Mocking a Prime Minister is an Australian sport, but the latest round of stories about Scott Morrison have a go at Christians in general.
When Morrison addressed a gathering of pastors from the Australian Christian Churches (ACC), a recording was leaked on social media by the Rationalist Society, an atheist group.
They did not do that to make the PM look good. Rather, they hoped it would make the PM look, um, weird because of his faith – or at least out of the Australian mainstream.
The Australian had, “Scott Morrison calls social media ‘the work of the devil’ during Christian convention on Gold Coast,” while The Guardian ran with, “Scott Morrison tells Christian conference he was called to do God’s work as Prime Minister.” Nine’s papers went with, “PM says social media being used by ‘evil one’, gives rare insight into Pentecostal faith.”
Talking about the devil – perhaps not what “normal” Aussies do – is a subtext for that first headline, and the idea that doing God’s will rather than the people’s for the second. And somehow the devil seems to belong to Pentecostalism over at the Nine papers.
If not mockery, there is “othering” as The Guardian lists Morrison as:
- Believing that he and his wife, Jenny, have been called upon to do God’s work;
- Seeking a sign from God while on the 2019 election campaign trail;
- Practicing “laying on of hands” while visiting the scene of disasters;
- Describing the misuse of social media as the work of “the evil one”.
Instead of doing
‘God’s work’ @ScottMorrisonMP ,
could you do
the People’s work instead?
— Julia Zemiro (@julia_zemiro) April 27, 2021
The Australian‘s least-conservative political columnist Peter van Onselen makes the point that mocking the PM for his faith, or simply othering him, actually hits all people 0f faith.
I’m not remotely religious, but the mocking of the PM for his religion is only going to see non-evangelical religious Aussies feel for him. Less than one per cent of Australians are Pentecostals but millions are religious and take their faith seriously.
— Dr Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) April 26, 2021
Van Onselen adds in the paper, “More importantly, there is every chance it causes a backlash amongst mainstream religious Australians. Of which there are millions. Those doing the mocking are broadly mocking these millions of Australians as well.”
PVO (as he is known) underestimates the percentage of Australians who are Pentecostal, with Eternity‘s estimate of church attendance at around 500,000 when all the varieties of Pentecostalism are taken into account. This puts them second after Catholics, and doubles the percentage that van Onselen cites.
David Crowe in the Nine papers described a torrent of social media response: “’As an atheist I’m horrified that Morrison’s weird ‘religion’ influences his thinking and his politics,’ wrote former Labor senator Doug Cameron. That was a slur against about 280,000 Australians who share Morrison’s form of Christianity. It is a religion. Cameron can drop the quote marks.
“And what is so horrifying? That the nation’s leader is a person of faith? This has been true for most prime ministers. Kevin Rudd made no secret of his Christian beliefs and spoke to the media after church on Sundays. Tony Abbott was known for his Catholicism before he won the 2013 election. Alfred Deakin wrote a private prayer seeking God’s help when he was sworn in as prime minister in 1903.”
Taking a look at the Christian beliefs affirmed by the Prime Minister:
A Personal Devil – While not in the ancient creeds, a belief in a personal devil is an orthodox belief of Evangelical/Pentecostal, Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Australian Christian Churches’ statement of faith includes a belief in a personal devil, as does the Anglican 39 Articles, the Lutheran book of Concord, the Catholic Catechism and the Presbyterian Westminster Confession.
A call to do God’s work – Christians are commended to work if they are able. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23 ESV)
Laying on of hands – Most forms of Christianity practice the ancient rite of laying on of hands – especially when commissioning people for service, such as ministers. Anglicans lay hands on people in confirmation – a ceremony where people take baptismal promises for themselves. Many churches in Evangelical traditions will lay hands on people for healing. Pentecostals practice this more frequently than other Christians, when praying for healing, and in prayer generally. Mark 10:16 records Jesus laying hands on people to bless them and in Luke 4:40, to heal them.
Social media misuse as the work of the evil one – The devil is described by Jesus as the father of lies. “The devil … was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44 NIV)
A sign – For orthodox Christians, Morrison is affirming normal beliefs. Perhaps the only possible Pentecostal distinctive – yet shared by many Christians is the “seeking of a sign” – when running for leadership of the party. He describes how an eagle picture in Ken Duncan’s gallery pointed towards Isaiah 40:31: “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Many Christians will have the experience of a bible verse coming to mind at just the right time.
What the PM said
The following is a transcript of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s address to the 2021 ACC National Conference, held April 20-22 on the Gold Coast.
Can I acknowledge our Indigenous brothers and sisters who are here tonight? Great Southland of the Holy Spirit.
The elders past, present and future. Can I also acknowledge, yes, I’m sure they’re here, any veterans or servicemen and women who are here tonight? I honor and respect them tonight, and thank them for their service.
