Earlier this week, I listened to a snippet of Scott Morrison’s speech at the Australian Christian Churches Conference. Today, I bit the bullet and watched the whole speech. I’d like to talk about Morrison’s three main points:
1. That protection (i.e. social assistance and welfare) should come from ‘community’ not the state, and that those who expect protection from the state are immoral.
2. That groups which coalesce in order to obtain protection from the state are evil and strip their members of their individuality and humanity.
3. That it is not his job to save the world – it is God’s, working through his community of believers.
Now, there are some pretty big contradictions in Morrison’s speech. There he is, a Pentecostal Christian, speaking to a group of people who identify first and foremost as Pentecostal Christians. His speech is littered with the jargon of Pentecostal Christianity. And, as he speaks, the audience responds vocally in a ritual heard only in Pentecostal Churches. The Prime Minister enjoins them to form (church) communities and bring others into them. None of this, apparently, strips the members of the ACC churches of their humanity in the way that identifying as a feminist, a unionist, a refugee, a person of colour, a person with disabilities, or a member of the LGBTIQ community does.
Morrison decries this kind of ‘identity politics’ saying:
“There is a fashion, these days, to not think of Australians as individuals. There is, particularly, I think, amongst our young people – and I worry about this – people think of themselves (it’s called ‘identity politics’), they think of themselves by the things they can describe in collective with others – these are important things – one’s ancestry, one’s gender, where one’s from …. but there is a tendency for people not to see themselves and value themselves in their own right as individuals. And to see themselves only defined by some group. And to get lost in that group, and you know when you do that you lose your humanity. And you lose your connection, I think, one to each other. And you’re defined by your group not by, I believe, who God has created you to be, and to understand that. And that’s a big thing going on in our community and our society, and it’s corrosive. It’s absolutely corrosive, and I think it’s undermining community and I think it’s undermining the self-worth Australians can have. ‘Cos if you’re only defined by what pack you’re in, or what group you’re in, or what box you’ve been put in, and how others have defined you or sought to define you, either to enlist you to their cause or whatever that might be, Australians need to understand that they, themselves, individually and personally are unique and wonderful. … 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. We’ve got to raise up spiritual weapons against this.”
And just how do you raise up spiritual weapons? Through the church. In fact, he calls upon his audience to go out and evangelise to build (church) communities.
“I need you to … reach out and let each and every Australian know that they are important, that they are significant and, as we believe, they are created in the image of God. And in understanding that, they can go on a journey that I’m very confident you can take them on.”
Morrison makes it crystal clear that when he says ‘community’ he means ‘church community’.
“I’ve always been at a community church. That’s where I want to be. In a church that believes in community and creates community. And the essence of community is each individual understanding that they’re valued, that they’re unique, that they can respect one another, that they can contribute to one another. We cannot allow what we feel entitled to, to be more important than what we’re responsible for … Morality is about not only focussing on you, but on the person next to you … That is the essence of community. You can’t pass a law for it.”
You can’t pass a law to show people they’re valued? You can’t pass a law to encourage people to respect each other, e.g. in the workplace? You can’t pass a law to ensure that the disadvantaged get a hand up and a fair go? I’d beg to differ.
When Morrison says, “I need you to keep building community in this country,” he doesn’t mean communities of disadvantaged people, he means faith communities. When he says, “You can’t replace community with governments,” he means, “You can’t replace church communities with governments.”
He makes this very clear in his opening comments. When Morrison (not uncharacteristically) offered no useful solutions to social problems, he says Jenny Morrison’s father would become frustrated. In response, Morrison would say, “You know Roy, I can’t fix the world. I can’t save the world. We both believe in someone who can.”
For Morrison, the solution to social problems is to outsource them to God. It’s a typical Morrison “it’s-not-my-job” response. It’s not my job to hold a hose. It’s not my job to fix social problems. It’s not the government’s job to fix social problems.
And, for Morrison, people who work in co-operation outside the church to lobby the government to address social inequity are involved in the work of the devil. He drives this point home by referencing Rabbi Jonathan Sacks book on morality.
“Our rights used to be how we were protected from the state. And now, it’s what we expect from it.… What we once expected from family and community, now we contract this to the state and to the market.”
Morrison agrees, saying, “You can’t replace community with governments, with the markets, with other institutions .. you can’t!”
The Prime Minister makes it clear that when he is talking about “community” he is talking about a church community.
