Wanganui councillors are divided on a proposal to remove the words "eternal God" and "Amen" from a prayer said at council meetings.
Mayor Annette Main raised the idea of removing the phrases at a council meeting on Monday, igniting a spirited debate.
Ms Main says she is surprised the topic is so controversial. She says some saw the removal of the phrases would end up abolishing the city's motto: 'Without God, nothing'.
While the mayor intends to vote to have the words taken out, she thinks the council should be spending its time on more important issues.
One councillor voting against the proposal, Alan Anderson, believes it is the start of a slippery slope that will remove any mention of Wanagui's Christian hertiage.
But an expert on religious history, Associate Professor Peter Lineham from Massey University, says there has been a strong trend away from a purely Christian focus, towards a more diverse range of faiths and non-faith in government in New Zealand over the past 20 years.