Evangelistic Performance in New Zealand: The Word and What is Not Said
Type of content
In 1518, Martin Luther is reputed to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, an act that sparked the Protestant Reformation. Luther sought change in the Catholic Church: a return to an unmediated relationship with God based on a closer understanding of the Word. Since then, Protestant evangelism has been a force for social change: and this is particularly true in New Zealand, where evangelism has gone hand in hand with the colonisation of the country.
This thesis proposes that it is not, in fact, the literal understanding of the Word that gives these services meaning, and that such an understanding is problematic and perhaps even impossible: the Word is always a translation. Instead, it is through what is not said - the performative aspects of evangelistic services, including the use of space, the actions of the evangelist, and pre-existing cultural “horizons of expectation” - that meanings are produced.
Taking as material Samuel Marsden’s first service in New Zealand in 1814, in which the Word was preached in English to a congregation who primarily spoke only Maori, the more contemporary example of televangelist Benny Hinn, who performs miracles to television cameras, and the religious and political performances of Destiny Church’s Brian Tamaki, this thesis uses the tools of performance studies to undertake an ethnographic study of evangelistic services. This brings into focus the ways in which evangelists may create congregations and produce meanings in their services through different modes of performance and the ways in which these ulterior meanings impact, and have impacted, on New Zealand society.