Can I acknowledge my brothers who are here tonight? Matt [Matt O’Sullivan, Senator, WA] and Stewy [Stuart Robert MP For Fadden, Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business]. Matt has recently joined us after the last election, and it’s wonderful to have him there, joining our band of Christian believers in Canberra, joining together regularly. There’s many more of us, I can assure you, from all different denominations, providing encouragement and fellowship to each other.
Can I also acknowledge my very good mate, Stewy? He and I came into the [parliament] together back in 2007, and [inaudible ] here as well. He’s been a great brother of mine over a long period of time. We’ve walked quite a journey together, so I’m so pleased that he could be acknowledged here on the Gold Coast tonight.
Can I also give God some glory tonight in honoring some pretty amazing people who are here, who have had a big blessing on my life. They’re my pastors, Brad [Bonhomme of Horizon Church] and Ally. There they are.
“Brad and Ally have been marvelous to Jenny and I, and the girls. They took over that job from [inaudible ]. They’re amazing, too. It’s like the ghost of past has passed here tonight, because there’s Joel and Julia [A’bell] over here, who we knew when we were in Sydney at Hillsong, and of course, to you, Brian, and Bobbie, just pay you honour, mate, and to Bobbie, as well.
“I’m sure you’ve heard it said. I remember him saying it. [It’s] what God has put in your hand … You can finish it. Used to do what God has put in your heart. I remember when you said that that night out at Homebush, and I think that has been a great blessing. Blessing to be a blessing, that’s another one I know.
Amazing impact. Best is yet to come. Is that all right? It’s all right. I did want to share something with you tonight. A few things that are on my heart. I need your help. I need your help.
“I said, ‘… I can’t fix the world. I can’t save the world. We both believe in someone who can.'” – Scott Morrison
I remember my late father in law. Jenny sends her best, by the way. Thank you for your prayers for Jen, particularly most recently. She’s amazing. I’m just thrilled that the rest of the country is getting to work out what I’ve known for a very, very long time. She’s a great blessing. She’s got an amazing heart. The way she’s used the opportunity that God has given us for such a time as this, the way that she has been able to reach out to people and just be a blessing to them, and comfort to them. Her heart is just as big as it comes. God is using her, I think, in great ways. Political ways. I haven’t come to talk to you about politics tonight.
The opportunities that have come our way. Leila and Danny Abdallah. I don’t know if you know Leila and Danny, they lost their three children when they were run over at Oatlands. Jenny has formed an amazing friendship with her and that family and the other families that were affected. That’s an amazing faith that forgives. They’ve been a blessing to this country.
Jenny’s … sorry she can’t be here tonight. I do need your help. My father in law was an amazing Christian. There wasn’t a day that went past when Roy was not in complete wonder about how God saved him. Wasn’t a day. He grew up in Bondi when it was a lot tougher than it was today. He had a bit of a rough time growing up. He was a bit of a loner. God reached him through [inaudible] church, where he was, and he just lived the rest of his life going, “I can’t believe how great God is.” And he would just give thanks every single day.
When I was younger, because I started going out with Jenny when I was 16, I would sit and we’d have discussions, Roy and I. And even back then, I was interested in things political and so was Roy. We’d talk about government, we’d talk about all this, and he’d get very frustrated with me because I wouldn’t answer all the questions.
I said, “You know, Roy, I can’t fix the world. I can’t save the world. We both believe in someone who can.” And that’s why I’ve come here for your help tonight. Because what you do, and what you bring, to the life of faith of our country is what it needs, I think.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, you may know of him. He was the chief rabbi of a synagogue in London. If you haven’t read of any of Rabbi Sacks’ work, I strongly encourage you to. He wrote a book just before he died called Morality. It wasn’t about what you might think, or, I think, most people outside of faith communities would think when you say, “Morality”. He said this about it. He said, “You lose your morality and you’re in danger of losing your freedom.”
He said, “Our rights used to be how we were protected from the state, and now it’s what we expect of it.” He said, “What we once expected from family and community, now we detract this to the state and to the market.” He channeled someone else, a famous economist, [inaudible]. “Freedom has never worked without deeply ingrained moral beliefs.” He was talking about community. That you can’t replace community with governments, with the market, with others, you can’t.
You can’t replace the family. You can’t replace marriage. You can’t replace the things that are so personal and ingrained, and come out of us as individuals, with systems of power or systems of capital. These are important things. But they can’t replace community. At every church, people say to me, “What church do you go to?” I say, “Horizon Church, which used to be named Shirelive Church.” Been to other churches. Been to Baptist churches. Been to [inaudible] churches.
