There were hundreds of Christians at Parliament on Tuesday calling for the reinstatement of the name of Jesus in parliament’s prayer. There were people wearing Make America Great Again hats, bikers in leathers proclaiming the lord, and some pretty horrendous banners - including one calling Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard a "dishonourable Judas".
A few of us atheists were also there, carrying placards demanding the inclusion of Thor, Satan, the Flying Spaghetti Monster and others in the prayer, in the interests of fairness. Our more serious point was that the state should be secular, and should avoid favouring any particular deity.
The organisers seemed to be well bankrolled, with a stage and two large screens. There was talk from an MP of how you don’t have to have intelligence, that all you need is a willingness to be obedient to god. Of course, there’s a stage in the middle between god and those who are being told to be obedient - the pastors. Those in charge get to decide what god is telling people to believe and do, and they were out there telling people to trust them.
Thomas Manch mentioned us in an article for Stuff (opens new window), but I was surprised that he called us "hecklers". To me, heckling is harassment of a speaker in order to try to stop them speaking. We in no way tried to cause issues for the organisers, speakers or attendees - we simply stood on the pavement outside of parliament and waved our banners while occasionally shouting out slogans like "all gods or none" or "separation of church and state". Many people laughed at our signs and took pictures, nobody seemed to have any problems with us being there, some of us were prayed for, and we talked with several Christians in a friendly, understanding way.
One thing that surprised me in conversations we had with several of the Christians that had attended was that they agreed with our idea that parliament should be fair, and accepted that having just Jesus mentioned in prayer was not fair to other faiths. It struck me as funny that people would turn up to support a rally like this when they disagree with its central message. My guess is that their desire to show their devotion to their belief, and maybe some pressure from religious leaders, is enough to get them to turn up - and that in their heads they’re there to show their love for Jesus, not because of an issue with the parliamentary prayer.
The major argument that the organisers seem to be pushing is that New Zealand is a nation built on Christian values, with a Christian heritage:
Of course, this may be the case - not least because a hundred and fifty years ago, when parliament was created, pretty much everyone was a Christian. But that history doesn’t mean that New Zealand should continue to favour Christianity over other beliefs - we’ve come a long way in the last 150 years, and we have a better understanding now of how to run a fair, equitable society. Arguing that something should be a certain way simply because it has been that way in the past is nonsensical.
There was an earthquake later in the day, which has been claimed as evidence that God is not happy about the prayer change:
"Seems the Lord chose to remind Parliament who is in control with a big earthquake that caused them to suspend business"
Is it a coincidence that the same day hundreds maybe thousands protested outside parliament, there was an earthquake that sent MPs scrambling from the house?
- Geoffrey Strickland, Thames (in the NZ Herald)
Someone on the March’s Facebook event page asked (opens new window):
Is anyone else who went yesterday feeling like the enemy is attacking them?
The responses included:
Major spiritual warfare is going on. Halloween, witches and satanists are trying their best. But the battle and victory belongs to Jesus! His blood covers not only our sins, but our souls!
Plead the blood of Jesus over yourself, dwelling, and family. Demons cannot penetrate that, in fact they end up getting beaten up.
In the end, it turns out that the cause of the person’s feeling of being attacked was likely that Facebook held their post back for a day in quarantine, not that demons were attacking her.