The Steven Bradbury-like ascension of Scott Morrison to the position of Prime Minister amid the tumult of Australia’s most recent leadership spill was met with widespread celebration from fellow Pentecostals and other evangelical Christians. One of our own in the Lodge! I saw “the Great Southland of the Holy Spirit” appear numerous times in my social media feeds as Christian leaders and their flock welcomed our new national leader.
(Like the Australia speed skater who won an Olympic gold medal in 2002 when all of his opponents fell in a last-corner pile-up, Morrison was the last player left standing after Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop were knocked out of the contest in the recent spill for leadership of the federal Liberal Party.)
“Will it be enough for Australian Christians that a leader claims the identity of Christian or will we pause to ask, respectfully, ‘what would Jesus do?’”
Much of the adulation seemed to avoid what to me seems to be the obvious question – how does this Pentecostal Prime Minister’s policy record and political approach align with Christian belief about the character and the Jesus that Christians aspire to emulate – and the vision for a better world that the life of Jesus was an example of? Like the evangelical embrace of “pussy-grabbing” President Donald Trump in the United States, will it be enough for Australian Christians that a leader claims the identity of Christian or will we pause to ask, respectfully, “what would Jesus do?” about the many challenges facing Australians that the Prime Minister has the power and influence to have impact upon?
“My hope would be that it is to this aspiration that Christians would hold him to account.”
Scott Morrison set himself a standard in his first parliamentary speech, referencing Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others, as a Christian leader he would model his leadership on. Quoting Tutu, he said, “We expect Christians … to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy, believable witnesses.”
I’d agree with him wholeheartedly and my hope would be that it is to this aspiration that Christians would hold him to account. His record on people seeking asylum, unemployed and under-employed Australians, Australia’s international aid obligations, our appalling treatment of First Nations Australians and our commitment to our LGBTI neighbours has thus far fallen far short of this noble goal.
Indeed, Prime Minister Morrison’s chosen mantra of “a fair go for those who have a go” is an Australianised version of the very un-Jesus-like cliche “God helps those who help themselves” and lacks an understanding of both the dynamics of power and privilege and the systemic flaws in Australian society that result in poverty, marginalisation and disadvantage for so many of our fellow citizens.
Brad Chilcott is the founder of Welcome to Australia, a movement cultivating a culture of welcome for asylum seekers, and the pastor of Activate Church in Adelaide.