“We cannot allow what we feel entitled to, to be more important than what we’re responsible for.” – Scott Morrison
I’ve always been at a community church, that’s where I want to be. At a church that believes in community and creates community. The essence of community is each individual understanding that they’re valued, that they’re unique, that they can respect one another, that they can contribute to one another.
We cannot allow what we feel entitled to, to be more important than what we’re responsible for. This is very important stuff that Rabbi Sacks is talking about. Because he gets it. That the essence of morality is not what others will think it is, about sexuality, and all of these issues. Of course, these things relate to it. But it’s about the dignity and value of each and every human being, and the responsibilities that they have, one to another.
You cancel out one human being and you cancel community, because community is just human beings that God loves and that is intended to connect us, one to another. Morality is about focusing not on you, but on the person next to you. It’s about focusing, for me, on you … That is the essence of community. You can’t pass a law for it. You can’t create a building for it. It is essentially what springs from each and every one of us. Community.
It’s born of what he likes to call a covenant. A covenant, as we read, particularly in the Old Testament. He tends to read the Old Testament a bit more often than [the] new. He seems to understand it a lot better than many of you. Not Brad. Brad’s great. He’s all over it. But he speaks about this in a way. It’s not a transaction, because in a covenant, there are responsibilities. Not just obligations, but responsibilities.
There is relationship in covenant, which is what God sought with Israel. In covenant. Deep relationship. It’s personal. It goes beyond. There’s the giving of oneself, the respect, the dignity, the caring together. The sharing of interests. The sharing of lives. The pledging, the faithfulness, and achieving together what cannot be achieved alone. A covenant. More than a transaction. Family and marriage God has created in the same way. To reflect that covenant that we can have.
So I need you to keep building community in this country. I need you to keep building the things that you do which allows Australians, both here and wherever you may be. Brad does amazing work up in Papua New Guinea. I know how much he loves going up there. I’m sure there are many others here that have blessed our Pacific family, or make the sum of our Pacific family here, I don’t know, or at least joining us online.
But it’s so important that we continue to reach out and let each and every Australian know that they are important. That they are [inaudible . That they are significant as we believe they are created in the image of God. That in understanding that, they can go on a journey that I’m very confident you can take them on, and I’m relying on you to do that, because that’s not my job. That’s yours.
There are some threats to this that I want to share with you. There is a fashion, these days, to not think of Australians as individuals, particularly, I think, amongst our young people, and I worry about this. People think of themselves. It’s called identity politics. They think of themselves by the things they can describe, and collect them with us. These are important things. One’s ancestry. One’s gender. Where one’s from. From the Shire? That’s great. You’re starting ahead of everybody else. As they say prayer in the Shire is a local call. It’s Cronulla, for those of you who are not familiar with what I’m referring to.
But there is a tendency for people not to see themselves and value themselves, in their own right, as individuals. To see themselves only defined by some group, and to get lost in that group. You know when you do that you lose your humanity, and you lose your connection, I think, one to each other. You’re defined by your group, not by, I believe, who God has created you to be, and to understand that. That’s a big thing going on in our community and our society. It’s corrosive. It’s absolutely corrosive.
I think it’s undermining the community and I think it’s undermining the self-worth that Australians can have, because if you are only defined by what pack you’re in, or what group you’re in, or what group you’ve been in, or what box you’re put in, and how others have defined you, or sought to define you, either to enlist you to their cause, or whatever that might be. Australians need to understand that they themselves, individually and personally, are absolutely unique and wonderful.
If you look at each other not as individuals, but as boring tribes, it’s easy to start disrespecting each other. It’s easy to start not understanding the person who’s across from you, and this is important in politics for us, too. There is a beating heart over there. There is a unique individual with a unique set of issues and challenges and opportunities and possibilities, and all these sorts of things. When you stop seeing that and just see someone as, “Well, they’re of that view, and that group.” That’s why people start writing stupid things on Facebook, and the internet, and being disrespectful of one another, and we know how that is corroding and desensitizing our country and our society. Not just here, but all around the world.
“I need your help to remind Australians how precious they are, how unique they are.” – Scott Morrison
I think it’s an evil thing. I think it’s a very evil thing, and we’ve got to pray about it. We’ve got to call it out. We’ve got to raise up the spiritual weapons against this, because it is going to take our young people. It’s going to take their courage. It’s going to take their hope. It’s going to steal them. We’ve got to pray about it. We’ve got to pray against that because it is a such a corrosive thing that we’re seeing take place. Yeah, sure, social media has it’s virtues and it’s values and enables to connect with people in ways we’ve never had before. Terrific. But those weapons can also be used by the evil one, and we need to call it out.
This is the help I need from you. I need your help. Keep doing what you’re doing. I need your help to remind Australians how precious they are, how unique they are. Can I finish with four verses I just wanted to share with you? Can I do that, Brad? Have I got time to do that?
