Prayer can help to 'produce a better kind of politics', says bishop

(Photo: Unsplash/Marcin Nowak)

MPs struggling to break the deadlock over Brexit should not be so quick to dismiss the benefits of prayer, the Bishop of Kensington has said.

Rather than abandon prayers at the start of parliamentary business, as some MPs have suggested, Bishop Graham Tomlin said the breakdown of British politics over the country's withdrawal from the EU suggested the tradition was more important than ever.

"Talks between the government and the opposition do not seem to offer much hope of a way forward and the future seems anything but clear," he wrote in the Sunday Times.

"So it seems a strange time for the suggestion that parliament drops the practice of starting its business with prayer to present itself.

"You would be forgiven for thinking that MPs and lords need all the help they can get." 

Bishop Tomlin, who is also President of St Mellitus College in London, set out to correct the notion that prayer is about trying to make God order things according to personal preference.

What was important for the nation's political life, he argued, was the power of prayer to change the nature of politics and the tone of debate for the better.

"Much has been said recently about the toxic and polarised nature of our political debate, whether on social media or in parliament," he said. 

"The memory of the murder of Jo Cox in June 2016 is a constant reminder of where such aggression can lead us. Prayer, among other things, is a process of getting ourselves into the right frame of mind to start doing business.

"It is a healthy preparation for negotiation that makes us that much humbler towards each other, takes the sting out of toxic debate and has the potential to produce a better kind of politics." 

In addition to prayer being good for politics, he said it was important that politicians themselves pray in order to be reminded of the limits to their power.

"We need our politicians to pray because we need them to know that they are not God, that whatever power they have is borrowed," he said.

"We need them to treat each other well, to debate wisely and carefully and to know they are accountable not just to us and our passing fads, but to something bigger, deeper and more final: a God whose kingdom will last long after Brexit is a footnote in the books of history." 

It has been a tradition in the Houses of Parliament for centuries to start the day's business with prayer, although attendance is voluntary.

Earlier this year, Crispin Blunt MP suggested that the tradition be done away with.  He introduced an Early Day Motion claiming that starting the day in Parliament with prayer was "not compatible with a society which respects the principle of freedom of and from religion".

Bishop Tomlin defended the practice, saying: "Most religious people of whatever faith like the idea that some kind of prayer is given at the start of our political debates.

"The implication here is that not praying is somehow normal and neutral, and praying is not. The reality is that neither is neutral."