The Lord’s Prayer in Victorian Parliament: Be careful what we ask for

We need more prayer, not less prayer. In a season when we have been reminded of our mortality and the acute limitations of being human, the wise learn how much more do we need Divine grace, wisdom, and strength. Instead of praying, the Victorian Parliament is arguing about Christianity again! This time, the dispute is over the Lord’s Prayer and whether it has a place inside Spring St.

Fiona Patten is introducing a motion to have the Lord’s Prayer replaced with a moment’s silence at the start of each Parliamentary sitting. The Legislative Council member from the Sex Party (sorry, it’s know called the ‘Reason Party) believes that our pluralistic society should exclude this prayer. Okay, I am being slightly facetious. Patten’s reasoning is that many Victorians are not Christian and the prayer discriminates against other religions and Victorians with no religious affiliation. 

Premier’s Chair!

What would I decide? Of course, I’m not sitting in the Premier’s chair nor in any chamber at Parliament. As a Christian minister living and serving in Victoria I do have some thoughts.

Fiona Patten has a point although it’s not without reasonable rebuttal. Reading the Lord’s Prayer in the Parliament serves to perform two important functions in our society. First, this is an audible reminder to Victorians of the fact that Australia has been profoundly and positively shaped by Christianity. The prayer offers both an historical and cultural connection to the worldview that has provided vital and foundational influence on Australian life. The Lord’s Prayer serves as one of the few remaining signals in Parliament to our nation’s Christian past. This is a past that many wish to have erased although doing so will also remove the very foundations upon which our society depends for stability, tolerance, and viability. 

Second, the Lord’s Prayer is a salient reminder of our humanity and our dependence on God who is Sovereign and good. We ultimately need a God of Biblical proportions to give us wisdom and understanding as we lead, serve and live. 

However, what’s missing in this debate is an explanation of what the Lord’s Prayer is about. This prayer which brings great comfort is also dangerous to pray. The words Jesus taught are not vague spiritual notions; nice and innocuous. In anything, the Lord’s Prayer should probably come with a warning sign or some kind of disclosure before reading. Indeed, there are bigger and better reasons for avoiding this prayer (and for praying it). Let me explain.

The prayer begins with Jesus addressing,

“‘Our Father in heaven,”

Jesus invites us to call God, Father. This is an incredibly wonderful idea and it’s one that’s unique to Christianity. To know God as Father suggests that he is not an impersonal being, but he is relational and personal. What a remarkable concept Jesus is teaching!

However, God is not everyone’s Father, and it’s imprudent to call him such. It is inappropriate for any child to call me dad, only my children can do that. Similarly, only God’s children can truly address him as Father. It is exclusive and yet it is also wonderfully inclusive, for no one is born Christian but we are adopted by grace, a gift from God. The Bible shows us that the privilege of knowing God as Father comes through faith in his Son. This is one of the great possibilities that’s opened in Christianity, we can come to know God as Father.

It is either a bold or very foolish politician who addresses God as Father if they have not first put their faith in his Son. 

Notice also how the Lord’s Prayer petitions God to end this fallen world and to judge wrongdoing,

“your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.”

This prayer is asking  God to bring an end to all sin, evil ,and death, and to judge the guilty. It is also an appeal for God to unveil his rule publicly and universally that we might live under and enjoy eternity with him in the new creation. Are we ready to pray for Divine judgment on the Victorian Parliament, and all our attitudes and actions? 

The Lord’s Prayer recognises God who provides our daily provisions and who is able to do the harder work, of forgiving us our sins: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Such a petition is humbling, requires honesty, and it  provides a stunning possibility; Divine forgiveness. There is a hypocrisy and hubris to ask God for forgiveness and to speak words that depend on a crucified and risen Christ while neither intellectual or heart assent to them. 

If we’re being honest, prayer can act like a placebo, serving to trick my  consciousness into believing everything will work out. Prayers, even in many churches, have become about upholding tradition rather than the intended purpose which is about knowing and delighting in God. One cannot read this prayer with understanding and come to those conclusions.

Fiona Patten’s reasons for removing  the Lord’s Prayer isn’t really about pluralism, it is simply the latest move in the Victorian Parliament to  further diminish the role Christianity holds in our society.

I understand why some Christians (and even unbelievers) are wanting the Lord’s Prayer to remain in Parliamentary program and I’ve above outlined two reasons above. At the same time, I note how this Parliament, earlier in the year, made it illegal for Christians to pray with and converse with another person about sexuality and gender. I am neither surprised by the move to remove the Lord’s Prayer, and frankly how hypocritical would it be if it continued. I am not keen to see our political representatives heaping more coals on their heads by speaking words that condemn them before an authority that exists above their own station.

Removing the Lord’s Prayer is another indication of a culture turning its back on the very beliefs upon which the very best of society is built. However its continuation is not a sign of living faith but of hypocrisy and dead religion. While there is great sadness in seeing my State of Victoria walk away from the God who exists, lives, and saves, the answer is not found in Parliament but in the local church. Christians should take care in how we argue, for we are mistaken if we conflate civil society with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God and the cause of Jesus Christ isn’t extended through such cultural nodding toward Christianity. The Lord’s Prayer belongs to the Church. The cause of the Gospel will be advanced by Christians believing, praying, and living out what Jesus taught us to pray.

This prayer that provides comfort to millions of Christians is far more weighty and formidable than I suspect many assume. My advice to the Victorian Parliament today is to pause and read it very carefully and to ponder the theological statements Jesus is making. Ask this question, do I believe this? Can I ask speak these words with a clear conscience? Perhaps, just perhaps, ask yourselves, does this God of the Lord’s Prayer really exist and can I known him and receive the blessings that are promised to those who know God as Father?


Update: The motion failed to gain sufficient support. For the time being the Lord’s Prayer will continue to be recited. However the Government’s Attorney General has indicated that Labor will proceed to remove it following the next State election (assuming they win)