“Let us pray . . . “

I’ve heard this phrase a few times over the years. Sometimes it has been acceptable, sometimes offensive – it depends on the situation.

It’s offensive when it announces an intention to impose an uninvited and inappropriate ceremony on a gathering, thereby making unwarranted assumptions about the culture and beliefs of the people present. Recent examples for me were at an educational training session, at a work dinner and at a school reunion. All secular situations, involving people of different beliefs and cultures. To me it’s like a smoker lighting up in a group which includes non-smokers. And its no excuse to preface this ceremony with “If your don’t mind…” The reality is that it is usually very difficult to make an objection in such situations.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to deny Christians their right to pray or carry out other Christian ceremonies. I respect these rights and their freedom of religion. It’s just that those rights shouldn’t violate those same rights for others. I am all in favour of Christians, and adherents of other religions, performing their ceremonies – but the least they could do is ensure that they do it in their own group and don’t offend others. If in our country we can justify allocating separate rooms for Muslims to perform their prayers, surely Christians can understand the problem and make appropriate arrangements.

I’m happy to wear a skirt

And, of course, I am quite happy about those ceremonies when I attend a function (such as a religious wedding, funeral, church, etc.) on the understanding that it is religious. I have happily made myself look ridiculous by wearing a skirt or a robe to cover bare legs when entering a Greek Orthodox church or Muslim mosque. That’s simply a matter of respect. Nor do I object to prayers in themselves – I find the music of the Russian Orthodox chant and Christian requiem beautiful. The objection is to the assumption about my beliefs and the imposition of an inappropriate ceremony in a secular situation.

The issue of Christian prayer problems has arisen recently in New Zealand with discussion of the parliamentary prayer. Members of parliament decided to continue with the status quo. This is probably because they wished to avoid pressure from Christian lobby groups as my local MP tells me that it is basically ignored by most members who go about there business during the prayer. A comment on A Servant’s Thoughts suggested this demonstrated a lack of “maturity and respect among our leaders of parliament.”

It seems to me, though, the whole thing is a self-imposed insult to Christianity – a prayer is imposed and consequently ignored and disrespected! In the process you disrespect others and consequently should not expect respect in return. Christians who persist in this sort of behaviour are surely debasing their own religion.

Give us respect

The National Statement on Religious Diversity declares the right to freedom of religion and belief and freedom from discrimination on the grounds of religious or other belief. Surely this also means freedom from imposed religion.

All I’m asking is that Christians show respect to others of different beliefs.

Related Articles:
Christian prayer problems
Destiny of Christian privilege?
Trends in religious belief in New Zealand
Religious diversity includes “non-believers”
Religious Diversity Statement

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