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Christianity in Papua New Guinea may gain national religion status

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Wednesday, 5 May 2021


At a time when Christianity in Australia in in serious decline, the position could not be more different in Papua New Guinea where moves are under way to accord Christianity national religion status.

The possible consequences of this proposal deserve examining – and contrasting with the position in Australia.

The PNG Prime Minister, James Marape, has launched a constitutional inquiry on the declaration of Papua New Guinea as a Christian country. The inquiry will be conducted by the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission which advises the national government on possible changes to the national constitution.

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The PNG national constitution was adopted at Independence in 1975, and while it makes reference to Christianity, it does not define Christianity as the national religion, and in fact stresses the importance of freedom of religion.

Coming just a year from the PNG national elections the move by Prime Minister Marape may well be a very shrewd one provided the process is managed transparently.

At a time when Christian commitment in Australia is now barely 50 per cent of the population, down from 75 per cent just a few decades ago, Christianity is stronger than it has ever been in Papua New Guinea.

Even there are no reliable census reports to draw on there is general agreement that around 90 per cent of Papua New Guineans profess a commitment to Christianity. There has been no decline in that position for years, and in fact it may be even higher than it was just a decade ago.

This is a remarkable position given that Christianity is not an indigenous religion in our closest neighbour, having been initially "imported" by missionaries from Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and the South Pacific Islands, from the late 19th century onwards.

In the largest region, the Highlands, the arrival of Christianity dates back only to the early 1950's. Today Christianity in the Highlands is strong, and growing, and as elsewhere in PNG, a force for good – with a few exceptions.

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The proposal from Prime Minister Marape is highly likely to be very popular provided as I have said the process is transparent and probably able to enjoy political support across the national parliament.

If the independent inquiry recommends that Papua New Guinea be declared a Christian country, the national parliament will begin the process of amending the national constitution to formally declare Christianity as the national religion.

Even though the "benchmark" for changing the Constitution, requiring a significant majority "yes" vote at successive national parliament sessions, there is no doubt in my mind it will be overwhelmingly endorsed by MPs, most probably in the parliament elected at the 2022 national elections.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jeffrey Wall

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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