Flat White

Ten religious reasons why Barnaby Joyce should resign

19 February 2018

8:36 AM

19 February 2018

8:36 AM

I like Barnaby Joyce. And I honestly pray for him, his estranged wife Natalie, their children, and his new partner Vikki Campion. What’s more, I am keenly aware that, there but for the grace of God, go I (1 Cor. 10:11-14). But seriously, his time is up. For his sake, for the sake of his partner, his family, his party, his country, he must resign.

Everyone knows Barnaby Joyce is not the only politician in the current parliament at present to have committed adultery.

But as leader of the Nationals, outspoken Catholic, social conservative, as well as Deputy Prime Minister of the Coalition, Joyce’s situation is somewhat different. If you want conclusive proof of this, then just check out the latest Newspoll.

Unfortunately, it seems that everyone else, except Barnaby, can see how untenable his situation has now become. The scandal caused Paul Kelly, editor-at-large, from The Australian to write:

This reeks of the last days of Rome. Civil war has engulfed the Coalition — Barnaby Joyce is discredited as Nationals leader and Malcolm Turnbull’s authority as Prime Minister is under the gun…

Who does Joyce think he is? The Prime Minister doesn’t want him; the Liberals don’t want him and the country doesn’t want him as Deputy PM. He has failed on grounds of character, values and political integrity.

It’s one thing to read something like that from of the most respected writers Australia’s only national broadsheet, but you know the writing is truly on the wall when disgraced politicians, like Sam Dastyari, start giving you advice:

Many others, such as The Spectator’s Neil Brown, have provided shrewd political commentary as to why Joyce should step down. But strangely, none of the leaders of any of Australia’s major Christian denominations have issued a single statement on the subject. Zilch. Nada. Nothing! As John Sandeman from Eternity has observed:

There is one group that has been very silent. Church leaders. A quick check reveals no Catholic Bishop (and the family concerned are Catholics) has spoken on the topic. No Anglican bishops. No mention from the stage at the Hillsong churches. Nothing from the Uniting Church leaders.

If I were Mr Joyce’s minister, what would I say to him pastorally? Dominic Steele, of The Village Church in Annandale, Sydney, exemplified one way forward. Significantly, while Dominic and I both agree that while he can be forgiven (1 John 2:8-9), I believe that nonetheless, he should resign as leader of the Nationals. What follows are ten “religious” reasons (some more so than others) as to why I personally have come to this conclusion.

First, because if you can’t manage your family, then you can’t manage the country. This is a foundational characteristic for someone who wants to lead (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:4-5). And while it has special significance for leaders in the church, there is a legitimate parallel for government “ministers” as well (see Rom. 13:1-5). As Steve Biddulph has written in The Examiner:

First of all – issues of honesty and self-control are vital to political leadership. What do we vote for in our leaders if not character – integrity, consistency, openness? And what truer test of character is there than the way a person treats their spouse?

Second, he no longer models the virtues and values that he once espoused. As Murray Campbell, at Mentone Baptist Church in Melbourne has written:

Leaders ought to set an example for the rest of us. They should lead lives that demonstrate the values that we as a people wish to cultivate and be measured against. Intellect and skills are important, but character is of greater worth.

Note that before last year’s postal survey, Joyce was an outspoken defender of traditional marriage. However, with the breakdown of his own relationship, Joyce was noticeably absent from any of the public debate because his own life was inconsistent with the view that he was espousing. This was the case then, and it will also be the case when similar issues are raised in the future.

Third, Joyce has shown that he is unwilling to submit to those who are even notionally in authority over him. (1 Peter 2:17; Hebrews 13:17) After a recent press conference, Joyce defensively referred to the Prime Minister’s comments regarding his situation as, “inept”… in many instances unnecessary” and only “causing further harm”. As David Old, an Anglican minister in Sydney tweeted:

Fourth, Barnaby Joyce has had an affair with a member of his own staff. Churches have often received a bad rap for how they have dealt with sexual misconduct, especially in the past. Within my own denomination what Joyce has done would be grounds for immediate suspension, and then, after due process, dismissal. The issue is not just the breaking of his marriage vows, but of the “power differential” at play with a member of his staff, much younger than himself.

Fifth, he needs to take time off to care for his existing children, to tend to his pregnant partner, and to examine his own soul. The damage Joyce has wrought through his actions is immense. Of particular relevance, is the Biblical incident involving David and Bathsheba. While some aspects are unique—Israel’s King was also guilty of murder and yet he didn’t face legal prosecution—there are pertinent parallels regarding the consequences to our actions (see 2 Samuel 11-12 coupled with Psalm 51).

Sixth, there are still many serious questions hanging over his head regarding his political judgment regarding financial benefits. Even if Vikki Campion may not have officially been his “partner” at the time, blind Freddy can see that the creation of another lucrative, highly paid position within the office of another National MP reeks of favouritism and prejudice as the following example highlights:

What’s more, The Sunday Telegraph has since reported:

In March, while Mr Joyce was meant to be living with his wife and children near Tamworth, he repeatedly claimed the $372 a night allowance to sleep in Armidale, just over 100km away.

As a minister, Mr Joyce is entitled to claim the taxpayer-funded allowance to spend nights away from home only if he has ministerial business.

The Sunday Telegraph can find no record of media events or parliamentary business in Armidale on those nights.

Seventh, he doesn’t seem to be fully cognisant of the damage he has caused. As an editorial in The Weekend Australian stated:

Pointedly, however, Mr Joyce did not apologise to the Liberal Party or Malcolm Turnbull. This tells us much about his priorities and sense of victimhood…

There seems to be a stubborn unwillingness from Mr Joyce to accept the role he has played in exacerbating the controversy. He has lacked political judgment in his handling of Ms Campion’s employment and in accepting free accommodation while holding the position of deputy prime minister. Mr Joyce also spent months stonewalling questions about his family status and did nothing to reveal publicly that his former staff member was to have his child — a fact that, understandably, was going to end up in the public domain.

Eighth, according to the latest Newspoll, he has lost the support of the general public. I’ve personally lived in north-west NSW and how Joyce could face anyone in his electorate after this debacle is beyond me, as Newcastle Herald cartoonist Peter Lewis has aptly illustrated:

Cartoon by Peter Lewis/Newcastle Herald.

Ninth, because his actions reflect badly, not just on marriage, but on the sacrifice, many women make in supporting their husband’s careers while they take on the primary responsibility of running the home.  As outspoken feminist, Clementine Ford has gleefully pointed out:

It speaks volumes about the Deputy Prime Minister’s character that he has treated his wife as little more than a long-term employee, useful so long as she served a purpose but easily replaced when a better applicant came along. If you want to talk about the protection women deserve in marriage, this is it: it’s the protection from “traditional” protocol that encourages women to sacrifice their own ambitions to support those of their husbands.

Tenth, because he has caused massive division within a Coalition government. For instance, the front page of The Weekend Australian reported that it was nothing less than “civil war”. The old saying, “A house divided cannot stand” is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but the truth is it goes all the way back to Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” It’s true in religion, and it’s also true in the political realm. Graham Richardson summed up the situation perfectly:

That Barnaby Joyce is prepared to wreck any chance the government had in the next election to save his own wretched skin must be as staggering to his National Party colleagues as it is to the rest of us. He refuses to accept any responsibility for his single-minded selfishness which is trashing the government’s standing.

Barnaby Joyce is on leave this week. I hope and pray that if and when he reads this then he’ll reconsider his position and do what’s right and resign. If he doesn’t, then it will only cause untold damage to himself, his family, his partner, and his political party.

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.

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