During the Sky News leaders’ debate last night (20/4/22), the mother of an autistic child asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison why she should vote for his party, given that, following a review, her son’s NDIS had been slashed by 30 per cent. Morrison responded:
“I’ve been blessed, we’ve got two children that don’t … haven’t had to go through that. And so for parents, with children who are disabled, I can only try and understand your aspirations for those children.”
Not surprisingly, many people took that to mean:
“Geez, lady, I dunno. Us being good Christians, me and Jen, God gifted us with “normal” children.
You have to understand, if you do the right thing, praise the Lord and learn to speak in Tongues, you get rewarded. If you piss God off, you end up with a kid on the NDIS.
Who’s fault’s that? Certainly not mine; certainly not the taxpayers’!
So, instead of bitching about the NDIS, lady, maybe you should look at what you did to get yourself into this pickle, eh?
When’s the last time you praised the Lord? Did you have premarital sex? Did you vote “Yes” in the marriage equality postal survey? Have you ever had an abortion? Do you even tithe? God, forbid! You’re not bloody Catholic, are you?
Maybe try getting right with God and your kid will be cured. Tithe enough and God might even make you rich.
By the way, would you like to join my Amway downline?”
Harsh? I don’t think so.
Morrison makes no secret of the fact he is a Pentecostal Christian – absolutely immersed in that faith (see my post about that here). Pentecostals are big on shrugging off institutional responsibility and apportioning individual blame, and there’s not much difference between their views on poverty and their thoughts about disability.
The Prosperity Gospel teaches that if you’re not at the top of the Amway pyramid, it’s your own damned fault. As Morrison said to people living in poverty in Australia, “If you have a go in this country you’ll get a go.” (Tell that to all the Pentecostal Christians with garages full of cleaning products they can’t sell.)
It’s this mindset – that if people are struggling they only have themselves to blame – that rationalises Morrison’s determination to keep the NewStart allowance at $46 per day. Living in destitution is seen as a surefire way of motivating bludgers – oops, sorry – people to ‘have a go’ in Morrison’s Australia.
As Tanya Levin, a former member/victim of Hillsong Church and author of the exposé People in Glass Houses: An Insider’s Story of a Life Inside and Out of Hillsong” explains:
“Prosperity theology is explicit in its assertion that wealth demonstrates God’s approval. The prime minister believes that “the poor you shall always have with you”. It is understood that if you are not financially successful, you have not tithed enough, prayed enough, or been holy enough.”
This prosperity gospel thinking is a mirror image of the Pentecostal theology relating to disability. But Morrison was never meant to say it out loud.
Following an outcry from people with disabilities, the families of those with disabilities and social media in general, today has seen a great deal of re-framing and back-peddling from the Morrison camp.
Morrison has apologised for his comment, saying:
“I meant no offence by what I said last night but I accept that it has caused offence to people … I think people would also appreciate that I would have had no such intention of suggesting that anything other than every child is a blessing is true.
Every child is precious and a blessing to every parent.
I don’t think that’s in dispute and I don’t think anyone would seriously think that I had the intent of anything different to that.”
Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham insisted the Prime Minister’s words had been taken out of context:
“The PM, actually in that context, was talking about not having to deal with the many challenges of systems that you have to work through to get support.”
While Senator Hollie Hughes, a conservative Catholic, said the disability community’s ‘rage machine’ was to blame for the sector’s failure to achieve “constructive gains.”
Let’s be clear. The Prime Minister didn’t ‘mis-speak’, he wasn’t taken ‘out of context’, his words aren’t being twisted by his opponents. In a rare moment of honesty Scott Morrison said exactly what he has been taught to think by his church: that disease and disability are inflicted by God as punishment for sin. Following this line of thought, the logical conclusion is that those who follow the Pentecostal faith will be ‘blessed’ with exemptions from these ‘curses’.
I understand this aspect of Pentecostalism from bitter experience. When a member of my family began experiencing worrying symptoms, they were referred by their church to a church-approved, Pentecostal psychologist. The verdict, after much probing into the piety of my relative, was that the symptoms were a punishment for the fact one of our ancestors was a Grand Master of the Freemasons. Ardent prayer was prescribed. (In fact, as it turned out, my relative had a malignant tumour.)
