Weekend Sun   

Hallelujah, the cruise ships are here

The good word or advertising? The Jehovah’s Witness stand at Pilot Bay.

Should the curb-side evangelists be allowed to badger the tourists straight off the cruise liners? Does the Jehovah’s Witness religious literature constitute advertising and marketing? And should the church require a permit to pitch its faith to passengers at Pilot Bay?

Even the Tauranga City Council admits it’s a grey area after one of its councillors raised an objection and fired off a complaint to Tauranga City Council enforcers.

Councillor Leanne Brown think it’s “incredibly inappropriate” for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be around the cruise boats when they dock. “Hopefully, it’s a misunderstanding and they’re not arrogant enough to think they have a right to be there.”

‘Was Life created?’ asked one Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets at the church’s literature stand on Pilot Bay. It’s just a few metres from where 3000 passengers were pouring off the Celebrity Solstice this week. And ‘What is the secret of family happiness?’ asked another church pamphlet.

The tourists may have had a big night aboard, they may be off to do the tourist traps or have a “cuppa” down the main street but first they have to get past the Jehovah’s Witnesses literature stand asking some of life’s big questions.

Leanne says the tourists come for a great time. “They don’t want or need to be confronted about religion.”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are conciliatory. “Leanne is a councillor,” says elder Ben Preece. “So she would have to follow up any complaint.”

But the church also quickly and quietly played down the issue. “There could be a misunderstanding over what we are allowed and not allowed to do,” says Jehovah’s Witness Clarence Ririnui.

But there’s no misunderstanding when the council bylaws team responded to a complaint. “The Jehovah’s Witnesses were not approaching people but allowing them to stop if they wished to engage,” says TCC bylaws team leader Stuart Goodman.

“Regardless, we do not want to offend or upset anyone,” says Clarence. And Jehovah’s Witnesses “certainly did not want to draw attention to their work”. Their work being spreading the word.

But there’s a lot at risk here, says Leanne. “Because at the end of the day there are many stakeholders working extremely hard to create a fabulous experience for cruise ship passengers.”

And she says they don’t want to jeopardise the experience of a passenger who might just be offended by the evangelists.

Are the evangelists offending tourists who might be here for a holiday experience rather than a new direction in life? “We have had a lot of interest from the cruise line passengers,” says elder Ben. “No-one questions why we are here. They come up, have a browse and carry on.”

From Leanne’s understanding they can’t tout. She’s right, they can’t directly or persistently approach people. They have to wait for people to approach them. “I don’t believe anyone has the right to impose their personal choices on someone who is not asking for it.”

Clarence quietly insists Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t badger the tourists. “Individuals should not be beckoned. And those same individuals have a choice whether to approach the stalls.”

Regardless, Leanne fired off a message to the enforcers at the Tauranga City Council.

Do the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a permit? Do they need a permit? Is it a misunderstanding?

“My understanding is that we don’t have a permit because we don’t need one,” says Clarence. “We are not selling anything. Our literature is free.”

It was a Mount Maunganui local who raised the issue with Leanne. “She’s a member of a local community church and she felt intimidated and uncomfortable about the stall. That’s probably a better measure of the situation than my own choices and preferences.”

“We’re not a coffee cart,” says Ben. “Then you would need a permit to trade but we aren’t in that category.”

While there is no specific permit for the church’s activity, the city council does issue permits for the likes of mobile shops, buskers, soliciting donations, raffles and food stalls.

“Technically, people wishing to distribute marketing material do need to seek permission,” says Stuart. But whether religious literature targeted at the cruiseboat passengers can be considered “advertising” is a grey area.

Regardless, it’s not a widespread problem but the council’s bylaws team will continue to monitor the Jehovah’s Witnesses and investigate any complaints.

The church itself simply wants a happy resolution and the right to continue its work.

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