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New Zealand Jesus

Social and Religious Transformations of an Image, 1890–1940

Geoffrey Troughton

What did early twentieth century New Zealanders make of Jesus, and what do their understandings tell us? This study provides the first historical analysis of New Zealand images of Jesus. Using a diverse range of churchly and secular sources it examines key themes and representations. These images provide insights into the character of New Zealand religion and its place in the nation’s history and culture – from dimensions of childhood and gender through to debates about social reform. They also highlight broader dynamics of social and religious change. Crucially, this work traces the rise of a new kind of Jesus-centred religiosity that reflected wider cultural shifts. The form was particularly evident among Protestant Christians, who embraced Jesus in their efforts to modernise Christianity and extend its influence within the community. The author shows that this development was a response to change that profoundly reoriented Protestant Christianity.


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6. Manly Jesus 191


191 6. Manly Jesus In late 1903, the Rev. George T. Marshall concluded an address to the Warkworth Literary Society with the proclamation that ‘Jesus stands supreme as the Ideal Man.... At the same time he is not more supreme than imitable, and his life repeats in winning accents his own words, “Follow Me!”’1 Marshall’s belief in Jesus as the archetype and model of humanity was commonly held by a broad spectrum of Christian believers. From the late nineteenth century, however, claims that Jesus was the ‘Ideal Man’ connoted a more specific meaning. In particular, they affirmed his masculinity and exemplification of manhood. Interest in the masculinity of Jesus was closely bound to anxieties about the place of men in society, especially as it manifested in an apparent gender imbalance in religious activity. If colonial environments weakened the bonds of religion generally, the effect upon men seemed particularly pronounced. Attempts to redress this situation and increase participation in organised religion typically appealed to men’s supposed dispositions. Responses included the establishment of groups for men, and association of male religiosity with heroic masculinity. As the Ideal Man, Jesus was the standard of both religiosity and manliness, so that attempts to improve the appeal of religion for men readily turned to him. Marshall’s own exposition focused primarily on aspects of Jesus’ character, including his piety, steadfastness and self-sacrificing service. These facets remained important, but were increasingly cast in heroic terms. Men, women and religion Attempts to project Jesus in more masculine...

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