THE new Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly, Liberal Vicki Dunne, has proposed an ecumenical service where people can pray for and bless their leaders. Although it would involve a Christian liturgy, leaders of other faiths have been invited to contribute as well to the service.I may perhaps be a little biased, but the decision to refuse to even send a representative to such an event seems unwise. The latest census data from 2011 shows around 52 per cent of Canberrans resonate with the Christian tradition and another 8 per cent belong to other faith communities.
The reason given from the Government was one of “principle”, indicating that this would compromise the “secular nature” of the Assembly.
By “secular” we can assume they mean there should be no formal connection between government and religion. If this is the case, some consistency is required. Initially, it would be prudent to remove the crosses on the ACT flag and surely the “god” standing at the public entrance to the Legislative Assembly should be relocated.
Why stop there though if we are truly to remove any formal religious connection? Every MLA with “minister” in their title will need a name change due to its clerical connotations. The seating in the Assembly will need to be rearranged as well, based initially on a church-choir seating model. In fact, the very foundation of the Westminster system is based firmly on Medieval Christianity, so naturally this would need to go as well to preserve the “secular nature” of our government.
Quite simply, I believe there is a serious misunderstanding of what “secular” or “separation of church/state” actually means in Australia. It certainly does not mean our elected officials need to stay away from religion and expressions of faith. Faith is a part of our history, our culture, our values and the way many of us live our lives.
Leadership is at its best when it works with faith. Our lawmakers need to be regularly reminded there is a law and morality higher than the ones they decree.
All in all, I fail to see the great threat of a community of people gathering around their leaders to bless them, pray for wisdom and demonstrate support for their representatives no matter what they might believe. Leadership can be incredibly lonely, compromising, stressful and unappreciated. I am certain our new Assembly will need all the help it can get.
The ecumentical service will be held at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Manuka, 10am, on Monday, February 11.
Nick Jensen is a director of the Australian Christian Lobby