Whenever a lot of readers send me the exact same link (thank you, by the way!) I assume it must be a fairly crazy story… and yet it took me a while to figure out what all the fuss was this time around. I read the story in question and kept thinking, “Okay, and then what?”… only to realize there wasn’t anything more.
Maybe that’s the story.
Last week, at a conference for the (Pentecostal) Australian Christian Churches, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a surprise appearance. It’s not that Morrison is as blatantly Christian Nationalist as Republicans in the U.S. He’s far more subtle about it. But his speech still made clear that he saw himself as God’s vessel. And that’s a weird thing for someone in his position to say. (It’s also strange because Morrison’s brand of Christianity is more on the fringes of the faith and most Christians there don’t talk this way.)
It’s making news now because the Rationalist Society (a secular group) got ahold of Morrison’s sermon after it was posted online by a pastor who intended it to be seen only by his congregation. They released it publicly, showing the public a side of Morrison they don’t always see.
In video that has emerged of the prime minister speaking at the Australian Christian Churches conference on the Gold Coast last week, Morrison also revealed that he had sought a sign from God while on the 2019 election campaign trail, and that he had practised the evangelical tradition of the “laying-on of hands” while working in the role of prime minister.
He also describes the misuse of social media as the work of “the evil one”, in reference to the Devil, and called on his fellow believers to pray against its corrosive effect on society.
“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 … laying hands on them and praying in various situations,” he says, referring to a visit to Kalbarri in the Pilbara in the wake of Cyclone Seroja.
So he thinks God sends him signs, prays for people in need, lays his hands on them (as if God works miracles through a human chain), and thinks sites like Facebook are tools of the Devil (join the club, buddy).
Like I said, when I first read the media accounts of his speech, I basically rolled my eyes. That’s it?! That’s your idea of a political leader who’s too religious? That’s nothing! NOTHING! Have you seen the entire Republican Party? Hell, have you even heard Joe Biden talk about his faith?
But Australia is typically much better about separation of church and state than we are. They had an openly atheist prime minister not that long ago. So Morrison’s comments really are beyond the pale in that country. (And there’s a very real concern about how he used a taxpayer-funded aircraft to get to the event.)
The Guardian spoke to political historian Judith Brett, who said that Morrison’s comments were unusual, sure, but they didn’t necessarily mean he was about to push for faith-based legislation.
“It doesn’t seem to have much policy content, it isn’t making him more compassionate to people trying to live on Newstart, but on the other hand he isn’t trying to ban abortion, and he is not trying to wind back same-sex marriage legislation.
“He is not a warrior, he is not a political warrior. It may be a guiding philosophy, but it is rather nebulous.”
In other words, it’s still relatively extreme for Australia. It’s honestly fascinating to see the nation’s media treat this like a shocking move from the prime minister when, from my part of the world, it’s utterly forgettable. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing people are reacting this way in Australia. I’m glad they are! People should be shocked! It’s troubling that a prime minister, clearly speaking as someone in that role and not as a private citizen, can harbor such irrational beliefs and insist that his faith come into play when he’s doing the nation’s work!
But also, as someone who’s witnessed lawmakers doing so much worse, I’m somewhat jealous. I wish someone with Morrison’s beliefs represented the far end of the spectrum when it came to religion in politics in the U.S.
In case you’re wondering, the leader of the opposition party, Anthony Albanese, offered the mildest of criticism in response to Morrison’s speech.
… Albanese said that “for me faith is a personal matter. I respect people’s own beliefs but it is also important we have a separation here between church and state”.
“I have no intention of making comments on the prime minister’s faith, that is a matter for him,” Albanese told Radio National.
“I think that the separation of church and state is important.
“I think that the idea that god is on any political side is no more respectful than the idea that when someone’s sporting team wins it is because of some divine intervention.”
He’s not saying much, but it’s still a reasonable reminder that religion really has no place in Australian politics, and anything suggesting otherwise is the anomaly.
When Morrison was campaigning for the job a few years ago, and he was asked about his faith, he insisted that the Bible was “not a policy handbook.”
Let’s hope political pressure keeps it that way.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to everyone for the link)