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The Pentecostal PM, miracles and messiahs

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison leads prayers at Planetshakers Pentecostal Church, Melbourne (Screenshot via YouTube)

The return of the Liberals to Government is being hailed as a miracle by all and sundry.

A "miracle” is:

'an unusual and mysterious event that is thought to have been caused by a god because it does not follow the usual laws of nature.'

Cambridge English Dictionary

Can we call a political party, winning an election, based on people voting, with a preference system which included an unprecedented number of minor parties of the right-wing flavour all with preferences flowing towards the Liberals a "miracle"? 

Or is it deemed a miracle because all the polling companies said the ALP were all winning the polls for months now? The same polling companies that got the U.S. Election wrong, the Brexit vote wrong and the most recent Victorian State Election wrong? 

Maybe it is a miracle because the bookies got it wrong? Actually, it might be — those blokes rarely take a bath on a bet, so maybe God was punishing them?

But in all seriousness, calling this win a "miracle" is both really over-blown in the terminology itself – used by PM Scott Morrison and then of course used by all the mainstream media – and overstates the win, as they are pretty much in the same place they were before the election — in government. Also, it is just too "churchy" for me.

Fun fact: Australia is actually a secular country.

Front page of The Australian newspaper, 20 May 2019

In fact, it was only six days ago that The Australian, many in media and, of course, Scott Morrison himself was saying that questioning of his religion and whether or not he, like Israel Folau, thought gays should go to hell was a "desperate, cheap shot". 

Morrison went on to say:

"I'm not running for pope, I'm running for prime minister ... So ... theological questions, you can leave at the door."

All the commentators agreed, of course. The consensus was, leave religion out of politics.

I totally agree. But when the Prime Minister brings it up, well, that is a different story. Not only did Morrison call his "win" a “miracle”, he then said, “God bless Australia”. He had also previously invited a cameraman into his Church during the campaign — when the agreement had been not to campaign at Easter.

I would also like to note Mr Morrison likes to play on his Christian credentials. Not a problem you say? After all, a lot of our politicians are Christians and it is Australia's most popular religion. In fact, I’ve heard that quite a few, particularly older, Christians feel more kindly towards Mr Morrison because he is a Christian. Now, this is an important point.

Let us revisit the full paragraph from an ABC News article titled: 'Australian political leaders agree gays don't go to hell' [IA emphasis added]:

'Morrison, a Pentecostal Christian, accused Shorten, a Catholic before converting to his second wife's Anglican faith, of a "desperate, cheap shot" ahead of elections on Saturday by challenging the prime minister to say whether he believed gays went to hell.'

Now, those two highlighted words matter. Most Christians in this nation are of the garden variety Catholic or Anglican. These people may hear the word "Christian" and assume, it is one of those two categories of Christianity. Mr Morrison does not. Mr Morrison belongs to the Horizon Church (formerly Shire Live) a new breed of American-style, evangelical "megachurches". Certainly not the garden variety church most Christians in this country think of when they hear the word, Christian. In fact, this type of church, for a variety of reasons, be they right or wrong, is not considered one of "them".

This church is newer so there is snob value, it is "foreign" to traditional Christians and generally viewed with suspicion. For some, it is even considered to be no more than a religious form of "networking" — due to the encouragement of dealing exclusively with church members where possible. Personally, I think the suspicion is due to these megachurches just seem a tad too modern and flash.

Not only is Horizon Church not of the traditional style, it is Pentecostal — affiliated with the Australian Christian Churches and the Assemblies of God. This is where it gets really tricky for traditional Christians as this type of church is a big fan of the Holy Spirit and partial to "speaking in tongues".

I’ve spoken to a few old style Catholics and Anglicans who find comfort in Morrison being a Christian, big tick as far as they are concerned. Until "Pentecostal" is raised. Then the eyes narrow a bit. If speaking in tongues and megachurch is raised, then you get wide open eyes and a totally different attitude. One traditional Christian even said, “Those types obsess a tad too much about Satan for my comfort”.

This very good piece in The Monthly titled, 'The Devil and Scott Morrison', takes a deep dive into this aspect of our PM:

The assumption that the Prime Minister’s Horizon Church in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire can be understood as just another conservative denomination is a major mistake: while Pentecostalism is outwardly conformist and, in its Australian variant, heavily influenced by American evangelicalism, its core teachings are very different from those of the evangelical and reformed churches that it is generally associated with.

Perhaps prejudice among the various mainstream Christian faiths is the reason the PM is only ever referred to by the generic term of "Christian"? 

This election win by Mr Morrison was not a miracle and the miracle reference makes me uncomfortable as I want a prime minister, not a preacher, making decisions on behalf of the nation.

Also interesting to note how six days is a long time in the mainstream media. We have gone from “How grubby is Shorten for raising religion” to our national paper calling Morrison a messiah! The front page above made me more than uncomfortable, it made me rather afraid. They can use a hero shot of Scott at the footy, beer in hand, cheering on his beloved “Sharkies” in his best rendition of the suburban daggy dad, designed to make him as relatable as possible to the average Australian.

But, sorry, messiah, miracle, God bless Australia and look-at-me-worshipping-in-my-Church campaign stunts are just creepy.

There is currently a ‘Religious Freedom Review  waiting to be addressed in Parliament. We don’t know when and what will be put in place from that. Will the Federal Government over-rule Queensland’s recent abortion legislation? Or Victoria’s "Safe Access Zones", or ‘Assisted Dying’ legislation or "Safe Schools" program? Will the Morrison Government introduce even more laws that allow religions to discriminate?

I think many in the nation would have been interested in hearing about Mr Morrison’s religion of choice and how this would affect his role as Prime Minister. Maybe the fact that he skated through an election campaign with the majority of Australians thinking he was a garden variety Christian is the miracle?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-religion. However, I am against having religion forced on me via the laws of the nation. The final item on Mr Morrison’s Church website, 'Praying every day until the Federal Election' also scares me:

  •  for a spiritual awakening across our land, that the Gospel will be preached and bring transformation in the lives of all those who call Australia home. (John 3:16)

I don’t want my government preaching, nor do I want Mr Morrison’s religion in my life, but I worry we may not have a choice.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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