Mak­ing de­ci­sions above his pray grade

Nelson Mail - - COMMENT&OPINION -

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.

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