His ACC speech is self-indulgent and waffley, but it’s full of Pentecostal dog-whistles. Essentially, he is preaching the Pentecostal prosperity doctrine of individualism. What counts is not what disadvantage you’ve been born with or acquired throughout your life, but your relationship with God. If your relationship with God is strong enough, and if you tithe until it hurts, He will lift you out of your disadvantage you and reward you. If you are not rewarded, you have only yourself to blame.
As Bruce Duncan explains in an article for Social Policy Connections:
“The ‘prosperity gospel’ reduces religion to a magical technique to advance one’s individual self-interest, ignoring that the Gospel is meant to be ‘good news for the poor’, the Bible’s code for all in distress. The prosperity gospel instead focuses on individual wellbeing, rather than promoting wider concepts of solidarity and social justice in an effort to promote the common good of everyone, but especially of the most disadvantaged or marginalised.”
Duncan reminds us that, as Treasurer, Morrison:
“… pursued hard-line neoliberal policies, condemning welfare recipients as the ‘taxed nots’ while committing $65bn in tax cuts for the big corporates. More recently he rejected ‘the politics of envy’, code to disparage calls arguments for a fairer distribution of wealth, and deplored those who are ‘takers’ but not ‘makers’.”
For Morrison and his ilk, if anyone is going to look after the poor, the marginalised and the disadvantaged, it should not be the government – it should be the community – the church community. And, of course, it is his tribe of fundamentalist Christians who will decide who gets what, who is deserving and which people just need to ‘pray for God to change them’ or just pull their goddamn socks up.
Morrison’s ACC speech is just a fuzzy version of hardline fundamentalist Christian economics. Here’s what Christian libertarian, Thomas L Johnson, says on the subject:
“Any Christian who does not openly and vehemently denounce all forms of government welfare, cannot, in truth, call himself a Christian, for government welfare is the antithesis of Christian charity. Government welfare operates on the premise of force, whereas Christian charity can only exist where there is freedom of choice —where there is an act of the individual will. Since government welfare programs are outside the control of the individual, and thus outside the realm of free will, they are outside the province of Christian morality and are consequently evil, and must be condemned by all moral men.”
Morrison could have taken exactly this quote as the basis for his speech. But why would he suggest that such a huge burden be carried by people of faith?
Because, when the poor and disadvantaged become dependent on the church, the church gets the big government grants and the power that goes with that. What’s more, the church gets to call the shots on the services it provides.
We can already see the effect of this in the Catholic Church’s dominance in the health care sector. Regardless of the patient’s personal needs or beliefs, Catholic hospitals deny them access to legal procedures like abortion, tubal ligation, and voluntary assisted dying because they do not accord with the institution’s Christian values.
When the Church, rather than feminist groups, provides pre-natal counselling services, abortion is not mentioned as an option. If the subject is raised, the pregnant female is provided with a raft of misinformation about how abortion is likely to cause breast cancer and psychological issues. God’s work is done.
Churches like Hillsong and Horizon, hold to the New Apostolic Reformation’s 7 Mountains Mandate. Their aim is to build the power and influence of the church across all public institutions in order to create a global theocracy. Only then, they believe, will Jesus return to the God-fearing society his apostles (NAR church leaders) have prepared for him.
So, when Morrison tells you his policies aren’t derived from the Bible he’s probably right, they aren’t. But they’re certainly inspired by the twisted tenets and beliefs of the Australian Christian (Pentecostal) Churches and the New Apostolic Reformation.
The idea that Christian charities can take the place of the welfare state was particularly popular in America under Trump. Emma Green in The Atlantic tells us:
“President Trump’s initial budget proposal would end aid for poor families to pay their heating bills, defund after-school programs at public schools, and make fewer grants available to college students. Community block grants that provide disaster relief, aid neighborhoods affected by foreclosure, and help rural communities access water, sewer systems, and safe housing would be eliminated.”
Importantly, Green notes that most of the money that goes into churches doesn’t get spent on helping the poor and the disadvantaged, but goes towards the defraying the costs (and luxurious lifestyles) of clergy, building, materials, etc. That’s been very obvious in the recent Hillsong scandal in the USA where money tithed to the Church was used for the high-flying life-styles of the pastors.
Here in Australia, when Hillsong teamed with an Aboriginal group in Redfern to obtain a government grant, the money was spent on its own staff. The mob at Redfern barely received a cent. We’re seeing similar problems with faith-based employment services.
Make no mistake, Morrison sees the devil at work in women’s March4Justice, in refugees’ rights groups, and in LGBTIQ communities. The only community he is not threatened by is the community of fundamentalist Christians and, it is to this community he wishes to channel the maximum amount of money and power.
Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
In his speech to the ACC, Scott Morrison has shown us who he is.