In a speech to the Hillsong church in Sydney on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison riffed intriguingly on the power of love in our national life.
“There’s a lot of talk about our freedoms as Christians in this country and they should be protected … There’s nothing more fundamental than freedom of belief”, Morrison said, continuing to set the stage for the government’s imminent religious freedom bill.
But then the Prime Minister took an unexpected tack. “Whatever that belief may be, whether you have one or you don’t … that needs to be nourished and that needs to be protected,”
He added Australia needs both protection of freedom of religion and “the love of God”.
“This country needs more love and less judgment” he said, channelling 1960s moral philosopher Burt Bacharach’s mantra that “What the world needs now, its love sweet love/It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of”.
Banalities aside, however, it was refreshing to hear a political leader talking of loving one’s fellow man in these days when our politics are of the bearpit and social media is a latter-day Colosseum delighting in the blood sports of baiting and hating.
But what was especially intriguing was Morrison, a Pentecostalist very public about his fundamentalist faith, talking a powerful counterpoint to his fellow Pentecostalist elevated to the utterly underserved status of religious freedom martyr, Israel Folau.
Where Folau’s Christianity apparently is based on unforgiving notions of fire and brimstone, Hell and damnation that belong to the intolerant age of the Wars of Religion that killed millions in seventeenth century Europe, Morrison this week promoted a brand of fundamental Christianity that embraces respect, love and forgiveness.
“Wherever you are, be who God made you,” said Morrison. By contrast, Folau’s heartless Biblical fundamentalism condemns threatens to condemn everyone deemed ungodly to the eternal bonfire.
While Morrison has taken great pains to avoid commenting directly on Folau and the hot controversy the former rugger player’s Twitter theology has sparked, his Hillsong speech repudiated, even eviscerated, Folau’s hyper-simplistic and childlike interpretation of the scriptures more effectively than any formal parliamentary or media statement. What comes out of the Hillsong speech is that Morrison has a positive view of mankind under a loving God; by stark contrast, Folau’s is dark, negative and mediaeval and his is a fearsome, punishing God. Yet it is the latter who is being lionised by educated and otherwise sensible conservatives who should know better, for his “courage”.
Morrison’s address to his fellow Pentecostal faithful gives hope that whatever the content of the religious freedom Bill that Attorney-General Christian Porter still has under wraps, at least the debate on that Bill will be led by Morrison in the right spirit.
Thank God for that.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.