By Peter Jackson
TREVOR MALLARD is used to being controversial. His 27-year (and counting) parliamentary career has long seen him cast as Labour's attack dog, a man who will espouse some of the party's less popular ideas, and who seems impervious to the slings and arrows of outraged opposition.
He's at it again now in the role of Speaker, authoring an amendment to the parliamentary prayer. Initially he removed reference to the Queen, although she has since been restored. And properly so, given that, whatever Mr Mallard and others might wish, she is our head of state. Even the staunchest republican would be struggling to oust her.
He shows no signs of relenting over the removal of the last five words of the prayer, however, ostensibly in the interests of inclusivity. Mr Mallard reckons that leaving Jesus Christ out of it can not only be defended, but is required by the need to embrace those of faiths other than Christianity.
No doubt that includes atheists and agnostics, although the amended prayer still appeals directly to the supreme being which they do not believe in.
For the record, the prayer, before Mr Mallard applied his wisdom to it, was: "Almighty God, humbly acknowledging our need for Thy guidance in all things, and laying aside all private and personal interests, we beseech Thee to grant that we may conduct the affairs of this House and of our country to the glory of Thy holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the honour of the Queen, and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.'
The amended version is redolent of the double standards that plague this country's politics, and society as a whole. One assumes that those who support the removal of Jesus Christ, accepted in Christianity as the only means of mortal access to the Almighty God to whom MPs obviously intend to continue appealing, will never darken the door of a church again, even for a wedding, baptism or funeral.
It is impossible to take part in any such ceremony without acknowledging the role of Jesus Christ - 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,' John 14:6 - although politicians are probably more practised than most at pretending to accept something they do not believe in.
We have learned something about our politicians courtesy of this move to change the prayer, however, something that even in this day and age is a little surprising. Mr Mallard insists that he has not acted unilaterally. He consulted widely before announcing his decision. And no doubt he did. It is odd though, is it not, that not one person with whom he consulted, and who presumably agreed with him, has spoken publicly in his defence? Mr Mallard, it seems, is a party of one.
We can only suspect that he did not find the consensus that he says he did, or that those who agree with him are too gutless to say so. The latter has rather more appeal than the former, which further suggests that even those who have not been offended by the amending of the prayer, regarding it as a non-issue, less deserving of our (and Parliament's) attention than many others, understand that it is very important to many of their constituents.
Not only, perhaps, because of the removal of Christ's name per se, but because of the principle, and the perceived arrogance of a man who would impose his wishes upon an entire institution, and nation.
From a purely pragmatic point of view, it probably shouldn't bother us if politicians pray to Almighty God, Allah or the Great Pumpkin of the Universe. In recent times at least there has been precious little evidence of beneficial divine intervention in their activities, so it might well be argued that they are wasting their breath. The few moments it takes to recite the prayer might be better spent slagging the opposition.
The great irony, though, is offered by Mr Mallard himself, who, determined as he is to make the prayer more inclusive, opened Parliament by reciting it in te reo. Brilliant.
How many of those assembled understood more than a word or two of that? How many wondered at the blatant double standard of evicting Jesus Christ in the pursuit of inclusivity, then intoning what's left of the prayer in a language they don't understand?
How many wondered if the great religion of political correctness had taken another giant step towards succeeding Christianity? How many had the courage to object? None.
How many of the men and women we have elected or their parties have appointed to govern us, and who do not identify as Christians, would voice their objections at any kind of ceremony involving Christian prayers, including appeals to Jesus Christ, at any kind of ceremony or function involving a formal Maori element?
Who among them is going to stand up and say, "Hang on a minute. I don't understand what you're saying, but if you intend asking Jesus Christ to intercede with Almighty God, then I object on behalf of all those who you are excluding"?
Maori culture, after all, has probably maintained a closer relationship with Christianity than have many of the descendants of the missionaries who brought it here in the first place.
Certainly Maori generally are much happier about including Christian prayers in almost any ceremony, even those that have no obvious religious context, than others are.
Does that concern Mr Mallard? Obviously not.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that neither he nor others of his ilk will ever suggest that Maori abandon reference to Jesus Christ in the interests of not excluding anyone.
And if he is so keen to usher Parliament into a new era of acceptance of social and cultural differences, why doesn't he start with the likes of Parliament's Black Rod? That office dates back to 1642, when King Charles I entered the Chamber of the House of Commons in London in an unsuccessful bid to arrest five MPs. Still, in 21st Century New Zealand, as Black Rod nears the Chamber of the House its door is slammed shut. He knocks three times, and is then allowed in to deliver his message.
The tradition symbolises the reluctance of MPs to be dominated by the Crown. It is also why the Governor-General never enters the House. Instead, the Speech from the Throne is given in the Legislative Council Chamber, where the Upper House met until it was abolished in 1951.
All very colourful, and for many undoubtedly a treasured component of the theatre that Parliament can offer.
The Sergeant-at-Arms, ensures the rules of conduct are observed in the debating chamber, and maintains order in the galleries and among officials, and who leads the Speaker in and out of the debating chamber, goes back even further, to 1415.
None of this has any relevance to this country, certainly not those who have no British (or Commonwealth) heritage, but Mr Mallard does not seem to see that irrelevance, or consider it potentially exclusive. He seems content to give Jesus Christ His marching orders. What a disgraceful legacy that will be.