Inviting the cameras into church

ScoMo on show on Easter Sunday

Scott Morrison’s decision to allow cameras to follow him into church on Easter Sunday has raised eyebrows, attracted intense criticism from some Christian quarters and mockery by many outside the church.

Morrison attended an Easter Sunday service at Horizon Church, a Pentecostal church in Sutherland, south of Sydney. Opposition leader Bill Shorten also attended church on Easter Sunday at an Anglican church in Brisbane.

Politicians speaking to the media from the steps of the church is familiar enough, but inviting media into a service is something new – especially to a Pentecostal church service which, while a rising Christian denomination in Australia, is considered one of the “weirder” denominations by the secular world, with their enthusiastic, hand-raising ways.

Secular media has had a tough time with Scott Morrison’s brand of Christianity, as Eternity has reported before. But over the weekend, social media blew up with images of Morrison, eyes closed, raising his hands in worship, with some Twitter users even likening it to a Nazi salute.

“… why not have a bit of church on the TV news, especially over the Easter weekend?” – John Dickson

On Monday, Morrison condemned the comparison, saying, “It’s disgusting. Australians are bigger than that … These grubs are gutless and keyboard warriors in their mother’s basement trying to make heroes of themselves.”

Scott Morrison has attended church on many occasions during his time as Prime Minister. On one visit, video of the PM praying on the stage of a Pentecostal church in Melbourne was leaked, but the Easter Sunday service is the first time cameras have been welcome to film inside Morrison’s church.

Christian author and apologist John Dickson told Eternity that he believes in principle (and with the church’s permission) politicians should feel free to invite media into their churches.

“Christianity is a massively important part of our national life. More Australians go to church on Sunday than watch the biggest-rating TV show on the weekend. So why not have a bit of church on the TV news, especially over the Easter weekend?”

But to some, the invitation during an election campaign is slightly on the nose.

“Make no mistake, a prime minister inviting cameras into a Christian worship service is a political act with political intent.” – Graham Hill

Graham Hill, founder of the Global Church Project, is sceptical: “Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his advisers have calculated this media event well. If the media and social media commentators didn’t criticise him, he wouldn’t get much out of inviting the cameras into the service, but he would have portrayed himself as a Prime Minister with strong Christian convictions. Aussies generally like that, or at least the LNP base does. But if the media and social media commentators did attack him, then many Pentecostals and evangelicals would come running into his arms (hence his own beat-up about the comments of a few online trolls). Well played, by the Prime Minister and his advisers.”

Hill says that his view won’t be popular among many Christians but believes we can be “too politically naive” when it comes to politicians courting the Christian vote.

“I support Christian leaders in politics and pray for them and hope they present Christ and his gospel well. But make no mistake, a prime minister inviting cameras into a Christian worship service is a political act with political intent.”

John Dickson agrees that if the invitation for cameras to follow ScoMo to church was a pitch for votes from those who go to church, it would be a “real problem.”

“In fact, I’d say it’s a form of using the Lord’s name in vain,” Dickson told Eternity. 

But, says Dickson, there could be another motivation.

“I can imagine a genuine Christian wanting people to see the inside of a church service. And so this might be a way of normalising public worship. Of course, church attendance is perfectly normal – it’s one of the most common group activities in the country. But the media sometimes treats church as weird. And the mocking media coverage over the weekend, especially on social media, made that clear! So, if Mr Morrison was just trying to invite viewers into this important dimension of his life – this important dimension of Australian life – I say: Good on him!”

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