A prayer and Bible reading before council should offend no-one

A Bible reading and a prayer is a reflection of who we are as a society
A Bible reading and a prayer is a reflection of who we are as a society
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I am very pleased that the motion brought by the Green Party, and supported by the Alliance Party, to ban prayer and Bible readings at full North Down and Ards Borough Council meetings was overwhelmingly defeated at last month.

The motion, brought under the guise of inclusivity, would have had the affect of the council rejecting a great part of our history, heritage and indeed culture.

DUP councillor Tom Smith

DUP councillor Tom Smith

I think it is worth pointing out that across Northern Ireland no nationalist controlled council opens with a prayer or Bible reading.

I don’t believe it is a coincidence that all three nationalist parties on Ards and North Down Borough Council, Alliance, Greens and SDLP, gave their support to this proposal.

Let me first point out that I myself am not a Christian and would not in any way describe myself as such. A Christian, in my opinion, is someone who not only says they are a follower of Christ but is an imitator of him as well.

That is not me and it would be hypocritical for me to claim otherwise.

While I would also have issues with some Christian teachings, I do share many other Christian values and principles.

For me the heart of Christianity, and personified by Jesus Christ, is one of love, of compassion, of kindness and of mercy.

I believe the New Testament inspires us to be better. It shows us a better way for us to treat our fellow human beings.

It tells us that the strong must protect the weak and that those who have much should share with those who have little.

It compels us to offer a welcome to the stranger and to be a friend to the outcast.

A short prayer and Bible reading should give us the time to focus our minds on higher things. A moment to examine ourselves and see how we as individuals and as a collective could be better.

At the last census over 80% of people identified with a Christian denomination. Christianity – and Christian principles – permeates throughout our society and this is something we do not need to be ashamed of.

An act of Christian prayer and Bible reading should not offend anyone.

You may be a person of a different faith or someone of no faith but this short act should not be seen as attack or insult to you.

Instead it is a reflection of who we are as a society, a society that overwhelmingly sees itself as christian (even if that is with a small c).

Does it mean that we dismiss those who aren’t Christian? Not at all.

Our faith, our values, our principles should not be used as a barrier to keep others out.

Yes we may be different in terms of religious belief but rather than that leading to discord, it should take us onto discussion, so we can understand each other better and in doing so we would find more areas of agreement than disagreement.

In my 6½ years as a councillor, not one person has told me they are offended that we offer a prayer and have a Bible reading before council, yet in the last two weeks a number have told me how offended they are that some would seek to remove it.

The bottom line in all of this is that I do not believe we have anything to be ashamed of in having a short moment of Christian prayer and a scripture reading.

If we have something that motivates us to act out of love, to show mercy to others, to argue against injustice, to help the weak then we need more not less.

• Tom Smith is a DUP councillor for Ards and North Down