Not very important in the grand scheme of things, you might say, and you’d probably be right. With all that is facing us nationally and globally, Parliamentary prayer is hardly among the issues on anyone’s list of priorities.
But it crossed my mind last Thursday (March 10) as I watched the opening of the new Parliament taking place at Gordon House, with the swearing in of the new Senators and Members of Parliament.
At the start of the ceremonies to open both the new Senate and the new House of Representatives, the President of the Jamaica Council of Churches was asked to say a prayer, which he did. And, as one would expect, it was a Christian prayer.
This took me back to a time many years ago, when I sat beside a friend in the Visitors’ Gallery in Parliament for a debate on a piece of legislation. She is not a Christian, but is from another religion represented in Jamaica, and after the regular prayer was read, she said quietly, “Where does that leave me?”
It is a valid question. What message is sent to the many Jamaicans of other than Christian belief when prayers routinely said in Parliament are Christian prayers? The follow-up question is – does it matter what message is sent?
As the most recent census shows, Christianity is the majority religion in Jamaica, with a variety of different denominations represented. Other specific religions form a small number, but the full picture is clearly not captured in the infographic and/or the census results.
The question about religious affiliation on the questionnaire used for the census in 2011 gives a list of specific choices and provides an option for other religions/denominations to be given. It is interesting to note the sizeable number of people in the Other religion/denomination (169,014), No religion/denomination (572,008) and Not reported (60,326) categories, as shown in the graphic. (I wonder if some of those in the No religion category may reflect a feeling of it’s-none-of-the-government’s-business-what-my-religion-is.)
But back to Parliamentary prayer. Although the majority religion in Jamaica is Christianity, there is no state religion. Is the majority position and the traditional practice sufficient reason to continue the current practice in Parliament?
There have been some attempts in the past to review or revise the prayer said in Parliament, but I don’t remember at the moment what the reasons were for the suggestions, what the proposed changes were or what happened to those attempts.
If the issue were to be raised again, what would you suggest be done?
A) Nothing. It’s fine as it is. Jamaica is a Christian country and the current practice reflects that.
B) Sometimes have prayers said which represent other religions with proponents in Jamaica.
C) Draft a non-denominational prayer that could reflect a wider range of religious beliefs.
D) Stop having a spoken prayer. Have instead a moment for silent prayer or reflection, allowing each person to act according to their personal belief.
E) Other (Specify) __________________________________________