Why ban prayers before meetings?

Thursday 8th December 2011 12:00 am
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I WRITE concerning the removal of Christian prayers at the beginning of Gloucestershire County Council meetings reported as being at the instruction of Councillor Brian Thornton, county council chairman.

To one who battles daily to maintain the Christian heritage of this country, it seems unusual to make unilaterally and arbitrarily such a decision, certainly without consultation with other councillors; even less without consultation with those whom those councillors represent – namely: us.

Coun Thornton is reported as saying that the practice of praying "excludes some" of the councillors and that: "this (the council) is not a religious setting, it is a council one. As such, I have decided I do not wish to cause exclusion in any way, so we will do without the prayers."

One reading of this is as another example of the majority bending to the wishes of the minority, most of whom have not expressed any view and still less expressed any offence. In fact, this is exclusion of the majority by the minority, something which Christians are at last starting to resist as the excellent organisation Christian Concern is demonstrating with its campaign against the National Secular Society, currently demanding Devon County Council to remove prayers from its meetings despite two council votes resisting such a move already. Perhaps our county council is capitulating without a fight?

Survey after survey and census after census show that the vast majority of people in this country believe in God. Whether the secular and atheist lobby like it or not, our modern systems of democratic representation and justice have evolved from a Judeo- and Romano-Christian foundation and therefore the act of prayer before a meeting of such gatherings would have been commonplace and entirely normal and natural. The freedom to pray in this fashion is a hard-won and vital privilege certainly denied by some adherents of other religions in other parts of the world, as individuals like Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad, whose congregants are frequently blown up or murdered, will testify.

Meanwhile, members of other religions whom I meet are left scratching their heads in puzzlement at decisions like these to axe prayers before meetings. Just like Christmas trees, they have no problem with it.

Some would seek to separate the secular (county council) and the religious (prayer). Probably the leading theologian of the last century, Karl Barth, said that ministers should preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. That is to say, there is no distinction between the two spheres of secular and religious. Thank goodness we have the freedom to preach like this as much as we like, despite the tyrannical shouts and intimidation by the secularists and atheists who seek to bully everyone else into behaving and believing as they do.

The Rev Nick Bromfield,

Rector of Drybrook, Lydbrook and Ruardean

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