It would seem our nation is doing a spring clean, getting rid of the things they consider unnecessary or even rubbish. We want the Christian out of Rugby; Special Religious Education out of Schools; and it would seem as if our Armidale Regional Council is getting involved in the national spring clean as some want prayer removed from their meetings.
Normally a spring clean is considered helpful. It’s OK to throw out the old bath water, or even the tub but only the careless or evil would throw out the baby. If you took a pessimistic view of Australia you could say there’s a desire to throw out God with the other things that we don’t need.
It is always easy to rubbish our history but it’s a dangerous way to repeat past foolishness. If Karl Marx was correct when he said “A people deprived of their history are easily persuaded”, then we ought to be careful when those in government ignore our history or we allow ourselves to be deprived of it.
Our history of Government is based on the Westminster system, a system deeply indebted to a Christian world view and one that has served us magnificently. One of the great strengths of the Westminster system of Government has been its commitment to accountability. While it would be encouraging to think that people could be trustworthy without accountability, all of us know that trust has been a casualty in recent times. Royal Commission have indicated a failure of trust. Fake news has fed distrust. And politicians have gone to the polls with a nation sceptical when it comes to trust. It doesn’t matter if it’s religion, banking, media, politics or just life in general, accountability is a defender of trust and a necessity for all including those elected to a local council. I am a great believer in sin being a problem for us all, the evidence is irrefutable, but accountability is helpful in ensuring at least some level of righteousness. In the past, one political party argued they were present to “keep the bastards honest”. I am not fond of the language but I am of the accountability.
It is why I am not keen to see prayer removed from something as a significant as local government. I recognise that people can be agnostic when it comes to God. However, even for the agnostic, to live with the possibility that God might exist is an accountability not to be ignored and a control on self- interest when it comes to community representation. For those who do pray, the accountability is even stronger which has to be a good thing.
Now community representation goes more widely than a Christian population that according to the 2016 census represents more than half of the Armidale population. Council has no alternative but to represent the many voters who profess faith but equally they must represent those of no faith. So how does a council resolve the issue of prayer at its council meetings? Great question and not an easy one for a loving community to answer.
I for one do not want people praying hypocritically but I do want people praying. I understand both sides of the debate. Perhaps it’s worth taking a lesson from our ANZAC services. Not everyone prays at an ANZAC ceremony but in my experience people respectfully remain silent as others do. The majority of our ANZAC graves carry the symbol of the cross of Christ while many others do not. None of us would dare remove the cross or add a cross to such graves and yet our war dead stood shoulder to shoulder in defence of our country. On such solemn occasions for our community we stand shoulder to shoulder respectful of the one who prays and respectful of the one who does not. I would like to suggest that council stand shoulder to shoulder, respectfully allowing the moment of prayer for the prayerful while giving space to those who don’t pray to quietly consider the accountability entrusted to them.
If Council can’t stand shoulder to shoulder in respect for the needs of one another then we have probably got the wrong council because they could never respect the needs of the community. I would encourage people to write to our councillors and attend the upcoming council meeting respectfully exhorting them to make a decision for prayer while respecting those who don’t pray.