Near neighbours are sometimes too near
So this sinking has really numbed us

The case for Christianity in national affairs

BY GANJIKI D WAYNE

AS DEBATE ON reforms to our sex laws and other moral questions intensify, conversation often flows to Christianity and its application to our national legislative programs and social engineering projects.

Why should its precepts and principles be applied in shaping our society? Why should it have prominence over other religious or irreligious opinions? Why do we even call Papua New Guinea a “Christian country”?

Increasingly people question the merits of calling PNG a “Christian country”. Christian leaders often say our constitution declares PNG a “Christian country” so we must therefore adhere to Christian principles.

They are mistaken. Our constitution does not make such a declaration. However it does subscribe explicitly to Christian principles.

I’d like to put forward the following argument in light of the preamble to the constitution—our “Declaration of Independence”. What does it really say?

The preamble contains the “spirit” of the constitution and, by extension, the nation. In law, the spirit of a document is a significant aid to interpretation.

Without the letter the spirit is ineffective and dead; but without the spirit the letter is without ultimate meaning, without coherence and is vulnerable to abusive interpretation.

Whilst many argue on the “letter” of the constitution, few really understand its spirit.

Our founding fathers and the drafters of the constitution—after nationwide consultation and affirmation from the people—put into the preamble a pronouncement of certain fundamental beliefs and values that as a nation we would (or should) live by.

These foundations provide a coherent ethos for our nation. Such an ethos is necessary for our society to maintain some coherence and, dare I say, order.

Some of those principles include: the declaration of being “united as one nation”; the memory of our ancestors; the people-power basis for our democracy; the prominence of the dignity of the human being and community; the rejection of violence and encouragement of peaceful consensus; and hard work and equitable sharing of benefits for all.

These are but few of the foundation pillars set for our country. Among them, the preamble declares—in fact it pledges!—to “guard and pass on to those who come after us our noble traditions and the Christian principles that are ours now”.

The writers included Christianity as a major facet for our national society. This has, through ignorance of the real wording of the preamble, been taken to mean that the constitution declares PNG to be a “Christian country”.

Perhaps it’s only a matter of argument whether it’s a declaration or not. But for me it’s quite clear. Our declaration lays down a pledge to do two things for the Christian worldview in PNG: to guard it and to pass it on.

Christian principles form part of the fundamental philosophical makeup of our nation, meant to permeate not only the private lives of us the citizens but every objective strategy we think up for progress as a nation.

As a people we are called by the supreme document of our land, to guard those Christian principles we had wisely adopted. So when challenged by philosophies and ideologies directly contradictory to those Christian principles, the Christian principles be given prominent consideration. That is our duty under the constitution.

And if our first basic social obligation (under that same preamble by the way) is anything to go by, we are called to “respect and act” in the spirit of the constitution. Notice it does not say we must respect and act according to the “letter” of the constitution.

Our writers knew the fallacy of leaning on the letter alone. We must be guided by that “spirit”—and therefore by extension the Christian principles.

For those naysayers who insist we are not a nation built on Christian principles, our constitution leaves no doubt (unlike the American declaration of independence which is not as explicit) that it is indeed part and parcel of our pillars.

And further reading of the writings of John Momis, Sir Michael Somare and the late Bernard Narakobi will confirm this explicit subscription to the Gospel of Christ. And to say otherwise would be to disagree with the spirit of the constitution...the same one that gives us the right to argue one way or the other.

Where there is a need for coherence in our society where shall we get it? Should we spin a bottle on every separate issue and apply that worldview to which it points; regardless of the contradiction and incoherence in society?

I contend that we need no such exercise. Our preamble—the spirit of our nation—provides such a coherence, it defines us sufficiently.

If we should look everywhere but there we may end up sufficiently confused, frustrated, without direction and without identity. And even if we gain so much ground yet we may effectively get nowhere.

God Bless Papua New Guinea.

Comments

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Harry Topham

I think Henry Lawson the poet and author summed it up all too well when he wrote:

"Three men on a corner met as three men often do / One was a priest, the other a priest, and the third man had no money too."

Old Henry was prone to like a drink or too and did not mind putting the bite on others when he was short a bob but as the above anecdote shows he never managed to ever inveigle any dinau from the church.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Christianity has done so much in terms of education and health all throughout the world apart from its core duty of proselytation.

Of course, the Church has erred and brought scandals like acquiring lands and so forth but it is not infallible.

Though the Pope is said to be infallible, his infallibility is only confined to matters of Christian faith.

The good works of the Church in exploiting people’s ignorance about science, social science, governance, etc, which are evident in most dark corners of the world like Papua New Guinea can’t be trampled on.

The Church has a special place in history and its good works overshadows the collective works of the UN, England, France or the proud Uncle Sam.

I don’t want to cast the first stone on Christianity.

Monpi

Interesting to note that during the recent census in Australia, social commentators and researchers were heard to comment that Christianity as a religion was in decline in Australia and churches were not growing.

Except for its appalling record with indigenous people and its present appalling policies (or lack thereof) regarding asylum seekers, Australia seems to have gotten it pretty much right in most other aspects of government and public policy.

Corruption is rarely an issue of national importance nor is it the subject of regular and cliched political rhetoric.

