Changing the parliamentary prayer

Until late last year the prayer said before each sitting of Parliament was packed with old-fashioned language and, some would say, old-fashioned concepts. The prayer, established in 1864, includes "We beseech Thee", "to the glory of Thy holy name" and "the maintenance of true religion and justice".

Regular attempts are made to alter the prayer, including a petition in 2000 to make changes so it was not specifically Christian.  Further attempts at change in 2007 and 2014 were rejected.

New Speaker Trevor Mallard took matters into his own hands last year when he removed references to both Jesus and the Queen.

The new prayer expressed worthwhile sentiments and read:  "Almighty God, we give thanks for the blessings which have been bestowed on New Zealand. Laying aside all personal interests, we pray for guidance in our deliberations, that we may conduct the affairs of this House with wisdom and humility, for the public welfare and peace of New Zealand."

Mr Mallard called the previous prayer exclusive because it  referred only to a Christian god, which excluded those of different religions and those of secular persuasion. 

He said the prayer was a compromise and he was open to changing it. When Parliament resumed he had added "we acknowledge the Queen", but continued to leave out reference to Jesus.  About 400 people rallied  in front of Parliament  last week to try to convince him to bring back Jesus into the prayer.

There are those who believe a prayer should be dispensed with altogether. 

But whatever a person’s belief or non-belief,  a prayer has a gathering role and provides a short chance to reflect before business gets under way.

There is also an argument for traditional language and traditional prayers. 

They add a pomp and gravitas to proceedings and a link to the past.

However, if a prayer is to help focus the minds  of at least some MPs it needs to be readily understood and relevant to today.

Wisdom, humility, laying aside personal interests are  all worthwhile ideals.

Those arguing for the inclusion of Jesus  point to this country’s Judeo-Christian origins and underlying culture. 

They say the way of Jesus is one of inclusivity, care for the weak and underpins our democracy.  Wishy-washy sentiments and vague statements are, in reality, not respected by those of other faiths.

A different Christian view, put forward in December in the opinion page of this newspaper, said prayers to Jesus implied commitment and humbly seeking the will of Christ.  It contained a perspective and faith not followed by the general populous. 

Thus, it was not appropriate to expect a parliament of mixed outlooks to pray in Jesus’ name.

Christians can be most true to the way of Christ when they are separate from the State and all that entails, when they are living and teaching a counter-cultural message. 

They, therefore, need not impose prayer expectations on civic institutions.

Christianity should, nevertheless, be acknowledged as a foundation of New Zealand’s culture.  

Coming generations should know the reason for the Easter and Christmas seasons.

But actual praying in Parliament using the words "through Jesus Christ our Lord"? 

Not only might there be theological discussion about the concept of "lord", but meaningful prayers for much of New Zealand will not be through Jesus.Those  praying bring their own interpretations. 

The idea of "God" itself will be understood in many different ways.  

The new prayer can be inclusive for Christians as well as others. 

A little vagueness in this context is not bad.  What Mr Mallard should do is read his standard prayer most often, pray in Te Reo translation reasonably often and occasionally pray in Samoan, Mandarin, Hindi and other languages that are part of 21st-century New Zealand.  

Then, just sometimes, he could also revert to the 1864 version, so the tie to the past would not be entirely lost. 

Comments

Prayer is a spiritual exercise to affirm strength of purpose. It is akin to meditative Preparation. It is inconceivable that a Parliament would pray for Divine guidance, unless the country were a theocracy.

I agree with the sentiment of the editorial but have noticed that Liberals are very quick to anger if their own "sacred cows" are questioned.

 

 

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