During his 2008 maiden speech in parliament, our PM Scott Morrison repeatedly referenced his Christian faith, even going as far as to invoke Jeremiah chapter 9:24: “I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on Earth for I delight in these things, declares the Lord”.
Yet, a lot of citizens find there’s a stark disconnect between what the prime minister espouses as his Christian values, and some of the ways he governs the country. This is from his drawn-out torture of innocent refugees – including children – to his refusal to help the poverty-stricken unemployed.
This was the point that protesters made to congregants out the front of the church the PM attends in the southern Sydney suburb of Sutherland on the second last Sunday prior to the birthday of Christ.
Demonstrators were asking parishioners to consider the plight of the Biloela family, which consists of two adult Tamil refugees who arrived by boat and their Australian-born infant daughters: 5-year-old Kopika and 3-year-old Tharunicaa.
Morrison has this family, who used to live amongst the community in central Queensland, locked up for their third festive season. It will be their second detained on Christmas Island.
But when the strain of Christianity the PM adheres to is taken into account, the discrepancies between what’s commonly considered the prescribed way to act according to Jesus, and the travesty of morality propagated by the Morrison government, begins to make sense.
Speaking in tongues
The prime minister attends the Horizon Church located in the commercial district of Sutherland. Established under another name in 1949, Horizon is a Pentecostal church, which operates in a similar manner to the ever-rising Hillsong Church.
Indeed, Morrison mentioned Hillsong pastor Brian Houston as a particular inspiration during his parliamentary maiden speech.
Both the Horizon and Hillsong church follow what’s termed the prosperity gospel, which is the belief system that connects the dots between Christian values and Morrison’s policies.
“Prosperity theology is really the view that God looks favourably upon those who worship him, and he will reward them with material wealth,” Professor Philip Almond told Sydney Criminal Lawyers last year. It “lines up nicely with the sorts of neoliberal economic views espoused by Morrison”.
According to the professor, as far as prosperity theology is concerned, “wealth is a sign of godliness” and “salvation has a connection to material wealth”.
The flipside of this being that poverty reveals a person has neglected the Christian faith.
As Anglican Bishop George Browning warned in an article soon after Morrison took over the role of PM, “This gospel does not give space for generosity to the poor, for this only encourages their laziness, or lack of personal responsibility.”
Buffoons at the pulpit
In his tome of an article The Politics of Cultural Despair, US journalist Chris Hedges posits that the social decay that’s happening in his country is resulting in the rise of Christian fascism, which he describes as “an emotional life raft for millions”, underpinned by the prosperity gospel.
“Capitalism, in the hands of the Christian fascists, has become sacralised in the form of the prosperity gospel, the belief that Jesus came to minister to our material needs, blessing believers with wealth and power,” the journalist proclaims.
“The prosperity gospel is an ideological cover for the slow-motion corporate coup d’état.”
Hedges explains that the corporate oligarchy doesn’t pay heed to the prosperity gospel, but it’s glad the Christian right does. He further states that while the corporates consider the Christian fascists “buffoons”, their doctrine of belief allows for greater profits and the erosion of workers’ rights.
The former war correspondent lays the prosperity gospel bare, when stating its major implication is that if a person is poor, they lack medical care, they’re paid low wages or they’re a victim of police violence, this can all be explained away as them not being “a good Christian”.
Speaking to journalist Lech Blaine in The Monthly last May, former prime minister Kevin Rudd warns that Pentecostal churches, with Hillsong at the fore, have been secretly and strategically influencing the federal Coalition, in what he described as “business, political and theological manipulation”.
Hillsong was founded by pastor Houston in the mid-80s. Then prime minister John Howard opened the church’s convention centre in 2002. Houston appears to have become a mentor to Morrison in the mid-2000s. But as there is no Hillsong in the Shire, the PM started attending Horizon.
In 2016, Hillsong generated close to $140 million. Houston claims that he doesn’t preach the prosperity gospel. But he has penned the books You Need More Money: Discovering God’s Amazing Financial Plan for Your Life and There Is More: When the World Says You Can’t, God Says You Can.
Although it’s been stunted with the coming of the pandemic, the influence of Morrison’s Pentecostalism has been obvious since he became PM. This was seen with the national debate around religious freedoms, which would have in no way been so prominent without him.
The release of the second exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Act 2019 by Morrison and attorney general Christian Porter in mid-December 2019, was perhaps not what was front and centre of the nation’s wish list, when the unprecedented bushfires were devastating the country.
A whited sepulchre
Standing next to pastor Houston, Scott Morrison appeared before a crowd of 21,000 Hillsong congregants in June last year, waxing lyrical about the need for “the love of God”.
At that moment, the Pentecostal PM was continuing to lord it over poor people from overseas held in offshore detention.
These days, Morrison has around 180 former offshore asylum-seeking detainees locked up long-term in hotels in Melbourne and Brisbane, while there are still others held on Nauru and Manus.
And the PM plans on cutting unemployment benefits back to below poverty levels for the New Year.
As refugee advocate Emma Comley said out the front of the Horizon Church recently, it’s hypocritical of Morrison to come to this church, raise his arms up in the air and worship God, “when the Bible clearly states the need to love the foreigner, the refugee and all people as if they were our own”.
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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.