When I ask that question, people always say yes. There will come a time where that will not be true. But it’s not tonight. Tonight there are a number of things. It’s in 1:13. There are four verses I want to share with you in closing. Things that I have learnt while I have been Prime Minister, and indeed, long before that.
[1 Samuel 13?] It’s about David. It talks about how the [inaudible], they didn’t inquire of the Lord. It is important for us to inquire of the Lord. This is how David established and set up when he became king. There were other kings, all had not done that, and we know that over the course of Israel’s history, that those who didn’t inquire of the Lord, those who neglected the Lord, those who put what the Lord had put in their heart to one side, then their kingdoms went where they went. The people followed them where they went. We all remember what happened when that occurred.
This is a constant reminder to me, just in my own personal book, and I’m encouraged by the people I’ve mentioned already tonight, and many more, that it’s something I seek to do. A lot of people outside this place, who won’t understand what I’m talking about. It’s not a political thing. Faith is very much an ingrained part of my life. I seek his wisdom in the same way you do, each and every day. It’s important that we do that.
The second one, I like this one. Psalm 23:5. Where he talks about preparing a banquet for you in the presence of your enemies. We’ve got to sit down at that banquet. I sit down at that banquet every single day. But that’s where we’re called. He didn’t prepare a banquet for us in the presence of our greatest admirers and friends who would tell us wonderful and lovely things, as nice as that is. He said, “I have prepared this banquet for you in the presence of your enemies, and I will be with you at that table.” That is a wonderful reminder to me, each and every day.
I was up in [the Pilbara] the other night, and Jenny, many, many years ago, got me this lovely little verse, and she put it in a frame, so I’d see it each morning, about being strong and courageous. “Do not be discouraged. Joshua 1:9.” There was a young fellow, he worked at the mines. He just came up to me, because there were people saying g’day, we were talking. He just came up and said, “Joshua 1:9.”
I said, “I’ve got that one.” I’ve got that one. When you read, as we all do, the thing that keeps coming back to me over and over and over again, any of us in leadership understand that, is yes, he’s prepared that banquet, and yes, we inquire of the Lord, but you must be strong. You must be courageous. You must not be discouraged.
What I like about that verse is he knows that we get discouraged. He knows that those who will seek to hold us back would have us be discouraged. He knows it’s going to happen. It’s no surprise to him that we may feel like that. So he simply said, “Don’t be. Be strong. Be courageous. Do not be discouraged.” This came home to me, importantly, during the last election campaign.
“The message I got that day was, ‘Scott, you’ve got to run to not grow weary. You’ve got to walk to not grow faint.’ – Scott Morrison
I was up on the Central Coast. I was up there with Jenny. It was a pretty tough week, actually. Last couple of weeks of the campaign. I was at Ken Duncan’s gallery. I didn’t know we were going to go to Ken Duncan’s gallery. We were speaking at a rally that day, and we had to go and hold somewhere, as we often do, before we go to the next event.
I must admit, I was saying to myself, “Where are you? Where are you? I’d like a reminder if that’s okay.” I walk in. I didn’t know I was supposed to be at Ken’s gallery. Ken’s a great Christian guy, as we all know. I walked into his gallery, and there, right in front of me, was the biggest picture of a soaring eagle that I could imagine. Of course, the verse, “[inaudible], soaring wings of an eagle, run and do not grow weary, walk and do not grow faint.”
But the message I got that day was, “Scott, you’ve got to run to not grow weary. You’ve got to walk to not grow faint. You’ve got to spread your wings like an eagle to soar like an eagle.” I hope those few things encourage you. They certainly encourage me and Jenny every day. We are very grateful for the amazing prayers and support that we get from Christians all around the country. It is an avalanche. The letters we get, the support we get, the books that are sent to me constantly. I can’t help telling them to send them [inaudible]. I’ve got them all there, down in Canberra. It’s quite a library that’s building up. People send me verses. They tell me their stories. They share things with me. They share things with Jenny.
It is a privilege. It is an absolute privilege. I’ve been in evacuation centres where people thought I was just giving someone a hug and I was praying and putting my hands on people, in various places, laying hands on them in praying in various situations. I was just in [inaudible] where the cyclone has just gone through.
In all of these places, [inaudible]. It’s been quite a time. It’s been quite a time, and God has, I believe, been using us in those moments to be able to provide some relief and comfort and just some reassurance. We’ll keep doing this for as long as that season is. That’s how we see it. We are called, all of us for a time and for a season. God would have us use it wisely. For each day, I get up and I move ahead, there is just one little thing that is in my head, and that is, “Well, such a time as this.” Such a time as this. Thank you very much.