Scott Morrison does Christian stuff?

Fairfax have published their latest exposé on Prime Minister Scott Morrisons’ Christianity. PM says social media being used by ‘evil one’, gives rare insight into Pentecostal faithis a strange and sophomoric non-story. I think it illustrates how shallow our grasp of Christianity is in Australia. I suspect it’s another attempted subterfuge to undermine the credibility of the  Prime Minister. 

As I read Daniela White’s piece, it felt like an Aussie version of those famed letters by Pliny the Younger. Pliny was a magistrate in first century Rome. He who felt obliged to tell the Roman Emperor Trajan about those weird Christians who practice a “depraved, excessive superstition”. According to Pliny the Younger, these Christians drink human blood and practice cannibalism, they call each other brothers and sisters, they let women oversee programs and they do really nice things for other people!

There are plenty of issues worthy of reporting in relation to the Federal Government: among them, the painfully slow roll out of the COVID-19 vaccines and the mistreatment of women in Parliament. With a stale and predictable breathe, like waking up every morning, readers of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have been given another dose of Scott Morrison’s faith. 

Daniella White explains that the Prime Minister participates in, “the Pentecostal practice of laying on of hands”.

Okay…well, so what? The practice of ‘laying on hands’ is not just a pentecostal thing, it harkens back to New Testament times and it is practised by pretty much all Christians churches to this day. It’s a physical symbol representing a spiritual committal (ie praying for an individual).

That is not all. Readers are reminded of this vital piece of evidence, 

“Mr Morrison was photographed raising his hands in a church service during the 2019 election”.

This is indeed disturbing behaviour by a Christian! Seriously, this is as silly as reporting, ‘a football fan was photographed raising her hands during Saturday’s game at the MCG”. 

One of the Prime Minister’s words that caught Daniela White’s attention was him talking to a Christian audience about the dangers of social media. He said, 

“It is going to take our young people… it’s going to take their hope, it’s going to steal their hope”.

“Sure, social media has its virtues and its values and enables us to connect with people in ways we’ve never had before, terrific, terrific, but those weapons can also be used by the evil one and we need to call that out.”

Does anyone think social media is never used to promote dangerous ideas and to harm people?  You may not believe in a real and personal devil as do Christians (and remember, so did Jesus), but you probably believe in a devil in some metaphoric way while to trying to explain the sheer volume of evil that is promoted and bullied on social media platforms. 

The article amounts to the revelation: Scott Morrison, a self confessing Christian, engages in normal Christian practices and beliefs. Wow. Big news!

I am tempted to mock the article because it is inane and it’s a classic example of a non-story being whipped up into what still amounts to a non-story.

Nevertheless, the piece does reveal something important. It illustrates what is a common thread in Australia today: people don’t understand Christianity. Most Aussies have little or no idea what the church is about. It is normal today for children to grow up and not even know who Jesus is, and that the cross and resurrection of Christ is the central pivot of all human history. 

It is not only the key teachings of Christianity that are being distanced in our communities, there is gaping hole in our understanding of how Christianity has positively shaped the society in which we live and benefit. Christian residue remains attached to our culture and provides foundational material without which our society would crumble. 

The British historian Tom Holland made a similar observation earlier this week when discussing the topic of culture wars. Holland explains how (in the West) many of our cultural and moral leanings arise from Christian theology, it’s just that we no longer see the connections. For example, he suggests, 

“The anxieties around statutes today are bred of deeply Christian ideas, just that the people campaigning against it don’t recognise it as Christian…this is drawing on the assumption that making a profit from slaves and conquering vast reaches of territory and killing people while doing so is not something deserving of praise, and these are assumptions  that are bred of the great heritage of Christian history….They’ve escaped the moorings of Christian doctrine and they now just kind of percolate in the air and people breathe them in and take them for granted.”

“Culture wars…are arguments about theology that do not recognise themselves as being arguments about theology”.

We don’t even realise that our moral impulses to fight against racism stem from a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world. Scott Morrison’s statement that was reported is exactly right, 

“It’s so important that we continue to reach out and let every Australian know that they are important, that they are significant.

“Because we believe that they are created in the image of God.”

A friend of mine made a comment last night about a different story, one that relates to a local high school. His point nonetheless translates well,

“As far as I can see, Christianity is the best chance we have of creating an equitable society. It teaches that all humans are made in the image of God and thus to be valued. All people have a problem with meeting their own standards of goodness and thus require forgiveness and patience. Love for God and neighbour is the greatest good. The West was built on these principles and yet we’ve still fallen horribly short.

