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  • Paul Harricknen OL


These are the words of Dr Chief John Momis who with the late Bernard Mullu Narokobi were the architects of the Preamble of the PNG Constitution. Momis was the de facto Chairman (working chairman) of the Constitutional Planning Committee (CPC). Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare was the de jure Chair. Narokobi was the consultant lawyer to the CPC. They are the founding fathers of our Constitution and nation, among other fathers and mothers, whose wisdom cannot be ignored by current and future generations of leaders and people.

(President of the Catholic Professionals Society Mr Paul Harricknen)

Chief Momis and Sir John Kaputin (a member of the CPC) presented their views to the Parliamentary Committee hearing on 02 May 2024 on the bill to declare PNG a Christian State. Kaputin questioned why the haste, and if it was necessary to amend the Constitution, and whether all the churches including his United Church, were sufficiently consulted on the subject. It was obvious that the two Constitutional fathers were not happy to see such a desperate push to change the nature of the State into a confessional and religious State by renaming it as the “Independent and Christian State of Papua New Guinea” (proposed amendment to s. 1 of the Constitution).


According to Chief Momis, Christian Principles are already enshrined in the Preamble and the National Goals and Directive Principles. When we mix theological and political language it becomes more confusing and is tantamount to altering the nature of the State to a confessional State which we do not need in our democracy where we enjoy religious freedom. If it does, it will be unconstitutional, contravening s. 45 of the Constitution.


Chief John Momis in his own words writes ...

It seems that some are thinking that Christianity is not already in the Constitution, and that the best way to include it is in the proposed amendments’ explicit yet confusing fashion.

The PNG Constitution is not a theological document, but a political document. In its current form, the Constitution already honours Christian principles in two ways: First, they are mentioned as such in the opening lines of the Preamble, where they are paired with the “noble traditions” of the Melanesian peoples as what we “pledge ourselves to guard and pass on.” (For this reason, the proposed amendment to the Basic Social Obligations is fine but redundant.) Second, Christian principles thoroughly animate the rest of the Constitution, where they are expressed using proper political language – language which is available to everyone, regardless of creed, simply as a human being. This is evident especially in the National Goals and Directive Principles, as well as in the existing Basic Rights and Basic Social Obligations, which together form the balance of the Preamble.

Let me give just a few examples.

The Preamble’s rejection of violence as a means of solving common problems, for example, is a political version of Jesus rejecting Peter’s attempt in the Garden of Gethsemane to use the sword for protection. And the emphasis on the family unit as “the fundamental basis of our society” in the first National Goal is a political interpretation of the creation of man and woman and the commands to be fruitful, as well as the ways God works through both strong families and broken ones in biblical history.

Again, the first National Goal speaks of integral human development as requiring each person’s dynamic involvement “in the process of freeing himself or herself from every form of domination or oppression.” This is a political version of what Jesus declares about his own messianic mission in Luke’s Gospel, using the words of Isaiah: he has come “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4).

Again, the second National Goal calls for “every effort to be made to achieve an equitable distribution of incomes and other benefits of development.” This is a political interpretation of passages from the Hebrew prophets (about everyone sitting under their own vine and fig tree, Micah 4), passages from the Gospels (like Mary’s proclamation that “he has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble; he has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty,” Luke 1), and passages from the New Testament letters (especially that of James).

I will not multiply examples. But finally, and of central importance here, the existing Basic Rights section specifies that such rights and freedoms are due to “all persons in our country,” “whatever their... creed,” and that these rights include “freedom of conscience, of expression, of information and of assembly and association” – again, regardless of creed.

Why is it better to convey Christian principles using political rather than religious language? Because those who are not Christian – or who are not Christian in the specific way that any particular government at any particular moment chooses to recognise – may still in good faith affirm and defend the principles as currently stated. There is also the further advantage that political language does not call upon the government to legally dictate which principles are the Christian ones.

By contrast, to say, officially and legally, that Papua New Guinea is a Christian State (as in the proposed amendment of Section 1) seems to require Parliament to spell out what counts as being Christian. Is it baptism into a particular confession? Is it a certain set of doctrinal affirmations? Is it a moral requirement, like giving all of your wealth to the poor and joining a religious order?

My point, in sum, is this: the existing Constitution was written to embody Christian principles politically, rather than to legally enforce certain religious assertions, and I think it is much safer for all, including Christians of various denominations that do not always agree, if we keep it that way. If there are specific Christian principles that need to be added via amendment, let us translate them into political language that can be affirmed by all Papua New Guineans and propose their inclusion that way.

Dr Chief John Lawrence Momis, GCL.

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