Making decisions above his pray grade
Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard is testing a new Parliamentary prayer. Why not, pray tell? Well at least three issues arise.
First issue; demotions. Both the Queen and Jesus are no longer explicitly involved. Among other things the original version spoke of honouring her, maintaining ‘‘true religion’’ and doing so through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Slipping her majesty out of the prayerful proceedings is a pretty clear indication of another tippytoe towards republicanism. Discarding references to what may, or may not, constitute ‘‘true’’ (and by exclusion untrue) religion will upset some, not all, Christians.
Second issue; decisions. Mallard seems to be road testing a new version that hasn’t been fully signed off. Instead of completing a process of debate and decision before acting, Mallard had been cheeky. And not in an endearing way. Perhaps Mallard has noted the way previous Speaker David Carter changed the odd ‘‘thy’’ and ‘‘thee’’ to you and your. But that was a tad less provocative.
Third issue; it’s still a prayer. It still refers to a less closely defined but still almighty God, and still seeks guidance. That, in itself, will irritate atheists and those who really value emphatic separation between church and state.
Look, you can’t please everyone and most would agree, we hope, that a change to the Parliamentary prayer is needed. The traditional prayer excludes people of other faith, or none, on either an unspoken acceptance of the wrongness or inferiority of their beliefs, or on the vestiges of good old first-past-the-post thinking in which the majority of the punters are at least nominally Christian, so let’s just leave it at that.
We don’t dislike the approach of former Green MP, the House’s first Rastafarian Nandor Tanczos, that a short time for individual contemplation at the beginning of each day would suffice.
There’s much to commend a sombre, thoughtful reminder of our MPs’ duty at the start of each day, allowing those who would pray to do so, and those who would meditate momentarily to do that instead.
The bottom line here is that the people who have been charged with the job of passing laws to govern our nation need to be skilled, and enormously careful, when it comes to finding a balance between honouring the most essential beliefs that unite us without gratuitously disrespecting minority groups.
The proposed new prayer does acknowledge a need for not only wisdom, but also humility.
By slipping this version into the proceedings prematurely, Mallard has ironically fallen short on both counts.