The near-annual call to remove the Lord’s Prayer from the Victorian halls of power has reemerged in the media. Boroondara Council has suspended the recitation of the Lord’s prayer, after being directed by a ‘legal letter’ alleging that the practice is unlawful.
In 2021, Former MP Fiona Patten of the Sex Party (now Reason Party) introduced legislation to have the Lord’s Prayer removed from the Victorian Parliament. The motion failed, but the Attorney General indicated that the Government would reconsider legislation in the new Parliament.
The Age newspaper has tonight reaffirmed its push to ban the Lord’s Prayer from our political institutions. An Editorial was published, arguing that today’s multi faith society and a decline in Christianity demonstrate that this Christian prayer no longer has a place in our political institutions.
“In the 2021 census, barely 44 per cent of respondents said they were of Christian affiliation. New migrants, meanwhile, were more likely to practise a different religion (40.7 per cent of those arriving from 2017 to 2021) or no religion at all (28.5 per cent) compared with those affiliated with Christianity (28.4 per cent)…These trends are likely to continue. According to the census, while older generations are still more likely to practise a Christian faith, more than 60 per cent of Millennials either follow a different religion or none at all. This necessarily has implications for those public institutions that still incorporate the Christian faith into their procedures, among them many of Victoria’s local councils.”
As a Christian minister living and serving in Victoria, I have some thoughts about this perennial debate. I have shared them previously and I’ll repeat them here for the sake of public information and discussion.
The Age Editorial makes a point (as did Fiona Patten back in 2021) and it’s not without some merit, but it’s not without a reasonable refutation.
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 a 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, again missing in this conversation is this key question: What is the Lord’s Prayer about? What are we praying?
This prayer which brings great comfort is also dangerous to pray. The words Jesus taught are not vague spiritual notions; nice and innocuous. If 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 so 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 hypocrisy and hubris to ask God for forgiveness and to speak words that depend on a crucified and risen Christ without intellectual and 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. However, one cannot read this prayer with understanding and come to those conclusions.
I understand why some Christians (and even unbelievers) are keen for the Lord’s Prayer to remain in the Parliamentary (and Council) program and I’ve above outlined two reasons above. At the same time, I am not keen to see our political and council representatives heaping more coals on their heads by speaking words that condemn them before an authority who stands 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 the local Council or in the State 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 Gospel is advanced when Christians believe, pray, and live out what Jesus taught us to pray.
This prayer provides comfort to millions of Christians and 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.