Politics Opinion

The perils of politicians praying in public

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Great hypocrisy often follows political leaders who publically display acts of faith (Image by Dan Jensen)

Concerns are increasingly being raised about the religious faith of senior Australian politicians, as Alan Austin reports.

NO DOUBT Prime Minister Scott Morrison hoped his recent declaration on 60 Minutes that “I’ve worn out the carpet on the side of my bed... on my knees, praying and praying” would have boosted perceptions of his character, recently attacked by enemies and even friends.

It may have. But it had adverse consequences as well.

One was simply to provoke Morrison’s critics to respond with:

‘...we might expect more than just prayer from a devout Christian who also happens to be the Prime Minister.’

Or, more pointedly:

‘If you have means... and do not use them to help the poor, you cannot claim to be a servant of the god you say you love.’

But there was another consequence, more subtle, more theologically technical but potentially more damaging for the PM and ministers who share his charismatic Christian faith.

Followers of Christ or the Pharisees

It has been shown here at IA and elsewhere from biblical scholars that throughout history there have been two opposing movements within the Judeo-Christian communities. One group comprises genuine disciples of the prophets of that faith. The other is a gaudy, blasphemous counterfeit.

In the Christian tradition, the former group follows the teachings and life example of Jesus of Nazareth; the latter operates in the tradition of the scribes and Pharisees — the enemies of Jesus who had him killed.

The Jewish scriptures, which Christians also believe are authoritative, describe the evils of the false prophets. The Christian New Testament goes further, adding to the list of characteristics of the false teachers embedded within the church, against whom genuine believers must be ever-vigilant.  

Warnings against making prayer public

One of these indicators is boasting about praying, thereby asserting that he or she is close to God and should therefore be revered and obeyed.

Many global leaders enthusiastically volunteer to be filmed or photographed praying in public. These include Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, the USA’s Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin as well as Scott Morrison and Employment Minister Stuart Robert.

The problem these all have is that Jesus specifically teaches his followers to keep silent about their prayer life.

This is a matter strictly between the Christian and God:

‘But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.’

This augments a long list of scriptural indicators of what separates genuine followers of God from those who actually serve Satan.

Responses of the Christian churches to political hypocrisy

So far, no prominent Australian Christian leader has directly accused the Federal Government of pharisaism. Some have, however, exposed the failures of the Morrison Government to obey biblical instruction on particular issues, including asylum seekers.

Last month, the Reverend Tim Costello presented a short video on behalf of ‘religious leaders of Australia’ which exposed Morrison’s hypocrisy in disobeying the very biblical precepts he quoted in his maiden speech to Parliament.

Privately, Christian leaders must be pondering if and when it is their responsibility to call out this fakery more openly. They all know the Judeo-Christian scriptures are full of examples of prophets denouncing unjust rulers and condemning hypocritical political leaders. Often using extreme language.

In preparing this article, IA asked one spokesperson for a major Christian denomination this question:

Has anyone in [your denomination] – leadership, theological halls or elsewhere – raised concerns about the negative witness to the Christian faith resulting from prominent federal ministers, including the Prime Minister, who profess personal Christian belief but who openly display anti-Christian values? These include willingness to lie routinely, disregard for the disadvantaged, pursuit of greater wealth for the already rich and reluctance to act against manifest corruption.

The church leader responded:

‘As a general rule, the [denomination] does not comment on individuals but is focused on reforms in legislation, regulations, policy, and government and business practices. There are exceptions, such as critique of President Duterte of the Philippines.’

As a general rule, yes, that is fair enough. That response reflects teachings elsewhere in the New Testament about the dangers of judging others. But it is not an absolute rule.

It is certainly evident from social media discussions, occasional articles and isolated demonstrations that senior clerics are troubled by the negative impact on the Christian faith of some prominent politicians. What is shared quietly in the theological halls over a neat scotch late at night is, of course, difficult to discover. So we await further action.

The challenge to professing religious politicians

To the members of Australia’s parliaments who claim adherence to the Judeo-Christian faiths, their responsibilities are clear. They must always tell the truth, serve the poor first and foremost, redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, welcome migrants and refugees, prosecute those who engage in corruption and refrain from self-aggrandising attention-seeking.

If ministers live by these teachings, there will be no question about the validity of their religious faith.

Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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