This week has seen the resurrection of an old debate. Should we change the law in respect to Easter trading? This week MPs vote on a bill before Parliament to move the decision of trading to local government, thereby allowing for trading on Easter Sunday. The usual voices are out with their torches and pitchforks claiming that if we let trading happen on Easter Sunday the centrality of the family unit is all but destroyed. There are those who are once again advocating Easter is so sacrosanct that it is appalling to even conceive of the idea that shops would be open on that Sunday. What is new this time round is John Key being stronger with his MPs to make this law come into affect, and so the debate over conscience voting is in the headlines. The anti legislation voices come mainly from the Christian community and by nature of who they are and what they are saying, or referring to, they are somehow speaking for the whole Christian community, and presumably for God.
I’m writing to say they certainly don’t speak for me, and I doubt for God. I want to say, as a Christian, I don’t have a problem with the change in the law! Let me be clear. I am a devout follower of Jesus, a Christian. I’m a Minister of Religion. The Easter weekend is an incredibly important event that is central to the Christian Faith. I believe in the theological idea of a sabbath, that is, the weekly designated day set aside for rest, God and family. There is good theological thinking around the sabbath in the modern context, and worth searching out. Here’s a great article by Tim Keller.
So this change in law will not change my religious freedom, it won’t impact on my Christian faith, it will not affect my need for sabbath, nor will it destroy my family. So I don’t have a problem with it, although I sure someone will point out the glaring error in my theology 😬.
The rhetoric being bandied around the issue leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth, because I think we, as Christians, are pushing our views onto the country, onto our politians, in a draconian, hypocritical and non-missional manner. I respect MPs who don’t want to change the law. I appreciate Christian MPs who bring their Christian values to governing this country, but I think we need to be careful not to colour the issue with the “religious argument”.
Accordingly to wikipedia (yeah, sorry my academic friends), Saturday and Sunday trading was banned between 1945 and 1980. Legislative changes were made in 1990 that enabled trading on Sunday. There was a hue and cry about it, particularly within the Christian community, that this would spell disaster for the world and a distortion of the sacrosanct act of resting on the sabbath. Many of you will remember that time better than I, and perhaps you were at the front of the protest when that legislation was passed. I sat in ambivalent silence about the issue then, but feel compelled to make a couple of comments this time. I offer another view from within the Christian community because of the emotive posturing by others. No disrespect to those people, but you are confusing the Christian sabbath with secular commercial trading.
Let me ask this question. Since 1990, how many times have you purchased goods or services on a Sunday? Perhaps it was those rolls, cakes, or savouries from the bakery to add to the Church’s potluck lunch, or the squirt of petrol in the car because you didn’t have enough faith that your car would get you to church and back. Oh, and heaven forbid, you may have purchased products on sale in the church foyer from a visiting missionary who brought some handicraft products from the country where they serve, that will ‘help’ their ministry.
If you have been obedient to this mantra for all that time, I tip my hat to you. I recognise that on a Saturday you will have cooked enough food to last you until Sunday evening so you don’t have to work on Sunday, thereby not needing that emergency purchase from the supermarket. No doubt you made sure the lawns and gardens were all done on Saturday, even though you probably had to go to all those weekend activities for your kids, and do the weekly grocery shopping, not to mention all the housekeeping. And the amazing patience you must have had for not lifting the rod to correct your children on Sunday mornings, when they wouldn’t get into the car in an orderly fashion, and on time, so you could get to church and worship God. If that’s you, I honour you, because that’s not my experience; that’s not my truth.
Truth be told, I don’t even have the ‘no shopping and working on Sunday’ in my vocabulary. To be really honest, I don’t think I ever have. When my Mum and Dad were in Bible College we attended the Ranui Baptist Church and the greatest delight I had on a Sunday was pulling into the local shop and watch my Dad buy a Sydney flat loaf of bread and some freshly sliced luncheon. When we had guests, we might buy two loaves of bread and the luncheon often stretched to freshly sliced ham. Oh, I basked in the sin… but we had been to church, and we were in Bible College, so we were kinda religious all the time. I know… I am a sinner and hey, let me add fuel to the fire that will send me into everlasting hell. I have sold products on Sunday morning at Church to raise money for mission. I realise this may have totally shattered many of my devout Christian friends idea of me, and I’m sorry. Or am I?
I’m reminded of that poignant moment when Jesus is observing the teachers of the law picking up rocks to stone a woman caught in adultery and he simply said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The reaction? One by one they dropped their rocks and left (John 8:3-9). So what the heck has that got to do with Sunday trading… And for the current iteration of this theme, Easter Sunday trading… Nothing! Absolutely nothing!
The issue of what laws are passed and implemented have nothing to do with our observance of the sabbath. The modern reality in Aotearoa/New Zealand is that the day of the week we call Sunday is not the sacrosanct sabbath of the past for most of us. If you think fighting to keep Easter Sunday as a non-trading day, and Good Friday, Christmas and so on, you are living in a dream world. We have these days preserved as national holidays and that’s brilliant. We have employment laws that recognise those days as holidays and have various forms of recompense if you have to work those days. We live in a globalised 24/7 world and it isn’t going to change anytime soon. Get used to it or buy a plot of land in ‘why-kick-a-moo-cow’ and start up a cloistered community, shut out from the world. But don’t buy a cow. They need milking every day. Also, don’t ask me to join because I will politely decline, understanding the consequences of my sinful decision.
Should MPs have a conscience vote on trading laws in NZ?
Not really. While we have religious freedom here, this law change is not about changing that, so I don’t mind the leader demanding MPs to tow the party line. I would say to the National MPs who are being challenged to vote in a specific way to not worry about it, and don’t buy into the fact that you have somehow ‘sold out’. You haven’t.
Should Christians get up and arms about all of this?
Sure, it’s a free country, but if you are doing so as a Christian, make sure you buy and wear the corresponding badge that says, “I’m a Christian and I’m a hypocrite”. I might buy some and sell them online, 24/7! Although something tells me I won’t sell many Monday through Saturday, and even less on Sunday.
The Government in this instance can do what it likes. I’ll confess up front, I’ll probably buy something next Easter Sunday. It’s time the Christian voice spoke a bit more truth about themselves as much as the barrow they are trying to push. If we did, maybe people would take us more seriously.