Nick Jensen, from the ACL, writes in Canberra City News (7th February 2013) about the ACT Government's decision not to attend a church service to mark the beginning of the 2013 political term.
There has been a fair bit of ink spilled lately over the ACT Government’s unwillingness to attend a church service at the beginning of this political term. The new Speaker, Liberal MLA 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 that around 52% of Canberran’s resonate with the Christian tradition, and another 8% 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 that they mean there should be no formal connection between government and religion. If this is the case however some consistency is required. Initially it would be prudent to remove the crosses on the ACT flag, and surely the ‘Goddess’ 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 Christian roots. 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 that there is a serious misunderstanding of what ‘secular’ or ‘separation of church/state’ actually means in Australia. It certainly does not mean that 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. To therefore reject a simple act recognising this significance is, I believe, not what true representative leadership is about.
In fact, I think that leadership is at its best when it works with faith. Our lawmakers need to be regularly reminded that there is a law and morality higher than the ones they decree. Those in positions of the greatest power need to be continually called to the profound humility that there are greater powers in the world. Those who command authority need to think deeply about the daily practice of sacrifice and service we expect of their position.
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, and I am certain that our new assembly will need all the help they can get.