Freedom marchers claim Christian identity – but most of us won't be there

Just as with the coronavirus itself Australia is experiencing a viral social media event, the “freedom” rallies that may or may not occur in some cities this weekend.

Scanning the media coverage of earlier rallies – as with the Trump rallies in the US – Eternity found Christian signs, indicating some Christians were there. But in recent rallies, that have featured violent imagery such as nooses in Melbourne, specifically Christian placards have been harder to find, which may mean that Christians have stayed home.

In any event, only a very small minority of Christians have taken part. A McCrindle Survey published by Eternity showed that a big majority of  Christians (83 per cent), even more than the general community, support vaccine passports – and are naturally also happy to be vaccinated.

Unlike some in the US, Australian churches are following the public health orders, even in Victoria the only state where tighter restrictions when vaccination status is not checked remain. Up to 50 people of unchecked vaccination status can now meet in church in that state, which means the mostly small churches who protest that rule are not affected or maybe hold two services. The restrictions might annoy, but they are not existential.

But a Christian website has designed downloadable posters for the “freedom” rallies. It is not too cynical to suggest that this is aimed at amplifying the effect of a tiny minority of Christians.

Eternity accepts they have a right to protest – a very important freedom. Christians and others have every right to protest new legislation before parliament, as is the case in Victoria.

But Stu Cameron of Wesley Mission points to the tone of the demonstrations. “I detest how Trumpian, conspiracy-fuelled, social-media-driven, fear-engendering social and political discourse is infecting our community. It’s nuts and it’s dangerous. By all means, protest and debate government policy, but do it peaceably and rationally.”

Identifying Christianity with libertarian politics simply mirrors the left-wing which identified Christianity with liberation theology in the Latin America of the last century.

Here are some of the slogans.

“Fear God Not Caesar.” St Peter writes “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)

“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” St Paul writes of the Roman empire: “Whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. (Romans 13:2-4) Christians may resist unjust laws when disobedience to God is mandated. That time may come, but is it now?

“Christ or Chaos.” A good question to ask when observing the demonstrations.

“Make Orwell fiction again.” Well, there’s been debate about fictional content in Down and Out in Paris and London and part of the Road to Wigan Pier but he wrote more than 1984 and Animal Farm. Arguably his best stuff is his journalism. And what about Homage to Catalonia?

“Faith over fear.” This we can all agree on. St Paul writes “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

An attack on Peter and Tim Costello comes from Pat Meseti a former pastor fired from Hillsong turned “income acceleration coach.” He is described on a fringe conservative website as “a leading figure in the Australian protest movement, gathering Australian and international leaders Monica Smit, Topher Field, Ricardo Bossi, Aussie Cossack and others online to fight the tyranny.”

“When did we learn to bow the knee and almost redeem ourselves by acts of social justice? – like this stuff, headed by the wealthiest, most leftist Baptist in this country, and Pentecostals are following him like he’s a sacred cow,” Mesiti is quoted. The motivational speaker attacks “Shot of Hope” a campaign to have Australia aid our neighbours with vaccines, supported by Micah, headed by Tim Costello, who shows few signs of being wealthy.

Identifying the marchers with Christianity, Meseti adds, “A Shot of Hope sounds like ‘we’re all in this together’ – unless you disagree with us. Then we’re going to betray you. I know people – and I know them because they call me – they turn up at a march, so people at their own church dob them in … one of them was a worship leader from a major church. One of the signs is betrayal. Judases don’t change.”

Those of us not marching are not Judases. We simply disagree. Without rancour because the Christian marchers are our sisters and brothers.

Most Christians are happily vaccinated. Most accept vaccine mandates – although Covid has made us aware that governments are not perfect and we have had a bumpy ride. But the figures speak for themselves:

Australia: population 25.7m Covid deaths 1922 (to Nov 19)

Florida: population 21.6m Covid deaths 60,846 (to Nov 17)