in education, in economics, so what sort of influence are they able to have within the Christian movement here? Morris: I think they have quite an influence and I think it operates both as a kind of facilitators thing. In, I think, March 2004 they had their forum on political correctness in Auckland which attracted Richard Prebble, Don Brash and Peter Dunne. And certainly they have a kind of outreach programme through their conferences, through their publications and through their very, very active dissemination of information that seeks, over particular political issues, to bring their Christian perspective right to the very very heart of the country's political debate. And they do this with active issues such as civil unions and prostitution law reform and smacking, and so they'll very actively get hold of MPs and give them information and try and discuss the issue and try and dissuade them, and so they're very active in meeting the political world with their Christian agenda. But they're also bringing together at their various forums Christian leaders and various parts of the Christian right with other moral conservatives and, of course, economic neo-liberals. So they bring together these very, historically in New Zealand, different groups. Radich: If we look at the last election and the role the Exclusive Brethren played, it was quite clear when they were exposed who exactly they were but can the same be said for the Maxim Institute? Are they putting their names to the types of work that they're doing and when they're lobbying in various areas? Morris: Well, they're very very well-known. I mean, I certainly had a very interesting discussion at the Kingdom Builders, the Christian leadership conference, with a number of, of Christian leaders about Maxim and the role that it had played, and certainly they played a role among Christian groups in fostering this notion of this being a kind of crunch election, that the country had gone off in the wrong direction and to support for National. Which was to put the country back on a new moral line. But their morality is very very specific. I mean in the sense that the conversation I had with Bruce Logan recently, he said to me: “Oh well, you're Jewish, you must agree with us about homosexuality.” And I said “Well, you know, there's very very little in the bible about homosexuality but there are literally hundreds of references about alleviating poverty and helping the poor.” And you know that might be Maxim's agenda, but of course it isn't. And it's very much an agenda that, as Delores James and I wrote in our recent book, is not original to New Zealand. I mean, we wrote that their ideas were circulated from the various right-wing Christian lobbies internationally, but we didn't intend it quite in the plagiarist sense of the recent issue with Bruce Logan. But we did very seriously intend and document the way in which their ideas are secondhand in that sense, and they're part of a network, they have very close relations with Heritage, with the American Enterprise Institute and with... Radich: When you say close relations, this is on a friendly level rather than a formal level? Morris: Oh no no, When I visited Maxim they had American scholars who are doing internships here. They're arranging for New Zealanders to do internships [in the USA]. When I visited AEI and Heritage, they're both informed about [Maxim]. And when I went to Atlas, Atlas were kind of sponsoring international organisations. Maxim has received funding from Atlas by way of Templeton and other prizes for their work on civil unions and other issues. These are incredibly close ties, these are the perpetuation of the same agenda... looking at speakers, they're part of that international speaking circuit... Radich: So is it an unspoken sort of attitude between them that it's okay to borrow each others' writings because ‘we're all working for the greater good, the Christian good?' Morris: I've never heard that, I've always through it was at the level of ideas but... Radich: Because that seems to be what's happening, that's what you're saying isn't it? Morris: The campaign on political correctness was largely borrowed, the two speakers were imported, their various campaigns are taken... the political correctness campaign as I said. But the campaign, with very little adaptation, against what's called homosexual marriage in the United States and civil unions here, much of the same materials are disseminated. And these are part of a kind of international network of morally conservative Christian right, neo-liberal groups who share an agenda. But in answer to your question, they do share ideas and they often republish the work of others or do joint publishing ventures. Radich: And do they credit who they are publishing? Morris: They normally do, yes. Radich: So what damage do you think will be done to their image as an intellectual think tank by the revelations that they have been not just borrowing but plagiarizing and not crediting the writings of others? Morris: I think it will do them some damage. I think that if I was a New Zealand paper which had been duped in their way I would be very disappointed and upset about it. But I suspect it won't be fatal. I mean, this is for them an all-out war on what they see as inappropriate progressive and liberal values. In that sense I suspect Maxim will continue. It's a very well funded and... Radich: I'm glad you brought up the funding because, as you say, it is very well funded. There were accusations during the election campaign that there was more than just influence coming from American moral groups towards New Zealand's election. Is it possible to see any financial involvement from offshore in the Maxim Institute or more generally in the Christian movement here? Morris: Certainly there are very very direct links with particular American and UK churches. These are quite well-known. In relation to Maxim, certainly one of the ways in which money is disseminated is through what are called awards and prizes. These are not just cash under the table, they're given to foster activities and to cement and firm up these networks. As I understand it, and I raised this question when I visited Maxim, their funding is almost exclusively New Zealand based. And there is what they call ‘philanthropic funding.' I mean there are a number of Christian institutions, schools, businesses and individuals who fund them very directly. But they have more than twenty employees and a very considerable budget and what's new to New Zealand is the kind of professionalism of the activities, the professionalism of this advocacy research, the professionalism of their lobbying. Radich: Not so professional [after the plagiarism revelations] though. Morris: You asked whether that setback would have a kind of ongoing impact... I suspect it will be a glitch. I suspect that Bruce Logan will quietly retire... Radich: What about his daughter [also accused of plagiarism], will she take his place? Morris: Maybe, who knows? She's been at a number of the forums and is very active in these issues. But ‘family values' are pretty significant. I suspect they will recover and they will be part of this broader movement to the conservative right in New Zealand. - 28th October 2005    


First published: Friday, 28th October 2005 - 12:00pm

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