Sipping a coffee, he is reflective.
“Navigating politics as a Christian can be difficult at times,” he states honestly.
“But, ultimately I know who is in control – God. And, as His Word says, as long as we keep Him before us we know all things work together for the good of those who love Him.
“I certainly know God is not through with me yet – and, in Him, all the experiences we go through have a purpose.”
While typically “not one to look back too much”, it’s a candid assessment offered by National’s MP for Tauranga, Simon Bridges.
In May, he was challenged for, and subsequently lost, his role as leader of the opposition – a position he held for a little over two years.
Now though, as Simon focuses on what’s ahead, he sat down with Authentic Magazine to talk faith, the silver lining of getting to spend more time with his most important priority, his family, and being a Christian in politics.
Start us off with a bit about your family. Wasn’t your dad a pastor?
I grew up in Auckland with a strong Christian upbringing in a great household. I am the youngest of six children. My dad’s Maori and my mum’s Pakeha. Yes, Dad was a Baptist preacher, very much in the charismatic, movement during the late ‘70s and ‘80s. He was a rough diamond – as I am. Mum was a primary school teacher, as well as a pastor’s wife. They served God faithfully .
So, when did you come to know Jesus for yourself?
There’s that old saying that perhaps many people have heard, “Just because you’re in a garage doesn’t make you a car.” And that’s true. So, for me, my conversion and probably my first real experience was at a Barry Smith meeting when I was 12 or 13.
Other strong experiences were at youth group and a gathering called Summer Harvest, which used to be held on Bill Subritzky’s farm north of Auckland.
And I’ve been a Christian since – throughout my 20s and during university. Though, there were definitely times when I probably wasn’t strongly living out a Christian life.
Tell us about your family…
My wife Natalie and I have three children – two sons, Emlyn, eight and Harry, six, and daughter, Jemima, two.
I heard that Natalie is English. How did you two first meet?
It was during our university years, most of which were in Auckland, I did spend a year studying in Oxford. There, Natalie and I were in the same college – St Catherine’s College.
We bumped into each other in the cubby hole area pretty early on. She later told me she then went back to her flat and telephoned her mother to tell her she had just met the most handsome Japanese man. Of course, I’m not Japanese – I’m Maori – so that made me smile. Not long after that we started going out and at the end of our year at Oxford we got married in a 1000-year-old chapel.
Before she knew it, Natalie was on her way back to New Zealand – which she’d never really heard of other than knowing of the All Blacks and the Haka – which she’d watched before with her Welsh dad. I don’t even think he’d ever even been to the Southern Hemisphere. It was a big leap of faith by her. That was in 2005, and 15 years on, here we are.
So, where does politics fit into all of this?
My family wasn’t political and no one else had been a member of a political party. But, being a church-going household, we did talk about social issues and always watched the news. I was a news junkie. From a relatively young age, probably round 11-12, I was buying political books and reading them.
Looking back so far, as I see it, there have been two or three landmarks in my life in terms of my faith journey. Politics is one of them. At university, I studied law and eventually became a crown prosecutor. I was in a good law firm and on my way up. And because that career was going well, I can remember when I stood for parliament my parents thought I was nuts.
There were risks to it – leaving my job, all of those things. But as a Christian, you’d say making that leap was a God thing. I wanted to have more of a public service aspect to what I was doing and I got very involved in the National party early on – I’ve been the Member of Parliament for Tauranga since the 2008 election.
What are the biggest challenges with being a Christian in politics and how do you navigate that?
From time to time I get asked the question “Should Christians be in politics?” And my answer is, of course, “yes”. In truth, in the early days in terms of the outworking of a Christian faith, I didn’t really think along the lines of “should I be acting like this or that,” or “what would Jesus do?”, as people often say. I think more and more people are beginning to realise it’s important that there are Christians in political life.
But the longer I live the more I think we shouldn’t type-cast Jesus either. He wasn’t a shrinking violet, whether he was upending tables, or getting stuck into Pharisees. But he could also be incredibly gentle and kind – He was someone of true character and life. I also think the Jesus I know isn’t on the far left or the far right. If you go through the Bible, many of the characters were in some ways politicians if you really think about it. David was a king! Let me tell you something, that’s a politician. Joseph was number two – technically the Prime Minister – in Egypt, which wasn’t even a God-fearing country. And then there’s Daniel. And those are just the obvious ones.
Honestly, I think one of the tricky things for me has always been how to integrate it all and if I’m being candid, I don’t want to set myself up as the gold standard. Because it is a very public life and I, as we all do, fall short of the glory of God. I know I’m flawed.
From where I sit, I simply think it’s important there are Christians across the spectrum contributing, being salt and light.
I read that when you were elected as leader of the opposition in 2018 you became the first person with Māori ancestry to serve as leader of a major party in New Zealand. What does that mean to you?
My grandmother on my dad’s side was Naku Joseph. She was of Ngati Maniapoto descent and grew up at Oparure Marae near Te Kuiti, but died before I was born. She was very clear with my dad, now in his late 80s, that he shouldn’t have much to do with the Maori world and so – consequently – we grew up without any real sense of this and being distant to it. As I’ve gotten older that has made me sad, and I’ve since been back to our Marae a number of times and consider myself Maori. I believe Maori, as our indigenous people, have a deep significance, both spiritually and politically, in our nation.
