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At a recent appearance at the Australian Christian Churches conference Scott Morrison referred to social media as evil, and said he believed he was doing God’s work as Prime Minister. Those comments have ignited debate over the role of faith in political leadership.

A sermon from the Church of Morrison

Read Transcript

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made no secret of his deep, evangelical Christian faith. 

At a recent appearance at the Australian Christian Churches conference he referred to social media as evil, and said he believed he was doing God’s work as Prime Minister. 

Those comments have ignited debate over the role of faith in political leadership. 

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno, on the Prime Minister's Pentacostal faith and how it fits with some of his policy decisions. 

 

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Read Transcript

[Theme Music Begins]

 

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media,  I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am

 

As Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has made no secret of his deep, evangelical Christian faith. At a recent appearance at the Australian Christian Churches conference, he referred to social media as ‘evil’, and said he believed he was doing ‘God’s work’ as Prime Minister. Those comments have ignited debate over the role of faith in political leadership. 

 

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on the Prime Minister’s pentacostal faith and how it fits with some of his policy decisions.

[Theme Music Ends]

 

RUBY:

Paul, this week it seemed like there was a lot of media attention on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s faith - why was that?

 

PAUL:

Well Ruby, this week, courtesy of a scratchy video recorded on an iPhone, Scott Morrison has given us a window into his soul that previously he has jealously kept shut.

Archival Tape -- Prime Minister Scott Morrison

“Can I also give God some glory tonight…”

 

PAUL:

In the video that emerged the Prime Minister was speaking at the Australian Christian Churches conference on the Gold Coast last week. And he asked the Pentecostal Conference to help him help Australia, and said that he believed he and his wife have been called upon to do God’s work.

Archival Tape -- Prime Minister Scott Morrison

“So! This is the help I need from you. I need your help...to keep doing what you’re doing. I need your help to remind Australians how precious they are, and how unique they are…”

 

PAUL:

Morrison also said that he had sought a sign from God while on the 2019 election campaign trail. The most widely reported comments, though, were his remarks about social media.

Archival Tape -- Prime Minister Scott Morrison

“We all know how that is corroding and desensitizing our country and our society, not just here but all around the world. I think it’s an evil thing. I think it’s a very evil thing, and we’ve got to pray about it, we’ve got to call it out, and we’ve got to raise up the spiritual weapons against this because it is going to take our young people…”

PAUL:

He described the misuse of social media as the work of “the evil one”, a reference to Satan or to the Devil.

RUBY:

Mm!

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Social media has its virtues and its values - it enables to connect people in ways we’ve never had before. Terrific! Terrific. But, those weapons can also be used by the evil one, and we need to call it out…”
 

PAUL:

Now Morrison was curiously shy about his appearance at the conference. The media wasn’t alerted to it nor were the usual transcripts supplied. His office says the Prime Minister was invited to address it “the same as he attends many other stakeholder events including to other religious groups.” So the Prime Minister’s office confirms it was a Prime Ministerial event, and not a private one.

 

RUBY:

Right, so why was Scott Morrison reluctant to publicise his involvement in this event, Paul? It’s no secret that he’s an evangelical Christian - he’s talked about it publicly before, he invited the media to his church during his election campaign - so why was this different? 

 

PAUL:

Well that’s a very good question, and maybe as one leading churchman observed to me, Morrison was aware that he had come perilously close to crossing the line between church and state in some of his off-the-cuff remarks. And over the years in parliament, I’ve got to tell you, Morrison has generally taken umbrage at any questioning of his faith.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“And I always don’t mix my religion with politics and my faith with politics, and I...it’s always been something that has informed how I live my life, and how I seek to care for and support others…”

PAUL:

Even innocent queries are belligerently rejected as sneering or disrespectful of his right to freely practice his religion.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Trying to confect religion and politics together for personal y’know political gain - I thought it was very disappointing…”

 

PAUL:

At one level this shouldn’t be surprising, after all we lead our lives according to our own value systems and beliefs. But a prime minister is no private person. He’s elected to lead a nation with a secular constitution, and in a representative democracy, voters are entitled to know on what basis such a leader is prepared to do the job.

 

Well I think, for example, if Morrison was the Prime Minister when many Liberal parliamentarians were pushing for Marriage Equality, it wouldn’t have happened.

 

RUBY:

Mm, how so?

 

PAUL:

Well, despite Morrison claiming his electorate of Cook wouldn’t support gay marriage it returned a 55 per cent ‘YES’ vote. And Rather than representing this majority view of his electorate, Morrison abstained by fleeing the parliament before it ratified the Nation’s overwhelming will.

 

RUBY:

Mm. And Paul, there are many politicians of faith in Australia, many of them hold Chistian beliefs and Christian values in particular, but the form of Christianity Scott Morrison subscribes to is a little less common than others - can you tell me what sets it apart? 

