May 19, 2019


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It’s interesting, and slightly disturbing, watching the glee towards the vanquished following the election, and its shock result, last night.  Schadenfreude – the German word to describe glee at others misfortune – abounds at moments such as this.

For Bill Shorten it’s the end of a political career. For Scott Morrison it’s the making of one.  That’s how these things play out.  What was expected to be an ALP victory lap turned out to be something far different.  Like the USA.  Like Brexit.

Yet I’m preaching on the prophet Obadiah tonight and it’s a text about misplaced Schadenfreude from the nation of Edom at the demise of their neighbour and brother, Jacob/Judah.  God has judged Judah for her sin, but Edom’s response is proud and over the top.  God will judge Edom for the dual sin of arrogant attitudes and heartless actions.

There was Schadenfreude at former PM Tony Abbott losing his seat.  The Left has always hated him.  But it was nothing compared to seeing that directed towards a confident ALP.

Me?  I was strangely ambivalent about this election.  I thought that the ALP would win.  So I was surprised.  Pleased, nonetheless, but not because I thought this changes the sweep of where our culture is headed in terms of the progressive agenda.  All it does is halt that flow.

Politics is downstream of culture.  Culture sets the course and politics falls into line sooner or later, quietly or kicking and screaming.  That’s how it works.  Culture doesn’t get booted out of office, political parties do.

That’s why the narratives being told this morning are all cultural.  They’re not political as such.  Those bemoaning the conservative swing in Queensland are pulling out words like “racist” and terms like “self-interest”, because that, apparently is what Queenslanders are like.

Yet these are the same Queenslanders who, against all the pundits’ predictions, voted overwhelmingly for Same Sex Marriage in the 2017 plebiscite just 18 months ago.  So Queenslanders are progressive sexually, but reactionary and racist just a year and a half later?

I don’t think that’s how it works.  It’s the same glib rejection of the Rust Belt in the USA. That region got Trump over the line and was immediately declared to be “racist”, despite the fact that it was those same college electorates that put Obama in the White House for eight years.  It’s a hopelessly reductionist position to take, but have a read of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, and see why it has been taken up and taken up so vociferously.

People resent being casually told that they’re racist, homophobic or a bunch of deplorables because they won’t “get on the right side of history”.  Yet progressives in our own political parties don’t seem to have learned the lessons from the USA and UK.

The polls all indicated a shift towards Labor, but it just seems like people don’t appreciate being scolded for not getting with the program.  It seems, like the USA and Brexit, that Aussies just shut up, put their heads down and gave a silent, and anonymous “up yours” to that approach.

Yet at the same time I get a little nervous at the number of people who say that Scott Morrison’s election was an answer to prayer.  And I’ve seen a lot of that. And indeed when the PM invokes the word “miracle” seamlessly into his speech, I wonder how that is going to be interpreted.

What if Shorten had been elected?  Would God not have answered those prayers?  Indeed, there are plenty of Christians who, for good and solid reasons, prayed that Shorten would be elected.  Are their prayers unanswered or does God prefer a conservative over a progressive?  Is not God sovereign in all and any outcome?

And when Mark Dreyfus stated last week that as incoming Attorney General (which was jumping the gun a little), he would make the cutting of religious exemptions for discriminatory employment practices a “priority”, it felt like an “up yours” from one who believed confidently that history was on his side.

The ALP now has several years in Opposition to try and sell that policy to an Australia that had barely begun to think about it before it was being told it was inevitable.  And Christians, Jews and Muslims involved in religious schooling can now hold the blowtorch to the ALP’s underbelly on this one for the next couple of years.  And rightly so.  There was way too much hubris from the ALP on this one.

Of course that’s not all we should do as faith-based organisation.  We should go out and sell the good stories of why alternate ethical communities such as faith-based schools are positive forces in a pluralist society.

The shock result made life a little easier for me on this front.  As a board member in a faith-based schools association there was more than a little too-ing and fro-ing as to how we would negotiate a sudden change in conditions of employment.

In the past year I’ve heard story after story from the Senate hearings on religious freedom in which religious education representatives would stand up to speak and be immediately met with eye-rolls and groans from progressive Senators.  Their hostility and disdain was evident. And that will not go away.  Remember it’s about culture, not politics.

Yet at the same time we do need to have a serious look at climate policy, at how we ensure a good welfare safety net, and how we manage our deep differences in an increasingly divided Australia.

Yet many Australian voters are suspicious of big government and increasingly for good reason.  And the ALP has increasingly pushed for big government, while at the same time showing hostility towards mediating institutions – faith ones in particular – that thwart or challenge the pace of change.  Mediating institutions – churches, family, community organisations, schools -, are the bread and butter of life, the social cohesion that binds us together.

But back to Schadenfreude.  If politics is everything  – and increasingly it is the only game in town in a secular society – then there are only two groups – winners and losers.  But as God’s people we don’t believe politics is everything.  Or at least we don’t believe earthly politics is.

The politics of God bursts forth from the church of God through the power of the resurrected Jesus. And Schadenfreude simply cannot be part of any system built upon the one who did not return evil for evil, who did not revile those who reviled him and who entrusted himself not to the Prime Minister, not the the Attorney General, but to the One who judges justly.

If culture is upstream of politics then we are in for an increasingly fractious and fracturing couple of decades, with plenty of Schadenfreude to come from all sides.

Losers will continue to lick their wounds and plot their returns. Already Anthony Albanese, a possible ALP leader, has stated that they won’t be backing away from a more progressive agenda.  That’s culture right there.  The Liberals won’t remain in political power for ever, and Scott Morrison won’t be PM for a decade.

Psalm 20 is a good reminder today:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

That should knock the Schadenfreude out of us.



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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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