The decision by the Royal Adelaide Hospital to build a prayer room for Muslims, but no dedicated chapel for Christians, merely a multi-faith room instead, has drawn predictable ire from the likes of Australian Conservatives leader Senator Cory Bernardi.
The Australian newspaper today reported Bernardi saying he is “sick and tired” of the constant accommodation to a minority group in Australia, to the detriment of Australia’s historical faith.
The report states:
Senator Bernardi said the new hospital’s arrangement was “everything that’s wrong” with the approach to integrate other cultural groups, and the prayer room was “clearly designed for Islam”.
Separate washing areas were “all the symbolism I need that this is tailor-made to accommodate to a tiny minority’’, he said yesterday. “We’re bending over to appease a minority for fear of causing offence while undermining our tradition and heritage.
is Bernardi right? Is that what is happening?
Perhaps. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility in our secular context, in which Anything But Christianity is viewed ironically, as sacrosanct, that that is the case.
But it’s not the only reason, perhaps not even the primary one. Other faiths are less demarcated in our culture in the sense that Islam has strong parameters about what it can and cannot do; what it can and cannot abide in the public square. Provisions need to be made. Dedicated prayer rooms need to be available.
A multi-faith room for everyone else seems somehow reasonable because no one else seems to care too much about separatism in the way Islam still does. And let’s face it, the anaemic version of Christianity in the public setting today has been at pains to show how much it is the same as everything else. Islam, to its credit, is not making that mistake.
Perhaps too Bernardi, for all his railing against the secular system, misses the radical point of Christianity. For if he understood it rightly he’d realise, we don’t need no prayer room at all!
Here we are in Easter Week; a week which will culminate in the remembrance of the death of our Saviour and his resurrection not three days later. It’s the centre of our gospel and, it’s the crucial aspect of Christianity that Islam denies. In Islam Jesus did not, could not, die a shameful death, because Allah would not allow such a terrible thing to happen to one of his prophets. That’s what Islam teaches.
But no death of Jesus means no resurrection of Jesus. And no resurrection of Jesus means no giving of the Holy Spirit without measure by the risen Jesus. And no giving of the Holy Spirit without measure means that the old covenant strictures and structures remain in place. It means that there are taboo areas; sacred places divided from secular places. It means that nothing has changed. The old world remains, with its old ways and old limitations.
No resurrection means that not all foods are clean. It means that not all places can be redeemed by a Spirit more powerful than the spirit of this age. It means that the temple curtain has not been torn in two, permitting full access to God. It means that ritual washings and separations are still required; washing and separations, by the way, that can never truly cleanse and can never truly remove sin.
And a resurrectionless faith means that prayer rooms are still required – sacred spaces – to engage with the Holy One. a resurrectionless faith means that a compass has to point to a Holy City; that as the distance grows between you and the city, so too the distance between you and your god.
And Christians just don’t believe that. Christians don’t need that. We have a resurrection. We have the promised Holy Spirit, flowing out as fresh water from the temple, as Ezekiel described it, enlivening the brackish salt water of the old age.
So when I go to the hospital to visit a friend and I need to pray for strength and endurance and grace, I can pray in the cafeteria. I can pray in the hallway. Among the smokers at the front entrance. I don’t need no prayer room!
And I can pray without washing myself, even though the woman handing me my change may be having her period. I can pray without facing a Holy City, because as God’s new person I am being built into the living temple at the centre of the Holiest City of all.
I can pray and read Scripture sitting next to a wife-beating alcoholic, or a drug-addled person with mental illness. Heck, I can even pray for them, with them and share a coffee with them. All without the need to separate myself and wash myself, because the Holy Spirit has done the sanctifying, purifying work within me that no external ritual can touch.
Just as when Jesus touched a leper and made him clean rather than becoming unclean; just as a woman with a flow of blood touched him and was made clean, so wherever we are – dirty and ritually unclean as it may be – is made clean by the power of the risen Jesus within us. There is, as Abraham Kuyper famously said, no part of the creation over which the Lord does not say “Mine!” And because we are in Him, all things are ours, as 1 Corinthians 3:22 reminds us.
That’s what we remember this Easter week. And no other faith has that. No other faith can touch that with a barge pole. No other faith is that radical despite its rituals and obvious differences. We don’t need no prayer room because, as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence in time of need.
There may be no dedicated prayer room for Christians in Australian hospitals these days, but there is a throne room containing a throne of grace, and it’s accessible in the CEO’s office, the surgery, the palliative care unit and the mop room in the basement.
Bernardi thinks he’s being a radical conservative. He’s not. Whatever his motives, in the end he could just be aligning himself with the resurrectionless faiths that need sacred spaces and vantage points. When you’ve got access to the very throne of grace you don’t need no prayer room!