There are simple solutions to the problem of the use of Christian prayers in our Parliament. They will require Christians to show genuine humility and respect for those with other beliefs. Unfortunately, this is not yet evident in the statements from New Zealand’s Christian leaders.
The problems with the stance of the Destiny Church and its spokesperson Bishop Brian Tamaki are self-evident. But consider the suggestion that the prayer should include other faiths (Catholic Archbishop John Dew) or that we should just remove the reference to Jesus Christ. What does this say about respect for others beliefs? The text of the parliamentary prayer is:
Almighty God, humbly acknowledging our need for Thy guidance in all things, and laying aside all private and personal interests, we beseech Thee to grant that we may conduct the affairs of this House and of our country to the glory of Thy holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the honour of the Queen, and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I have highlighted the areas which may cause offense to non-Christians.
Removal of Jesus Christ( but retaining Almighty God, etc.) could be seen as a sign of respect of theist beliefs which don’t share the Christian understanding of Jesus Christ (mainly Hindu and Muslim – approx 1.6 + 0.9 = 2.5% of NZs population).
However, removal of reference to God (as well as Jesus Christ) would show respect for 30 – 40% of the NZ population (depending on how census figures are interpreted as I have discussed here)
So if Christians truly want to extend respect to those of other beliefs they would remove both God and Jesus Christ from the prayer – or remove the prayer all together. What is the point in respecting 2.5% of the population when you can respect 30 – 40%? (I suspect the concern about this 2.5% in the current discussion of religious diversity reflects more a concern about Muslims [0.9%] and their influence rather than a true desire to respect people of all the different beliefs in this country).
Actually, removal would be the most respectful solution and would satisfy the rights and freedoms of all beliefs. Christians could then perform their prayer and other ceremonies in their own parliamentary prayer room. They would no longer be guilty of imposing their own ceremonies on others. It would also help prevent the discrediting and degradation of their own beliefs which the current imposition causes.
But don’t we need a ceremonial beginning to the parliamentary day? OK – what about something relevant to this country’s history and heritage – a traditional karakia. Many of these would be appropriate to a house of deliberation. They can be very symbolic and powerful. As long as they don’t incorporate modern religious references they should not offend anyone.
There are other possibilities. Short extracts from literature (perhaps changing regularly to reflect the different cultural backgrounds) or even contemplative silence. Have a look at Alan Davidsons article for some history of the parliamentary prayer and the comments on David Farrar’s Kiwiblog for some other suggestions
And add your suggestions here.