Parliamentary prayers: taking the edge off Mr Blunt’s idea

Since 1558, prayers have been said in both Houses of our Parliament before the start of business each day.  Despite this, MP Crispin Blunt has tabled a motion in Parliament this week ‘inviting MPs to recognise religious worship should no longer play a part in the formal business of the House, and calling on the Commons’ procedures committee to consider alternative arrangements.’

Two things spring to mind.  Firstly, surely there are more pressing issues at stake for the House of Commons to address at the moment?  Secondly, what is it about daily prayers that is so upsetting to him?  Is he an atheist?  I don’t know.  Is he worried that non-Christians are insulted/disturbed/offended/whatever by a chaplain reading a few Bible verses and saying a prayer every day in the House?  No doubt he is.

The question then is, why?  One of his reasons is that ‘The overwhelming majority of legislative bodies across the world chose not to have any such practice entwined in their procedures.’ [See article in The Times 17/1/19, linked above].

So what?  Most of the legislative bodies across the world don’t have woolsacks for officials in their upper house, Black Rod in knee breeches and two red lines on the carpet to keep opponents on the front benches two sword-lengths apart. Neither do they drag the new Speaker to his or her chair when being appointed.  Are we going to propose changing all this (and more) just because most other legislatures don’t do them?

In his piece in The Times he states that Parliamentarians should not ‘be continuing a tradition designed to sustain one faith at the slight discomfort of those of other faiths and particularly those of none, who now appear to represent the largest share of the electorate.’

Who is uncomfortable?  Have we seen a mass protest among MPs and Lords, clamouring to get rid of prayers because they feel uncomfortable? Is it the prayer and the Bible verses that Mr Blunt objects to? Why? If he’s not a believer and thinks it is all mumbo-jumbo, what is he worried about?  Given some of Parliament’s decisions in recent years – passing into law the ‘belief’ that a man can decide to become a woman and vice versa (Gender Recognition Act 2004) and current consultations about teaching trans ideology in schools (consultation on Relationships education, relationships and sex education, and health education 2018) – how can saying prayers at the beginning of every day’s business do any more harm to the nation?  Do other nations look at us and think our legislation is all wrong because we start the day with prayers?  Would anyone think differently about Parliamentary goings-on if we don’t have prayers?

Much has been made of the de facto role of morning prayers as a seat-reservation system in the House of Commons.  MPs can get a card to reserve their place if they attend prayers before business starts.  But how often is the House full?  And if an MP wishes to reserve a seat on a busy day, who cares if s/he has to ‘pay’ for the privilege by listening to prayers for five minutes?  Does this cause some sort of existential angst among MPs?  Are they so sensitive that they can’t handle a few expressions of Christianity?  They don’t seem to struggle with anything else that is said in the House, do they?

Like it or not, our UK and its constituent countries have their roots in Judeo-Christian values and standards.  Our Christian heritage has informed and led the origins and development of our education, our healthcare, our legal system, our democracy and more.  Are we to get rid of tradition just because ‘times have changed’ and somebody may be offended – usually on someone else’s behalf?  Apparently so.

During World War 2 Winston Churchill referred repeatedly to the fight to save ‘Christian civilisation’.  This was at a time when the Soviets, for example, were trying to eradicate religion, or at least to control and reinvent it to suit their ideology.  The Nazis were trying to control the German churches to promote their own twisted ideals. Years later, the EU has repeatedly failed to include reference to the Christian roots of its history in its treaties and constitution.  Is any of this important to our daily lives?

Yes, it is.  This motion tabled by Crispin Blunt is another assault on the Christian foundations of our country and our western civilisation.  Just because we have our traditional, long-held values, this does not degrade or negate anyone else’s values.  But it seems that a lot of post-colonial guilt promoters and anti-Christian people in public life would like to see us get rid of all vestiges of our religious past.  If we get rid of Christian daily prayers, what is going to happen when an increasing number of Muslim MPs ask to institute Muslim prayers prior to daily business?  Can we see anyone in power denying them such a request?  Then where will we be?

There is much to be said for keeping the tradition of Christian prayers each day before business starts in the Commons and Lords. Not only does this continue a tradition that is several hundred years old, but it reminds MPs and Lords of their place in that long tradition.  It offers a few moments of quiet and thought as they listen to familiar words and sentiments, reminding them of their responsibilities to themselves and each other.  Several MPs have spoken up on Twitter and elsewhere in support of these attitudes.

From the Christian perspective, daily prayers keep God and faith at the heart of our democracy.  Saying prayers is not just a token activity.  It makes a difference.  Millions of believers across the world can attest to that.  Mr Blunt may not be one of those who can corroborate the power of prayer, but his personal view on the matter is irrelevant.  He can’t prove any harm is being caused by prayers in the House.

He ends his recent piece in The Times as follows:

Parliament and political thinking must be free to remain independent, indeed this early day motion calls simply for a tolerant democracy that treats all belief systems alike.’

That’s quite a comment.  Free to remain independent?  What does that mean?  Is he afraid that God is going to take sides? That God may favour one party over another?  And what’s intolerant about Christian prayers? What is it about the following words that indicate ‘intolerance’?

Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed. Amen.”

And are we really to treat ‘all belief systems alike’?  Looking around the world today, I’m quite happy to stick with Judeo-Christian values, thanks.

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