As well as being opposition leader, you have held lots of other roles – transport minister, economic development minister and leader of the house – during your time in politics. What would you say you’re most proud of?
There are several achievements I am proud of. One example very early on was passing a law against animal cruelty. Then, as transport minister I was really proud of being part of major roading projects like the Waikato Expressway. But there are many others.
What has been the hardest part of politics and do you have any regrets?
You know, I don’t really. There’s a saying from my upbringing – “do your best and let God take care of the rest.” I’ve always thought that if you do what is right for the right reasons you can leave the rest with God. That’s genuinely how I feel, so I’ve never really been one to look back massively. Some of that is my Christian faith where we are told to throw off things that might drag us down and finish our race strong.
Obviously being in the public eye as you are often means people – even some Christians – form a perception of you based on your actions. Much of that seems to be centred around your approach to – or how you would vote on – certain issues. What’s your response?
The reality is that a lot of the time when I was making decisions, I knew they may not have been looked upon well. But I felt they were right. Keeping God before me goes for everything, whether that be the situation with Jami-Lee Ross or chairing the Epidemic Response Committee and holding the Government to account regarding its approach to Covid-19.
Can you talk us through what it was like navigating the leadership challenge from your perspective?
Firstly, I can say I thought I would win – but obviously that didn’t happen. Answering honestly, I genuinely was calm throughout the whole process and even afterwards.
Looking specifically at losing that role, I have no doubt my faith was crucial in helping me through. It was always about navigating that process with good grace, integrity and forgiveness. It’s very easy to get caught up in bitterness and who did what to who and so on, but we know that as Christians that’s not our job and it doesn’t help us. So, I never wanted to get into that.
I’ve heard you say that after losing the leadership of the opposition there were some “real silver linings” as you called them – what are they?
After a good 12 years of “really going at it” politically, the biggest one is more time with my family. They are the most important thing to me and I aim to be a good, family-orientated, Godly role model for them. Then, I’m also enjoying more time being here in Tauranga. We love this place.
Talking of scrutiny, how do you find the work rest balance, particularly considering you have a young family?
Politics is not for the faint hearted – whether its social media or death threats, these things happen in public life. I have no doubt Natalie wouldn’t be up for it if it wasn’t for our shared faith and the knowledge that this is a calling.
So then, why did you ultimately decide to continue in politics and stand in Tauranga again?
I think for the sake of Natalie and the kids I did have a serious think about what was best, staying or getting out. Obviously for me as a Christian that involves prayer and reading the Bible. I really feel that this is God’s calling on my life and I’ve still got a really significant contribution to make.
If you weren’t in politics what would you be doing?
If I hadn’t stood for parliament and got in in 2008 as a 32-year-old I’d probably be a middle-aged lawyer right now – but life was breathed on my career and I’ve certainly been privileged.
Who’s the most interesting – or perhaps unusual – person you’ve met?
In terms of the most famous people, I’ve met President Obama, Tony Blair, Australian Prime ministers and a fair few royals.
There is one that particularly strikes me – not just because this is for Authentic Magazine – but sometimes it’s the less obvious ones. I had a very insightful meeting with cardinal Luis Tagle, a Filipino cardinal of the Catholic Church. They talk about him as potentially being the first Asian pope. I went with National Party deputy leader Gerry Brownlee, National MP for Rodney, Mark Mitchell and Paulo Garcia to meet him and it was a real privilege. On that same trip we also met boxer Manny Pacquiao.
What’s the best part about being in politics?
There’s plenty of real blessings – from the very superficial things like meeting the royals as we’ve mentioned – through to being involved in decisions that shape the fabric of our nation.
Describe for us what the perfect day with your family, away from politics, looks like?
I certainly know what my boys would say – fishing. But I have to be honest, that doesn’t happen much. From my perspective, it would probably be in nature. I’m looking forward to tramping around Mt Ruapehu and Tongariro and staying in huts with the boys – it will be their first big tramping endeavour. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that a bit later in the year.
And music? You also play the drums?
Yes, definitely. Music is a big one for me – it opens up another dimension. I’m often in my happy place in my man cave at the back of our house. I’ve got an electronic drum kit set up – I swore I’d never get one and it would only ever be a real kit. But, you know, middle age creeps in and you have to do these things.
You subscribe to Authentic Magazine – can you tell us why you think it is an important resource in today’s world?
Men are in a world where there’s a lot of sinicism about manliness and male characteristics and virtues. As Christian men we need building up as a well – and Authentic fulfils a really important gap. I am proud to subscribe, long may that continue.
What would you say to encourage Christian men in New Zealand?
My encouragement would be that God uses flawed and broken vessels – and often the more flawed and the more broken the more He’ll use you.
In my experience – while I’m relatively high up in New Zealand politics – I certainly have more flaws than I care to mention. But I know that I’m serving irrespective of those. I think that’s my testimony – I always feel I’m used in spite of myself. That’s been the case throughout the Bible hasn’t it? God hasn’t always chosen the tall, handsome, genius guy. He can use you where you’re at. I think you just have to be open and ready and prepared to do what He calls you to do.
What can we as Christian men do practically to be a support?
Simply put, be prayerful and discerning about things.
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About the author
Jeremy Smith is the assistant editor of Authentic Magazine
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