It is time to change Parliament’s prayer

On Q&A last Sunday, Speaker David Carter raised the issue of Parliament’s opening prayer. It’s an issue that’s been debated for years – how relevant and inclusive is having a Christian prayer at the opening of Parliament for New Zealand today?

When asked about whether the Prayer was redundant and outdated, Carter replied, “You could run that argument that maybe it’s time to have a look at it but unless there was a movement from Parliament themselves, from the Members of Parliament asking me to have a look at it, I would not attempt to change a tradition without good reason.”

Here is the prayer recited every day by the Speaker:

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 tranquillity of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Speaking in my personal capacity, I think it’s time to have a discussion around it.  Like many Kiwis and MPs I am not a Christian and I don’t think the prayer reflects the rich and varied religious and spiritual life in New Zealand in 2013. To me, it’s an issue of having Parliament – the representatives of the people of New Zealand – actually reflect the people of New Zealand rather than only one religious group. We should have an inclusive ceremonial opening that all kiwis can feel comfortable with, whatever their faith.

Not all Parliaments around the world have a prayer, though most inherited the practice from growing out of Britain’s Westminster model. South Africa’s National Assembly and parts of Canada have a moment of silence for personal reflection for MPs. In Scotland, they rotate speakers of different affiliations to reflect the make-up of the census. One week they might have a Christian speaker, and another a speaker with no religious affiliations.

On Q&A, Carter said that if the issue were raised, he would probably survey MPs like the Standing Orders Committee did in 2002. He’d then use the results of that survey to guide his decision on whether or not to reform the prayer.

That’s a good start but we should be going further and asking the public about it too It’s important that New Zealanders are able to have a say on the way our Parliament starts each Parliamentary day. It is symbolic for the country, and everybody should be able to contribute to shaping that symbolism. It’s time to have a discussion about how we want our Parliamentary day to start  – whether we want to reword the Prayer, ensure it reflects the many cultures and faiths in New Zealand have a moment of quiet reflection, or something else. For example, Te Reo is only used once a year, yet could easily have a place in every opening ceremony.

When the Standing Orders are reviewed every year, the Green Party always calls for the Prayer to be broadened to reflect the multi-cultural society New Zealand has become. During the 2011 Standing Orders review, we submitted the following:

“Recommendation 3 [The Prayer]

The Speaker shall convene an advisory panel of recognised authorities to advise him on ways in which the Prayer can be broadened, in conformity with Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to reflect the multi-cultural society which New Zealand has become.”

We’ll be submitting again this year too and I’ll continue to campaign for a modern, inclusive, and relevant start to the Parliamentary day.


20 Comments Posted

  1. Shunda – Gareth’s post is not anti-Christian. Instead it is pro-inclusion of other religions. As the number of people who consider themselves to be Christians falls below 50%, surely it is reasonable (and Christian?) to consider the majority’s viewpoint?

    The bit I find curious is the bit about conducting the affairs of the house to the glory…(and) honour… seems to me that most of the politicians forget that part as they heckle, interject and evade the truth. Perhaps they need all the help they can get! (The Green MPs are an exception and a good role model.)


  2. Did not see anything there attacking Christianity, but Shunda Barunda

    does not sound like one to me. Have you not heard of ‘love your enemy?’

  3. The Greens attack on all things Christian continues apace, despite most NZers not the least bit offended with the prayer.

    But some of our “ruling class” are, and that’s the most important thing isn’t it Gareth?

    Perhaps you should just drop the semblance of ‘reason’ and admit you just loath Christianity, I could then at least begin to respect your honesty.

  4. What happened to the idea of seperation of the ‘powers’ of church & state ?
    I look at the current crop of MPs & there are many shades & racial groups (Pakeha, Maori, Asian, Indian etc.) I’m surprised the ‘christian’ prayer hasn’t been challenged long ago.

    I agree with others; get rid of it & maybe have a non-religious affirmation to ‘do the right thing’ with the powers they are given, by all the peoples of Aotearoa/NZ.


  5. As a Christian Minister I am in agreement with you, Gareth. The prayer needs to be changed. What I see as the main purpose of the prayer is a call to accountability that goes beyond Parliament and even beyond the electorate. It recognises an authority over and above the political structures of our country and recognises a deeper purpose to all that we do. If there were some way to maintain that while taking into account the diversity of our nation I think it would be very healthy.

