New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has jumped out into the front of global consciousness. Sadly, it took the death of 50 people in her home country to gain global attention, but the world’s spotlight is on New Zealand and on Ardern.
I first noticed Ardern at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland earlier this year. There she extolled the fight against climate change alongside Britain’s Prince William and championed her government’s plans to prioritize the societal – not just economic – “well-being” of her country. In a polite rebuke of President Trump and other right-wing politicians, Ardern said she hoped world leaders would recognize the virtue of “more compassionate” domestic policies that would obviate “the false promise of protectionism and isolation.”
Ardern said her government would be introducing a budget with a much more broad set of indicators than unemployment rates and Gross Domestic product, measures which economists have used for years. According to the government’s finance minister Grant Robertson, the Treasury will consider at least 40 indicators, including health, housing, jobs and earnings, safety
and environmental quality. Rates of child poverty will also be included, giving benchmarks of how well the country is really doing. Much if not all the information is already captured by the government. This is the first time it has been reported on in the budget and used to form government fiscal policy.
Traditional financial experts are skeptical, but are watching with deep interest.
Then came March 15, 2019. A gunman, who posted a white supremacist manifesto on social media, attacked two mosques in Christchurch, one of New Zealand’s largest cities.
Once the immediate crisis had been responded to and the perpetrator arrested by police, Ardern again became the focus of the world’s attention. Her response was remarkable.
She said the attack had not happened because their country was a safe harbour for hate, or racism or extremism. It happened “…because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who needs it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack,” she said.
Her final words that day were, “You may have chosen us – we utterly reject and condemn you.”
Ardern visited the survivors’ families to offer condolences. In those visits she donned a head scarf in respect for the families and their community.
Last week she went further. “He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety,” Ardern said. “And that is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist; he is a criminal; he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”
What Ardern has done is reintroduce the practice of shunning to the mainstream. Long practised in many societies and religions in the world, it is the social exclusion of a person who has violated the norms of the community. For the one shunned the results can be devastating. Family and community relationships are broken. The person becomes isolated from the larger group. Their actions or crimes are deemed to be socially unacceptable and beyond the bounds of the community
This suggests there are limits to tolerance within nations and community. Yet shunning does not deprive a person of their foundational rights. It simply makes clear what is and is not acceptable behaviour.
The world hurts deeply. The world grieves for those who died in worship in Christchurch, New Zealand. They will be remembered and named. The perpetrator of this criminal act should not and will not.
I note that some newspapers have named the perpetrator of these events in follow-up stories. I am not a professional journalist so I will leave that decision to the editors, but it is telling.
Prime Minister Ardern has led her nation well. The future in New Zealand bears watching.
Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound.