“God has, I believe, been using us in those moments to be able to provide some relief and comfort and just some reassurance,” said Scott Morrison, in reference to himself and his wife being present onsite to console Australians affected by disasters.
In speaking at the Australian Christian Churches (ACC) national conference on the Gold Coast a fortnight ago, the prime minister further laid out that it’s the work of divine providence that led him to the position of head of state, as well as bestowing the role of first lady upon his wife.
As Morrison spoke these words before the Pentecostal congregation, he continued to have two Australian-born infants held in prolonged detention on Christmas Island, seemingly for the crime against God and state of being born to Tamil parents who fled persecution in Sri Lanka.
The speech given in an unofficial capacity was promptly posted online by the Rationalist Society of Australia, in what appears to have been a heads up as to how far the burgeoning Pentecostal faith community’s beliefs have infiltrated the highest level of politics in our secular nation.
And not only did Morrison wax lyrical about being chosen by God “for a season”, but the Pentecostal PM also related how a biblical sign was sent his way during his 2019 election campaign, as well as elaborating upon his practice of covertly blessing people in the field.
Theocracy on the horizon
In his time in office, Morrison has made no secret of his faith. Indeed, during the 2019 election campaign he invited journalists into Sutherland’s Horizon Church to capture photographs of him praying and singing in the place where he chooses to worship.
“Australia is not a secular country—it is a free country,” the now PM said in his 2008 maiden speech in parliament. “This is a nation where you have the freedom to follow any belief system you choose. Secularism is just one. It has no greater claim than any other on our society.”
But not only did Morrison seek to dissolve the principle of the separation of religion and state as he entered the chamber in Canberra, but his latest public deliberation on his religion seems to suggest that while we all might be free to follow our own beliefs, God has chosen his faith to guide us.
Pentecostalism only accounted for 1.1 percent of the entire Australian population at the 2016 Census, however it’s the fastest growing religious faith on the planet, and its Hillsong Church – which was established in the Sydney suburb of Baulkham Hills in 1983 – is one of its chief institutions.
With Morrison as its current postboy, the Christian Right in this country isn’t confined to the Pentecostal Church. And at the recent Church and State summit held in Brisbane, some of its leading proponents discussed strategies of how they can gain a greater Christian presence in parliament.
The politics of healing
“The neo-Pentecostals of the Scott Morrison variety really seem to think that it’s all down to God in the end and there’s precious little that we can do about it if God’s really got the whole world in his hands,” Queensland University Professor Philip Almond told Sydney Criminal Lawyers in 2019.
In the wake of the PM’s election win, Almond wrote in the Conversation that Morrison’s assertion that he has “always believed in miracles” during his victory sermon was no figure of speech but a Pentecostal belief. And the professor went on to list a number of other troublesome ideas.
Perhaps the most disquieting is the Pentecostal belief in prosperity theology, which claims that God bestows material wealth upon the faithful, which means poverty is caused by a lack of faith. So, there’s no real requirement to help the poor, as it only encourages them remain in that state.
Although, one aspect of Pentecostalism that Almond didn’t raise is the belief in the laying of hands upon others to provide them with divine healing. But not to worry, as Morrison raised this at the ACC conference. In fact, the PM has been performing this blessing upon random citizens on the sly.
“I’ve been in evacuation centres, where people thought I was just giving them a hug,” Morrison said, “and I was praying, and putting my hands on people in various places – laying hands on them and praying in various situations”.
Identity politics are us
At the Gold Coast gathering of Pentecostals, the PM cited the work of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who posited that morality is founded in community. Then Morrison advised that this is being undermined by identity politics, which leads to individuals defining themselves as part of a group.
“If you look at each other not as individuals, but as warring tribes,” he explained, “it’s easy to start disrespecting each other.”
However, Morrison’s politics have always had a focus on identity. Although, his identity politics haven’t been that of a minority group working against a common oppressor, rather the PM has been rallying against all minorities, which he believes threaten the long-term established majority.
Prior to his current travel ban against people trying to return from COVID stricken India, whilst no such ban pertained to nations of the Anglosphere struggling with the virus, Morrison has pushed for and enacted a suite of other divisive policies that reveal an “us against them” attitude.
In 2011, as shadow immigration minister he suggested his party capitalise on perceived notions that Muslims won’t integrate into the community properly, then as immigration minister he oversaw the ongoing incarceration and slow torture of innocent asylum seekers from Asia and the Middle East.
The then minister for immigration also introduced a suite of character ground migration law reforms in 2014, which has since led to the mass deportation of New Zealanders – often long-term residents – on the basis of their having committed crimes, frequently a number of minor offences.
In response to marriage equality, Morrison launched the religious freedoms debate, which targeted LGBTIQ people. And this led to the drafting of the Religious Discrimination Bill, which sought to enact in law the right for those of faith to discriminate against all minorities based on their religious belief.
The wind beneath my wings
Towards the end of his speech, the PM recounted that in the final weeks of his election campaign he was doing it tough, so he asked the Lord for a sign. He then entered an art gallery to behold “the biggest picture of a soaring eagle” he could imagine, which was evidently a biblical sign.
“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,’” he told the congregation.
Yet, one might hypothesise that if the PM called for a divine revelation in regard to the effect some of his more inhumane policies have had upon disadvantaged members of our global community, he might come before an image of a vulture and recall Matthew 24:28:
“Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.”
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.