The Christian Democrats were founded by Graeme Lee, a National Party MP. Lee had a reputation as one of the more conservative MPs in Parliament, and was particularly active in opposing Fran Wilde's homosexual law reform bill. When the Christian Heritage Party, a strongly conservative group, was established, Lee initially rejected it, believing that it was better to work from within the National Party. Later, however, when Lee lost his ministerial rank in a Cabinet reshuffle, Lee decided to leave National. Although there were attempts to have Lee join Christian Heritage, Lee disagreed with many Christian Heritage policies. Lee instead established a group called the United Progressive Party. After a failed attempt to merge the United Progressive Party with Christian Heritage, it was relaunched on 17 May 1995 under the name "Christian Democrats".
Talks between the Christian Democrats and Christian Heritage continued, with many people believing that a united front was the only way for the Christian conservative movement to be successful. There were, however, significant policy differences between the two parties. One major problem was Christian Heritage's "confessional" nature, which meant that only Christians could join the party. Graeme Lee and the Christian Democrats, by contrast, preferred to make their party "values-based", saying that anyone who shared the basic Christian moral outlook (whether actually Christian or not) should be able to participate. The two parties also disagreed on a number of other points, with the Christian Democrats generally being more moderate than Christian Heritage.
Eventually, however, the two parties agreed to contest the 1996 election as a single bloc. The resultant Christian Coalition was announced on 29 March 1996. Throughout the existence of the Coalition, however, there were tensions between the two parties - the Christian Democrats accused Christian Heritage of extremism and inflexibility, while Christian Heritage accused the Christian Democrats of putting political pragmatism before Christian morality. The Coalition did not receive enough votes to enter Parliament, and collapsed soon afterwards, with both sides accusing each other of having held the Coalition back.
Shortly after the Coalition collapsed, Graeme Lee stepped down as leader of the Christian Democrats, having decided some time ago to retire if the Coalition was not successful. After a considerable period of time, Anthony Walton was selected as the party's new leader. Walton took the party even further away from the confessionalism of Christian Heritage, abandoning the explicitly religious nature of the party in favour of a broader "values-based" platform. The name was changed to "Future New Zealand", and the party eventually merged with the United Party to form United Future New Zealand. Only one United Future MP (2002-2005) (Murray Smith) was a founding member of the Christian Democrats, however, and so there is debate as to how much of the Christian Democrats remains in the modern party.
One side of this debate argues that ex-United Future List MPs Larry Baldock, Bernie Ogilvy, Paul Adams and Smith himself all had some involvement with Evangelical organisations, such as Youth With A Mission, the Masters Institute in Mount Roskill Auckland, City Impact Church and the aforementioned Christian Democrats and Christian Coalition. As such, while the aforementioned former List MPs may not have been Christian Democrats, they certainly were conservative Christian political activists and community figures before their entry to Parliament. Over and over again, United Future voted against socially liberal legislation in Parliament, or else supported socially conservative private members bills. These included the Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003, Care of Children Act 2004, Civil Union Act 2004, Relationships (Statutory References) Act 2005 and Death With Dignity Bill 2004, which they opposed. Murray Smith sponsored an unsuccessful private members bill which would have required parental notification before an abortion could be performed, which did not pass. Although a conservative Catholic, Gordon Copeland has frequently cited the work of organisations such as the Society for Promotion of Community Standards and Right to Life New Zealand as a basis for comments against the Prostitution Law Reform Act, and himself introduced an abortive attempt to ban same-sex marriage into the 48th New Zealand Parliament on December 7, 2005.
In February 2006, Copeland submitted an anti-abortion private members ballot bill into the 48th Parliament, entitled the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Informed Consent) Bill. This bill would ensure that women give informed consent before undergoing an abortion of their unborn child.