The National, Thursday August 27th, 2015
YESTERDAY was the National Repentance Day, a day of solemn prayer; it was observed with many church activities throughout the country.
However, the Christian church that has been responsible bringing the country of many cultures together, is sadly divided on the matter of a national day of prayer.
Several hundred people attended the services held at the National Parliament yesterday.
In provincial centres or at local churches around the country similar assemblies have been held.
The National Broadcasting Corporation did keep us abreast of what was happening in the day, starting with the early morning service at Parliament House and elsewhere in the country. Although the National Repentance Day or Prayer Day has been gazetted as a public holiday in the country, there remains a cloud of suspicion and even ridicule surrounding it.
It is meant to be a solemn and emotional event as Christians from all denominations gather to repent and offer prayers and seek God’s intervention and blessings in the life of the nation.
In many respects it has parallels with the Jewish Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement wherein the entire nation observes a period of solemn prayer.
Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day with an approximate 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogues.
However, PNG’s national day of prayer is not one that all Christians agree and consent to.
A notable absence at these gatherings would have been members of the mainline churches, including Catholics and the Evangelical Alliance.
Days leading up to the event, dissenting believers and church leaders had expressed disappointment that they had not been consulted.
Some even suggested that the covenant Sir Michael Somare had signed in 2007- the basis and reason this “covenant day” – has been badly misunderstood.
Mainline churches have distanced themselves from the notion, saying it is driven by Christian Zionists and zealots.
Even when the idea of the national prayer day public holiday was first mooted it has received a lot of stiff criticism from the public.
Some have argued that yet another public holiday for a workforce that has a number of other public holidays as well as two days off in any week would impact productivity and the economy in no small way.
And of course there are a large number of or nominal believers or non-believers who don’t care less about repentance but gladly welcome another holiday anyway.
In the midst of the debate between and among the churches, the nation’s founding father, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, called on all churches in the country to work together for the unity.
“As a the founding father of this nation I don’t not want to see our country going into a religious war like those happening around the world today,” he said.
Sir Michael said when he signed the covenant to tear down idols in PNG, he had the intention that all churches would work together to teach Christian principles.
“When I signed the covenant with the God Israel for PNG to tear down idols, I didn’t mean we do away with our traditions. Those were our identity just like the Israeli had theirs. I am only against practices that cause disharmony in our society,” he said.
The former Prime Minister said the PNG’s constitution had united a nation of diverse cultures and traditions 40 years ago and churches should unite the spirit of the people by working together for the common good of the country.
Yesterday, National Cultural Commission executive director Dr Jacob Simet joined in the debate mainly over the destruction of cultural artefacts labelling it “cultural genocide”.
It is a sad day for PNG when Christians are openly divided on a matter such as the National Repentance Day and what it entails. It is also sad when a political leader admonishes the men and women of God to remain united and not fight “religious wars” among themselves.
This is wise counsel and echo of the words of the great teacher himself: A house divided against itself cannot stand.
If the National Repentance Day is threatening that very unity, we may have to rethink its meaning and relevance.