How much worse will we be living under an ideology which demonises those who disagree, peddles a view of ‘goodness’ which is constantly changing and hard to define, and believes in inescapable guilt upon those born with the wrong skin colour and sex?”

Of course, Christianity is far more than a system of beliefs and values that provide a framework for civil society and cultural progress; Christianity is about a person. Christianity is about God sending his son into the world to atone for sin that we might be reconciled to the living God. That is sublime news that remains as good today as it was in the days of Pliny the Younger. 

Christianity cannot be reduced to a game of knowledge  but it certainly necessitates knowledge. For Christians, surely we don’t want to mislead or confuse people as to the reality of the Christian message, either by our teaching or by our actions.

All Christians across churches and denominational brandings have opportunity and responsibility before God and in love for our neighbour to try and correct the misnomers and myths that are tossed about on a regular basis. The fault lays less with journalists, we need to realise that we’re not always upfront or clear about the great news of Christ. The task is hamstrung  when ‘Christians’ perpetrate evil acts against other people. The Gospel of Christ is betrayed when our own lives contradict the message. The cause isn’t helped when so many church leaders today spit out garbage from the pulpit. My advise is, go and find a church that believes and teaches what the Apostles Paul says is ‘sound doctrine’. 

Even if we become the clearest, most winsome and most Jesus like people to have ever lived, plenty of people will still conclude that Christianity is not for them. There will be people who think you stink like the stench of death. Isn’t that how the Pharisees and crowds responded when they saw and heard the incarnate Son of God?  Others though will conclude, ‘yes I believe this Jesus is the son of God.’

The Australian Prime Minister is again trending on Twitter because of another ‘Christians are weird’ article. Let’s turn it around , maybe it’s opportunity and one you might like to take. If you don’t really know what Christianity is about and are interested even for the reason for discovering why you like or don’t like Scott Morrison, go check out a church sometime or open a Bible and start to read it. The Gospel of Luke is a great place to begin an investigation. 

Prime Minister prays to ‘Our Heavenly Father”

As the media report Scott Morrison’s prayer, they are evidently befuddled by his use of the Bible and him referring to God as “heavenly father’. I don’t know if they are trying to suggest that the Prime Minister holds to strange beliefs or if their understanding of Christianity is so shallow that they don’t realise that Father is the normal way Christians have always addressed God.

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Anthony Galloway writing for The Age,

“Mr Morrison also offered prayer for the “Heavenly Father” to “give us strength in this country, give us wisdom, give us judgment, give us encouragement and let your peace rein let your love shower this nation at this time”.”

To be fair, I’ve read the pieces for Fairfax and in the Guardian. The journalists have tread carefully and done a decent job in reporting the story. I’m sure all the hysteria from the usual social commentators will follow shortly. One thing is already clear, journos don’t know how to make sense of the fact that an Australian Prime Minister is calling God, “Heavenly Father”.  I don’t blame them, but it is revealing.

My interest here has nothing to do with politics, but I want to explore for a moment, this idea of calling God ‘Father’.

To pray, ‘Our Father in heaven’ is to pray in line with Jesus’ teaching. The famous Lord’s Prayer that we read in Matthew ch.6 is a paradigm for praying that is given to us by Jesus himself. The disciples ask him, ‘teach us how to pray’, and so He begins, “Or Father in heaven…”

Far from the notion of God being an abstract concept or as a distant being or an impersonal force, Jesus reveals God as Father.

Jesus says later in Matthew’s Gospel, 

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

To address God as Father is an extraordinary idea. It signifies that God is personal and relational. It speaks to communication and knowing. It suggests that God is interested in us, and even that he loves and care for us as Father who loves and cares for his children.

By no means is this a right, as though I can address God as I please. The Christian message talks about this as being a gift, just like in adoption. When parents decide to adopt a child, the child has no inherent rights over the family. As a decision of love and grace, the parents welcome the child into the family, both legally and relationally. Adoption is a beautiful gift. The same is true when a gracious God welcomes us.

We might already appreciate that God made the world. We might believe that God judges the world. To know God as Father is quite different and exceptional. As Jesus also indicates in Matthew 11, it is through him that we can come to know God as Father.

‘Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves’…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:9-11, 14)

In other words, if we want to know this beautiful Christian teaching for ourselves, personally and really, Jesus says, understand and accept him. To believe the Son is to know the Father. To connect with the Son is to gain access to the Father.

Again, leaving politics aside, if you’re curious about Scott Morrison’s prayer and why Christians speak of God as Father, take some time to wrestle with Jesus’ words and let me know what you think.