Yuambari Haihuie

Your proposition would have the visage of validity were it not for this statement;

"Christian principles form part of the fundamental philosophical makeup of our nation, meant to permeate not only the private lives of us the citizens but every objective strategy we think up for progress as a nation."

You see, the problem is that you assume that having Christian principles means that the nation will progress and prosper as a result. One does not follow the other (trends indicate the opposite actually); some have argued that Christian principles do not exist for the betterment of nation states, that Christians should only be concerned about the next life not the current one.

What do we do when Christian principles hold us back as a nation, or deny our citizens their rights or cause divisions within our communities based on frivolous issues such as whether wafers and wine can be transformed into the living flesh of a divine Jew from over 2000 years ago.

I suggest we adhere to the letter of the constitution's preamble, and keep the principles that guide us, whether they be Christian or not, as personal doctrines not national edicts.

Steve Gallagher Darong

Before they came to PNG to exploit our resources, they brought Christianity and changed our mindset. By doing that, they exploit our resources, gold to name just one. When they had our gold, they were glorified.

God, Gold and Glory, the three Gs. Today, another two Gs were added and that is Globalisation and Global warming. You do the research and find out yourself.

In early times, the church dictated to the people, but due to the printing press and increase in other social activities, the church no longer dictates people's lives. Today, going to church is just one part of our lives, not the whole.

Church is different from government, we must not let the church influence our legal system. We have natural law whereby we make decisions on our conscience.

If our law says hang a man for killing another person if he or she is found guilty, do so. We don't need Christain principles to dictate our legal system.

Peter Kranz

Our US cousins don't always get it right, but on this issue I think they did.

First amendment to the US Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Barbara Short

Yes - I agree we still live in a "fallen world". None of us is perfect. We all sin!

But PNG lawyers, who I know are committed Christians, are trying to work out a correct path for PNG under the rules of the Constitution.

One I know has worked on exposing corruption in the government. Another is trying to keep the government functioning despite all the difficulties. They need the support of the people.

The last thing you want is anarchy - look at the streets of London!

We have a situation in Australia at the moment where the Law Courts are stepping in to try to protect the recent refugee arrivals against the decisions by the government.

Some churches have fought against the environmental catastrophies created by the extractive industries in PNG.

I know that the United Church in Australia, and many former missionaries, were behind the Slater and Gordon demand for compensation for the pollution caused by the Ok Tedi mine.

This "land grab" has to be fought by those PNG people who have the ability to understand what is really going on.

You need committed Christian lawyers who understand land laws and land rights to help you to sort it all out!

You have your role to play, Martyn. But you need to work with others who are in the battle with you. Some of them may be Christians.

Martyn Namorong

Barbara - And today we still have a lot of sorcery and tribal war. Perhaps to a lesser extent, but it still exists.

There are also urban neo-tribalists who continue to squabble today under the banner of 'generic ethnicities'. Has Christianity been successful in sorting out our law and order and corruption issues?

One noble Christian principle is 'to turn the other cheek.' Perhaps it explains why Christianity in PNG seems silent on various human rights abuses and environmental catastrophes created by extractive industries.

How does Christianity respond to the current mess in PNG? It tells its colonised folk to prepare fir Heaven while their land and resources are being raped. What happens to the future generation if the world doesn't end for another ten thousand years?

This article supports a (Christian) world view. It baffles me that the author doesn't seem to understand our social context.

It is Indeed the (Christian) world view that has dominated PNG society since the arrival of missionaries centuries ago and continues to dominate social discourse and activities.

And yet we still have major problems from corruption to land grabs and environmental damage.

Barbara Short

Martyn - Churches can make mistakes! Before the missionaries came, wasn't there a lot of sorcery, tribal wars, etc?

The Australian Constitution starts out by mentioning that the various states are "humbly relying on the blessings of Almighty God".

The people who wrote it were Christians with a belief in an Almighty God - but that doesn't mean that all Australians are Christian.

But if we are involved with debating anything that is in the Constitution we have to take into consideration its Christian principles.

The writers of your constitution also based much of what they included on "Christian principles".

Don't get too carried away with this concept of "decolonising our minds".

I taught my PNG students to think for themselves. I have a good relationship now with many of them because they can think for themselves.

In fact they can often think better than me these days!! I have a great respect for them! Many of them are wonderful Christians too!

Martyn Namorong

The constitution as described by various Supreme Court rulings is a living document ... it must be relevant to the times.

The constitution is the prime document that declares the wishes of Papua New Guineans to be decolonised, to be free from the chains of the colonisers. Why?

Because for over 40,000 years our ancestors were an independent, self reliant people who lived in harmony with the environment. Then the colonisers came; both secular and religious, and colonised our minds and our land.

Someone posted recently on Facebook: "Before the churches came, we had the land and they had the Bible. Now we have the Bible and they have our land."

I have written a blog post regarding the use of church land for unpopular projects that will have adverse social, cultural and environmental impacts:

http://medicmangi.blogspot.com/2011/08/churches-turn-judas-in-madang.html

We the people of Papua New Guinea need to start decolonising our minds.

Yuambari Haihuie

For anyone interested, the Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea can be found here in its entirety or here in a more digestible form.

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