September 10, 2018

Did Scott Morrison Actually Claim To Be “On God’s Side”?

Did our Prime Minister really say that he was on God’s side?  And if he did is that not a dangerous thing?

This article in The Guardian seems to indicate it:

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Geoff Thompson, who lectures in the University of Divinity makes this comment:

Beyond their morality and beyond the discussions about separating church and state, there’s another matter that largely goes by without comment. It’s this: what kind of theological ideas are Christian politicians injecting into public debate and using to buttress their politics?

This should rightly interest both Christian and non-Christian like. And Morrison provides an interesting case study.

In his maiden speech in 2007 Morrison put his Christian cards squarely on the table. He invoked Abraham Lincoln: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.” It sounds benign, but it isn’t.

Two things.  Firstly, when it comes to ideology, NO politician puts a tabula rasa on the table.  Everyone is putting theological/ideological ideas out there.  There is no view from nowhere. It’s just whether we admit to that or not.  I would have thought as a theologian Geoff Thompson would be keen to point out how, for example, Charles Taylor, deconstructs secularism’s blind spot in this area.

But secondly, and more importantly, when we read what Scott Morrison actually did say, in the context of quoting Lincoln, not only do we find that he did not claim, in some belligerent manner, to have God on his side, he was in fact was calling for a cautious approach to any such lofty claims to have a totalising view on life.

And that’s not hard to prove, as his actual speech is recorded in Parliament’s Hansard report of 2008.  You can read the full speech here.

Here’s what Morrison actually said, in context, which I have put in italicised bold:

Growing up in a Christian home, I made a commitment to my faith at an early age and have been greatly assisted by the pastoral work of many dedicated church leaders, in particular the Reverend Ray Green and pastors Brian Houston and Leigh Coleman. My personal faith in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda. As Lincoln said, our task is not to claim whether God is on our side but to pray earnestly that we are on His. For me, faith is personal, but the implications are social—as personal and social responsibility are at the heart of the Christian message. In recent times it has become fashionable to negatively stereotype those who profess their Christian faith in public life as ‘extreme’ and to suggest that such faith has no place in the political debate of this country. This presents a significant challenge for those of us, like my colleague, who seek to follow the example of William Wilberforce or Desmond Tutu, to name just two. These leaders stood for the immutable truths and principles of the Christian faith. They transformed their nations and, indeed, the world in the process. More importantly, by following the convictions of their faith, they established and reinforced the principles of our liberal democracy upon which our own nation is built.

Rather than a sweeping claim an inside running with the Deity, Morrison is conceding a epistemological humility; a refrain from hubris in leadership.

Now, granted in Thompson’s article he concedes that Morrison may not be going the whole hog in claiming “a vision from God”.  Indeed he quotes Morrison approvingly at points.  But Thompson goes on to say this:

For instance, if I convince myself that I’m on God’s side, then what of those who oppose me? If I believe that I’m on God’s side, I can easily relieve myself of self-criticism and ignore the criticism of others.The notion of taking God’s side also invites a certain kind of false heroism that easily slides into triumphalism. In the end, convincing yourself that you’re on God’s side is actually just a bit too close to thinking that God is on your side after all.

Is that what Morrison is in danger of doing?

Besides, what’s the difference between that claim and the progressive, secular claim about being on the “right or wrong side of history”?  A claim, it must be said, that is made increasingly without a shred of the aforementioned epistemological humility of the likes of Lincoln.

Without a god to invoke in our secular frame, the place of god is not taken by a live and let live attitude.  On the contrary we are fashioning a totalising, puritanical and shame-calling culture.

In our increasingly hostile frame, history has been given a capital “H” and granted all of the omniscience once reserved for The Almighty.  Indeed history now is The Almighty, and woe betide those who run afoul of the progressive narrative’s view of it.

Which of course is complete folly.  To even invoke history as a future that is yet to occur simply shows how little one knows of how history has worked in actual history!

The progressive narrative has been  that of a sure and certain arc of history, a bent towards justice (the form of justice it has decided upon), that is akin to a steady cable car ride up a mountain.

But history is not a cable car.  History is a roller-coaster.  It bends and turns and jolts and leaves us feeling sick in the stomach because we are not in control of it.

And, ironically, having a sense of the sovereignty of God in history actually means we are more likely to be circumspect about how much of history we can actually change; a humility about which the blood-soaked and hostile atheist forces that swept the middle of the 20th Century were never guilty.

At least Christians in the public square who think differently to him on public matters.  It’s articles like this, coming in the milieu in which they do, that confirms what Greg Sheridan observed in his latest book about Christianity in Australia; that politicians are extremely nervous to show their faith colours, because a grumpy, proud and godless media loves to shoot them down.

And as a Christian writing as a guest into that context, Thompson’s slant towards scare-mongering, by suggesting a starry-eyed zealotry in Morrison due to his faith, adds fuel to a fire that has already been well fed by many secular articles in recent weeks, and in doing so he has done public Christianity something of a disservice.


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