This toxic belief that disease and disability is either self-inflicted or the result of some kind of ancestral sin is causing havoc in African countries that have been effectively colonised by evangelical Christians of the Pentecostal variety. In Uganda and elsewhere, sick and disabled people are expelled from their homes, brutalised and sometimes burned as witches. This is not an Indigenous practice – it has been imported and inflamed by missionaries of Pentecostal Churches.
Reporting from the ground, Ugandan Humanist, Leo Igwe says:
“It cannot be overemphasized that churches in Africa are instrumental to the witch craze in the region. Programs and activities of faith organizations continue to fuel witchcraft suspicions with sometimes horrific consequences on alleged witches.”
Similarly, a theological treatise on Pentecostalism in Zimbabwe states:
” …. there is a common misconception in these prevailing and mushrooming prophetic, charismatic and Pentecostal religious organizations that people living with Disability have been either cursed, bewitched or possessed by the evil spirit.”
Australian Pentecostals may not be as forthright about this toxic belief as the evangelicals infecting African nations, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there, bubbling just below the surface – until the Prime Minister had a brain fart on national TV.
It wasn’t that long ago when Hillsong sponsored Mercy Ministries, an arm of the church set up to heal young women suffering from eating and other ‘disorders’ (including – shock, horror – lesbianism). In exchange for their social security cheques, these vulnerable girls were promised in-house therapy and treatment. But what Hillsong/Mercy delivered was not medical treatment but exorcisms.
Call it demon possession or witchcraft, the basic premise of this theology is that disability and disease are Satanic and the result of some kind of personal or familial spiritual weakness.
Scott Morrison was a member of Hillsong Church (Waterloo) around the time that Mercy Ministries was operating, but he is now a member of Horizon Church (Sutherland). But Morrison maintains strong ties to Hillsong. In his first speech to Parliament, and even more recently, Morrison cited disgraced former leader, Brian Houston, as a spiritual mentor.
Even after decamping to Horizon Church, Morrison was pastored by Michael Murphy, the former Associate Pastor to Brian Houston at Hillsong. So, we can be sure that the spiritual lessons he was being taught at Horizon were much the same as those at Hillsong.
Horizon is now headed by pastors Brad and Alison Bonhomme but, with Horizon still associated with the Pentecostal Australian Christian Churches, and this view of disability being fairly consistent throughout that denomination, we can assume the same kinds of beliefs prevail.
In a scholarly paper on Pentecostalism Luke Thompson from the University of South Florida explains how Pentecostals think about sickness and disability:
“Well established within Pentecostal theology is the belief that the presence of suffering (sickness or debilitating conditions) may indicate personal sin, symbolize unholiness, or result from demonic influence.”
According to Thompson, Pentecostals:
“readily accept Exodus 15:26, a passage of scripture indisputably relating to ancient Jews, which links health with obedience, and sickness with disobedience as evidence for the contemporary normative association of sin with suffering.”
“Those who repent or who are truly saved are believed to be ‘supernaturally rescued’ from suffering through prayer. Pentecostals’ view of the Bible supports the Pentecostal view of disability.”
Pentecostals believe that healing is to be expected as a result of obedience and faith (or the casting out of demons). It follows then that lack of obedience or lack of faith is to blame when the disabled stubbornly refuse to “heal themselves”.
Given this perspective it’s not surprising that, under Morrison’s stewardship, the NDIS and the people it is meant to serve are in crisis. Nor is it a coincidence that this monumental fuck-up has occurred under the control of Morrison’s spiritual brother, fellow Pentecostal, Stuart Robert – the man Morrison affectionately calls “Brother Stuie”.
It was Brother Stuie who praised Scott Morrison’s rather creepy practice of surreptitiously “laying hands” upon random strangers and praying for them. One wonders how often that was inflicted upon unsuspecting people from the disability community?
Last night, when Scott Morrison said he was ‘blessed’ to have two non-disabled children, he meant exactly what he said. It was a dog-whistle, a humble-brag – “Look at me. See how holy I am? God gave me kids off the good pile, and boy, do I deserve it!”
Of course, he’d never be so crass as to say it as baldly as that in public, but the theology in which Morrison has immersed himself throughout his adult life leaves no doubt that, despite his protestations to the contrary, this was, indeed, what he meant.