    Richard, the reference to the ‘maintenance of true religion’ isn’t simply about the categories we have created (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism etc). I think the original writer(s) of that prayer probably had in mind the words of James in the Bible, which they would have been very familiar with – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless (true religion) is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” and so I think the shift noted above to “the maintenance of human rights and justice” probably still captures the intent of the original.

  6. “Almighty electorate, humbly acknowledging our need for Thy sufferance 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 our nation, the maintenance of human rights and justice, the honour of the Queen, and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand, through your will and as your humble and diligent elected representatives. Amen”


  7. I’m not a Christian and I am not at all fussed about having a Christian prayer to open Parliament. What irks me about it, and what I would change/delete immediately, is the line “the maintenance of true religion”, which implies that there is only one true religion and that would be the Christian one. I think we’re passed that sort of idiocy now.

    By all means, update the lot, but lets get rid of the maintenance first and foremost!

  8. we need room for a speaker who is not christian, can open parliament without first reciting a prayer. by starting with “Almighty God” every atheist speaker starts their day with a lie.

  9. Next thing on the agenda…changing the National Anthem?

    The current prayer acknowledges that politicians are not God and therefore it is a HUMBLE request,at the outset of the Parliamentary day,asking for the Creator’s help in guiding politicians to make, together, the most wise and holistic decisions for the wider good of those peoples who ELECTED them to govern this potentially even more wonderful country.
    Oh, I forgot, so many politicians DO think they are God! No wonder things have become so messed up!

    They also seem to overlook the fact that many of the “cultural diversity” (bless them )CHOSE to come and live here and we have already done quite a lot to integrate them though,I would agree that there are areas for improvement. I don’t, however,support seeking to further obliterate the heritage of our Christian foundations which, incidentally, gave rise to the freedoms of Western society, however perjured they have become,that most have come to enjoy.

  10. Quietly drop the thing. Don’t replace it with anything. And don’t waste any more time and money over it.

  11. And no, Mike Godfrey, all religions do not acknowledge one god. In Hinduism, there are many gods, and in Buddhism gods do not feature. Agnostics aren’t sure if there’s a god or not, and atheists are fairly certain there isn’t.

  12. I don’t think it’s good enough to have a prayer ‘inclusive of all faiths’, because that leaves out those with no faith, ie the atheists, who are fast becoming one of the largest ‘religious’ groups in NZ. Get rid of it altogether and replace it with a promise to act in the best interests of New Zealanders.

  13. Yes, we should abolish the parliamentary prayer. By putting these words into the mouths of MPs who do not worship Jesus Christ, it is insulting to those MPs, and it is also insulting to Jesus Christ.

  14. Since we still accept the Queen as nominal leader, and recent surveys suggest the citizens may not want a republic. How about approaching Buck House to see what Her Majesty suggests? That prayer is written in a type of English not used today. Even if the MPs prayed to their consciences or vowed to the nation that they would do the right thing by all of us, it would still be a prayer. There is no need to call on Jesus, or Mohammed, Buddha et all. If there is a creator, then we are all his children. But I do hope we will keep some kind of a vow to do what is right for the whole nation, rather than favour one kind of New Zealander over another. Witnesses have to swear an oath in court, so I think those who accept office to represent us should also swear a binding oath to do what they are expected to do with their whole heart.

  15. As all the religions acknowledge one God albeit with a different name, all that needs to be done is to end the prayer at the words.. tranquillity of New Zealand. This would simply cover all options instead of complicating things and perpetuating divisiveness.

  16. I have no problem with removing Christianity from the ritual of the house, as long as we remove it from all other rituals and practices that the state endorses.
    This of course means abandoning Christmas and Easter as holiday periods, and removing the Queen( who is head of the Christian Church of England) as our head of state.

  17. hi, as a christian, st Andrews on theTerrace i support the move to change how MPs assembly and declare themselves to be interested in the best interests of our country, fauna, flora and human.
    Our prayer does not do this…and as an aside, I was one of several in 1981 who dared to stand and utter the payer in 1981 – in the midst of the TOUR – and was subsequently banned from the presincts for two years. I have no regrets but have alwsys pondered the genuinesss of the prayer.

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