 

PAUL:

Well Ruby, there’s a panoply of churches and groups that fall under the umbrella of Christianity, as you say. Pentecostals, of which Morrison is one, account for just 1 percent of the Australian population. Now, other mainstream churches question the orthodoxy of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”. This is a basic tenet of Pentecostal faith, which measures God’s blessings by material wealth and possession. Now for mainstream churches, the “option for the poor” is seen as a key measure of doing God’s work  - how we treat the dispossessed, the homeless, the naked, the poor. Jesus scandalised the religious authorities of his own time by mixing with the fringes, in fact he was condemned for doing it. And it’s found particularly in Matthew’s Gospel - he said that ‘on the day of judgement we will be asked what did you do for the least of my brothers, because what you do to them you do to me’. And another example is ‘I was hungry and you fed me, homeless and you took me in, naked and you clothed me.’ So these passages in the Bible underpin the social justice teachings of the Catholic, Anglican and Uniting churches, for example. But its application sits badly with a raft of policies pursued by the Morrison government and opens the prime minister up to the charge of hypocrisy.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

[ ADVERTISEMENT ]

RUBY:
Paul, we're talking about Scott Morrison's faith, it's making news at the moment after he attended the Australian Christian Churches Conference. Do you see a tension between the Pentecostal faith and the policies of the Morrison government?

PAUL:

Well, the most obvious one, Ruby, is the government's continuing harsh treatment of refugees. But the robodebt saga is another indictment. This computerised debt collection from 400,000 welfare recipients led the government to fork out 2.1 billion dollars in a settlement after numerous legal warnings and 2000 deaths. Now, the minister who inherited the scheme from Morrison was none other than Stuart Robert and Morrison actually referred to Robert, a fellow evangelical, as Brother Stewie in the Australian Christian Churches conference video. So the two brothers’ approach to welfare was certainly harsh treatment of the least in our society.

RUBY:

And Paul, Scott Morrison described his victory at the last election as a ‘miracle win’. How are things shaping up for him at the moment after some significant turbulence for his government?

PAUL:

Well, the latest Newspoll has it 51/49 percent, two-party preferred Labour's way. Now, that's the same result. The poll returned ahead of the last election. And it's been like this way for months. It's a line ball and it means leadership could make all the difference in such a tight contest. And Morrison, on that score, would welcome News Poll's latest measurement of leaders character traits. Its results have, I got to tell you, the Labour Party baffled and even some in the Liberal Party stumped. It found the Prime Minister has a higher level of support than many other for ten years, and he has recorded the largest margin over an opposition leader since 2008. Morrison, according to the survey, has more vision for Australia than his opponent Albanese, and is more likeable, caring, decisive and trustworthy. And these findings are in spite of his appalling mishandling of the Britney Higgens assault allegations and the less than convincing double standards applied to allegations against Christian Porter compared to his summary execution of Australia Post chief Christine Holgate on the floor of Parliament, as well as his tolerance of the bullying of women constituents by his backbencher Andrew Laming.

RUBY:

So despite all of these issues, Paul Scott Morrison is still well ahead of Anthony Albanese in the polls. So why is that? What do you think that the Labour leader is doing wrong, or is this about Scott Morrison being a bit untouchable at the moment?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, one way to get a handle on it is to compare the federal opposition and its polling, which is line ball, with oppositions around the country; I mean, they've all been wiped out. So from that point of view, Albanese and his supporters say, ‘well, look, you know, if there was no pandemic, we'd be doing a hell of a lot better.’ And then they say well explain why if Morrison is so far ahead of Albanese in approval, why isn't that reflected in the two-party preferred? And I think that's a very good question and an indication of the pandemic factor. I've got to say, I agree with the pollster for The Guardian's essential poll, Peter Lewis. He frames it entirely in Morrison's response to the pandemic, aided, of course, by the states. And that response has kept Australia very safe compared to most of the rest of the world. And, of course, the catastrophe in India bolsters that sense of gratitude.

RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time today.

PAUL:

Thank you, Ruby. Bye.

[ ADVERTISEMENT ]

[Theme Music Starts]

 

RUBY:

Also in the news today - India's coronavirus death toll has surged past 200,000 with the country experiencing its deadliest day yet.  On Wednesday morning, the country reported almost 370,000 new cases - the largest single-day increase in the world. It also recorded a further 3,293 deaths… However, experts believe the official tally vastly underestimates the actual toll in a nation of 1.3 billion people. Crematoriums in Delhi have become overloaded with bodies, forcing authorities to build makeshift funeral pyres on spare patches of land.

 

And President Joe Biden has given his first state of the Union-style address to Congress, declaring the United States is “rising anew”. Speaking on the eve of his 100th day in office, Biden unveiled a $2.3 trillion social policy plan. The plan includes the country’s first paid parental leave scheme, universal preschool and two years of free community college. It will be paid for by tax increases on high-income earners and corporations.

 

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper.

 

It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Elle Marsh, Atticus Bastow, Michelle Macklem, and Cinnamon Nippard. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. New episodes of *7am* are released every weekday morning. Follow in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out. 

 

I’m Ruby Jones, and make sure to check your podcast feed tomorrow for a special bonus episode of 7am with author and activist Bri Lee.  

 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper and a 30-year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery.

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