Faith Matters: Still room for God in government

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 our Armidale Regional Council gets involved in the national spring clean some want prayer removed from their meetings.

Normally a spring clean is considered helpful. It's ok to throw out the old bath water, 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.

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. 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? Not an easy question 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.

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 suggest 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.

Rick Lewers is the Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Armidale

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