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Faith-based groups grow as part of New Zealand left politics

New Zealand politics has taken on an unexpected religious flavour since the left wing of the political divide adopted faith-based groups into their normally secular structures.

Whilst New Zealand has a number of longstanding faith-based political parties, they have been seen as representing the right wing of the political spectrum. The development of affiliated religious subgroups within the Labour Party and the Greens is unprecedented.

Touchstone, the newspaper of the Methodist Church in New Zealand, reports in its February edition that the country’s Green Party has established the SprirtGreens, whilst the traditional party of the organized trade union movement, the Labour Party, has formed Labour Inter-Faith as a registered branch of the party.

The SpiritGreens began as an email list for people in the Green Party who had a spiritual interest. It is now an official network within the party, with the right to propose polices to be put before the full membership.

David Hill, a Methodist lay preacher in Christchurch, and Margaret Glover, a Quaker, began the email group in 2008. The SpiritGreens, with around 100 members, now constitutes about 2 percent of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.

"Among our members are Catholics and mainline Protestants, including a number of ministers. We also have followers of Celtic Christianity, evangelical Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and pagans," Hill said.

Glover, says the group has already changed the Green Party for the better. "No one realised how many people of faith there were in the party, or the diversity of beliefs Greens hold. We are breaking down the stereotypes that Christians are all right wing and anti-Green", she said.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Glenn Livingstone, a Presbyterian minister and Labour Party member, founded Labour Inter-Faith. The group of about 30 was ratified as a branch of the Labour Party late in 2009.

"The growth of the Christian right wing in New Zealand needs to be challenged by a progressive religious left," Livingstone told Touchstone. He said the group included Christians from a range of denominations, as well as some Muslims.

Initially Labour Inter-Faith called itself "Christian left" but changed this name to allow wider faith participation.

Neither Labour nor the Greens exercise power in New Zealand, where, following a general election in November 2008, the National Party forms a minority government under Prime Minster John Key. The National Party does not have any formally recognised religious-based groups.

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