Australia’s elections are this Saturday, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (who heads the center-right Liberal-National Coalition) is hoping to get re-elected. Bill Shorten of the center-left Australian Labor Party is hoping to unseat him.
One of the big points of controversy in the run-up to the election? The candidates’ thoughts about who belongs in Hell.
The controversy began last month after Israel Folau, one of the most famous Australian rugby players, said in a now-deleted comment on Instagram that the plan for gay people is “HELL.. Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.” Rugby Australia soon announced they would tear up his contract for violating the league’s commitment to inclusivity. Plenty of advertisers have also dropped him from being a spokesperson.
Why is this a political issue now? Because Scott Morrison belongs to the same Assemblies of God denomination as Folau and presumably holds the same views. If the tide is turning against anti-gay bigotry, why now hold that against the sitting PM?
Morrison has tried to distance himself from his own beliefs.
When questioned about Folau’s case at the final leaders’ debate this week, the prime minister said: “Freedom of speech is important but we have to exercise it responsibly and exercise it in a society such as ours with civility and due care and consideration to others.”
Notice how Morrison didn’t address gay people or Hell. His opponent certainly recognized it.
Mr Shorten says he can’t believe the issue is even being raised in the campaign, but that Mr Morrison’s response wasn’t good enough.
“I cannot believe that the prime minister has not immediately said that gay people will not go to Hell,” he told reporters in Tasmania on Tuesday.
Morrison is now on the defensive. (Good. He should be.) But he’s having a hard time answering the question since his options are going against his religious beliefs or coming across as a raging bigot. Just check out this recent exchange with a reporter:
QUESTION: How appropriate was it for Bill Shorten to raise your answer to a question you received about whether gay people go to hell and can you clear up your position on that question?
MORRISON: I have already made a statement. It is not my view that’s the case. My faith is about the — God’s love is for everybody.
That is what I have always believed.
I found it very disappointing that without even prompting he sought to try and politicise this. And seek to exploit opportunity for it. I thought that was very disappointing.
I don’t think that should have a place in this election campaign. People’s faith are people’s faith.
I’m not running for pope, I’m running for prime minister.
So, you know, theological questions you can leave at the door.
QUESTION: Do you believe … [gay people go to hell]
MORRISON: I just said no, I don’t.
It only took several days, awful publicity, and a looooong lead-up for Morrison to finally say the correct answer. And if he doesn’t believe sexually active gay people go to Hell, then I would love to know what exactly he believes since his words seem to contradict his religion. (Morrison also opposes same-sex marriage and abstained from a vote legalizing marriage equality.)
Considering only about a quarter of Australians believe in Hell, it seems politically idiotic to make this a campaign issue when you’re on the wrong side, but defending religion will do that to you.
As for Shorten, he says he doubts the existence of Hell. Not a strong answer, but definitely closer to reality.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to David for the link)