The prayer used at the start of sessions of New Zealand’s parliament is back in the news. The timing has played perfectly into the hands of the Destiny Church, who the day before protested an interfaith gathering at Waitangi. The first media release on the issue (this time around) has come from Destiny (Leave Parliament Prayer Alone), in which they write:
Bishop Brian Tamaki says a political move to extract the Christian prayer from Parliament is an affront to a tradition that has been honoured in over 143 years of Parliament practice.
“This is exactly the reason why I, and thousands of others, rallied at Waitangi two days ago to protect our Christian Heritage from politicians with a set agenda to extract those elements of Christianity from our judicial, political and social arrangements. What are they going to target next, our National Anthem?” says Bishop Tamaki.
Members of Parliament have been written to by the Speaker of the House asking their view of the prayer, whether it should be retained and, if so, whether the wording should be changed. This time around there have not been many church leaders oppose the removal or alteration of the prayer.
Here is the current text of the prayer:
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 tranquility of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Contrary to the near universal Christian support for the prayer, I believe that there are several good theological reasons why it should be removed.
- The church, or God for that matter, does not need favours of the state. Removal of the prayer does not diminish the truth of the gospel or the sovereignty of God. To vehemently protest the removal of the prayer makes the church appear needy and dependent on public ritual for its survival.
- The prayer, spoken as a habit by those who do not believe it, causes them to take the Lord’s name in vain and break the Decalogue (Exodus 20:7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name). The prayer is read out as a procedure, it is not necessarily taken seriously but those reading it, and Jesus Christ is not the Lord of many parliamentarians. It further devalues prayer by making it something done as a formal procedure, not part of communal Christian worship or one’s individual relationship to God.
- The prayer mentions setting aside personal gain. While it could be argued that the prayer serves a useful purpose in reminding politicians of their duties to all New Zealanders when passing laws, the public, based on years of disappointment, does not trust them to do so. The prayer heaps religious hypocrisy onto political expediency. Jesus is demeaned by his name being associated with systematic abuse of public trust by politicians.
I believe that those like the Maxim Institute and Destiny Church who wish to cling to the prayer and other vestiges of Christendom are clutching at straws. They have so little faith in God and the church that their faith is placed in shallow and meaningless public scraps of religiosity which are a pale imitation of the real thing.
They would do well to remember Matthew 7:21:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom
of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
It is more than words that count. Saying a prayer will not ensure that God’s will be fulfilled.
The Government issued a statement quoting Winnie Laban, a Presbyterian Labour MP, saying:
“New Zealand is a society of many faiths and beliefs. As a Christian, I believe we need to discuss having a prayer that is inclusive and reflects our country’s religious diversity,” said Laban.
Perhaps the Government is cynically using her Christian status to placate Christians who may think that the move to change the prayer is an anti-Christian move by secular humanists.