It was an orthodox Christian sermon speaking about anxiety, trusting the Lord and God being with us in troubled times. As such you would not expect the Sydney Morning Herald to pay much attention to it. Except in this instance, who delivered the sermon, and where it was delivered, made it worthy of headline news. The preacher was the former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and the place was the Victory Life Centre in Perth, which, as the SMH helpfully reminded us, is the Pentecostal Church run by ‘controversial former tennis champion, Margaret Court’. The stage was set: Pentecostals, Margaret Court and ScoMo. The ideologues at the SMH could hardly resist the temptation. It is still open season on ScoMo amongst the Twitterati, and so the mockery began.
The SMH, ABC and some commercial stations were quick to throw up their hands in scornful horror. They thought they had found evidence of shocking statements which justified their belief that ScoMo was never worthy of being the Prime Minister of Australia. Having read the sermon (thanks to John Sandeman who helpfully transcribed it
; and heard the reactions – including the usual knowing winks and ‘I wouldn’t have done that’ superiority from some church leaders – I consider that this whole sad affair is a window into Australia’s soul – or at least of those who think they run the country.
Here is the ‘controversial’ part of the sermon:
“God’s kingdom will come. It is in his hands. We trust in him. We don’t trust in governments. We don’t trust in United Nations. Thank goodness. We don’t trust in all of these things, fine as they might be. And, and as important as the role that they play, believe me, I’ve worked in it, and they are important. But as someone has been in it, if you are putting your faith in those things, like I put my faith in the Lord, you are making a mistake. They’re earthly. They are fallible. I’m so glad we have a bigger hope. “
And here is the reaction of the current Prime Minister speaking on ABC Radio:
“I just thought: ‘Wow. This guy was the Prime Minister of Australia and had that great honour of leading the government’. And I found it quite astonishing. It provides some explanation perhaps of why, in my view, clearly, he didn’t lead a government that was worthy of the Australian people. I find it astonishing that in what must have been, I guess, a moment of frankness, he has said he doesn’t believe in government.
“And the idea that he’s out there and pressing the United Nations button again, I’ve spent the first two months since our election … trying to repair our international relations. And that sort of nonsense throwaway conspiracy line about the United Nations, I think isn’t worthy of someone who led Australia.”
Albo may have thought ‘wow’ about ScoMo’s words. I had the same reaction to his. As an example of ignorance and hubris it’s hard to beat. With a few honourable exceptions that ignorance was reported as fact by those who shared it – calling ScoMo’s remarks ‘jarring’ and ‘inappropriate’. I thank the Lord for Greg Sheridan who in a major article in the weekend Australian https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/lost-in-the-secular-desert-christianity-under-siege/news-story/11b86e780f33b31e8731dbcde24c165d?overallPos=6&position=6&type=curated&utm_source=pocket_mylist
pointed out that this reaction to the sermon is clear evidence of an increasingly hostile culture towards any form of meaningful Christianity.
The position that a Christian trusts in God absolutely, and government only relatively is not a difficult one to grasp. It is the position of all Christians. We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. As Psalm 146 tells us:
“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—
remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free.
This does not mean that we do not think government is important, or that we do not obey it. Trusting in God does not mean that you think the UN, or any government is part of some great Satanic conspiracy. What the former PM was telling his audience – is what God’s word says – don’t place your trust in politicians! It takes a special form of ignorance to turn that into ‘wow, he’s a conspiracy theorist’! Or to suggest that he was saying it was pointless getting involved in politics. Scott Morrison had dedicated his life to public service in the political sphere – he’s hardly going to say that he was part of a great conspiracy! As Greg Sheridan wrote in his article – Morrison did not say “anything remotely against, much less delegitimising government’. Anyone who stopped to think about what was being said could have grasped that. But the problem is much of the media, and some politicians, don’t stop to think. They emote. Viscerally. Mockingly. Smugly.
The irony is that whilst the current elites who run our country throw up their hands in horror at the prospect of any Christian suggesting politicians are not our saviours, they are equally horrified at the thought of anyone getting involved in politics because they are motivated by their Christian faith.
It is also worth pointing out that it is not just Christians who decline to put absolute faith in their politicians – most normal Australians do so as well. It’s true that there might be a few political activists and some indoctrinated children who think that they really can save the world – but most of us recognise the limitations of our political leaders. The reality is that most people are far more cynical than most Christians. We recognise both the good and the limitations of government.
The worrying thing is that Prime Minister Albanese might actually believe in salvation by government. If so, he is a very dangerous man. If the SMH thinks that an Australian Prime Minister visiting the war in Ukraine can help stop it, or that signing a formal pledge to the UN to cut greenhouse gas emissions from Australia by 43% by 2030, will actually make it happen, or will make any significant impact on the climate, then we are well into the realms of fantasy. I’ve met people who genuinely seem to think that voting in ‘the right people’ will ensure no more floods, bushfires, or ‘climate emergencies’. They can expect to be sorely disappointed. Indeed, those who put their trust in politicians will soon become bitterly disillusioned – and that can lead to bad societal consequences – to say the least!
Those who have faith in politicians as personal saviours, or saviours of the planet, are on the road to a fall. Even this past week we have had Dan Andrews apologising for a corrupt Labor party in Victoria (although not quite contrite enough to resign); three former Labor MPs in NSW being charged with corruption and further reports of corruption and nepotism in Queensland. And it’s not so long since the former Premier of NSW was forced to resign because of corruption. It’s why we need an anti-corruption unit – although there is no guarantee that it itself wont’ be used corruptly. Who guards the guardians?!
The sermon from the former PM, or rather the reaction to it from the current PM, shows just how far down the rabbit role of irrationality Australian civic culture has already gone. Forgetting the past makes for a confused present and a dangerous future. It was the Christian church that made a separation between church and state. The problem is that the state is now replacing God – becoming the self-appointed source of all goodness, knowledge and power. And yet the state is run by fallible and fallen human beings. There is none righteous, no not one.
Another difficulty is that Australian media and politics are far too influenced by American media and politics. Whilst decrying the kind of culture wars that we observe in the bitterly divided US, our own media and politicians seem to be doing their best to copy them.
All of this makes for a profoundly dangerous time for the Christian Church. Ignorance, hubris and hypocrisy are a fatal combination. When the promised secular Nirvana does not happen, those who are disillusioned by the failed promises will seek for someone to blame. Given the level of anti-Christian ignorance and indoctrination currently occurring in many areas of society, I would not be surprised that the cry will soon ring out ‘it’s the Christians’!
Tertullian wrote his ‘apology’ in the 3rd century because the Christians were being blamed for everything from climate change to civil unrest. As Steve McAlpine points out in his excellent book, (also cited by Sheridan) perhaps we are back to ‘Being the Bad Guys”? Maybe it’s time for another ‘apology’? I’m not speaking about the apology that our current PM owes our former one, for his blatant misrepresentation of the latter’s position, although that would surely be welcome! No – Christians need to realise that we are dealing with a population (especially amongst our governing elites) who are as ignorant of Christianity, as any ancient Roman politician. We need more sermons, writings, media etc which not only expose the darkness – but do so by revealing The Light.
– David Robertson