TERRY FIRMA | Patheos (US)
IF THEO ZURENUOC GETS HIS WAY, the PNG government will soon install ‘a National Unity Pole, which will contain a Bible, a copy of the Constitution and an everlasting flame to represent God’s word’.
Presumably, the Unity Pole will be ready for prime time soon after Mr Zurenuoc is done destroying national historical artifacts that do not conform to his brand of Christianity.
Let’s back up a little. Theo Zurenuoc is the Parliamentary Speaker of Papua New Guinea and a devout Christian. As his shocked countrymen and women learned this month, Zurenuoc’s devoutness meant that he took great exception to the 19 carved ancestral masks on a part of the facade of PNG’s parliament building, and also to a totem pole contributed by indigenous Papuans.
The artifacts were part of a permanent architectural structure representing the country’s different cultures — but to Zurenuoc they represented idolatry, witchcraft, and ungodliness.
So last week, Zurenuoc had the carved heads and the totem pole removed. With a chainsaw.
An incredulous Dr Andrew Motu, Director of the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery, says the artwork was “chopped in three pieces using a chainsaw cut, and removed unceremoniously and dumped in the garage of the parliament.”
Protesters are pushing for a “stronger intervention to protect PNG’s cultural heritage from willful destruction by religious extremists,” and eight of Zurenuoc’s colleagues are calling for the speaker to resign.
The country’s Catholic Bishops Conference also objects to the removal and destruction of the indigenous carvings, but Protestant fundamentalists seem to regard the whole affair as just another a victory for Jesus.
A prominent evangelical church leader in Papua New Guinea says people will in time realise that the Speaker of Parliament was right to remove carved wooden heads at the tops of totem poles from Parliament House.
Joseph Walters says the Speaker did the right thing, and there are many people who support what he did.
”Papua New Guinea has basically originated from an animistic society and a lot of ancestral worship and those things that we used to pay homage and respect to were unmystically, paganistically-based. That’s where our argument is that carvings and statutes and other stuff that people with their hands actually have connotations and connections through the spirit world that are just as painful.”
For his part, Zurenuoc is unrepentant.
He said he will not be sitting down for a discussion with the PNG Council of Churches over the objects that were removed from the Parliament House.
“I do not want to sit with them, it’s not necessary,’’ he said, adding that this was because some of them had strong beliefs in some cultures that were not appropriate.
How wonderful for Papua New Guinea’s eight million people to have a Speaker with such a strong sense of what’s just and “appropriate.”