Prime Ministers and Christianity


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Photo: Courtesy Agence France

In Church this morning, someone thanked God for our new Christian Prime Minister. I felt disappointed by this rush of enthusiasm. Before I lose my readers, let me state that I am very happy that Mr Morrison is a regular church-goer. I rejoice that God calls Christians to the vocation of politics: our country needs them. However, I reject the implied criticism of Mr Turnbull. For Scott Morrison’s faith to be a welcome novelty is simultaneously a judgement that Malcolm Turnbull is not one.

Mr Turnbull converted to Roman Catholicism. He chose not to politicise his faith.  In his recent book God is Good For You, in interviews with Malcolm Turnbull, journalist Greg Sheridan ‘was astonished at the depth of his knowledge of Catholic theology.’ Sheridan comments that Turnbull ‘affirms his belief if asked, nonetheless doesn’t talk publicly about religion all that much, but he very frequently makes reference to love. Perhaps he uses the word ‘love’ more than any previous prime minister.’ (p. 175)

Turnbull’s use of the word ‘love’ is significant as the way he parlayed his faith into the public realm. Even his enemies have noticed this intensely theological language. In fact, one of his detractors mocked his use of ‘love’ in the wake of his defeat.  But Turnbull chose not to use his faith as the public face of his policy making. He believed that arguments in the public sphere must stand on their own merits and not on their theological rationale.

Bill Shorten, too, is a convert, in his case from Catholicism to Anglicanism, the faith of his wife Chloe. Shorten is a product of a Jesuit school. Sheridan, no Labor apologist, is impressed by Mr Shorten’s’ serious knowledge’ of Christianity. Shorten takes into the public realm a quote from the legendary Jesuit Pedro Arrupe, ‘to be men for others’ as a key theological virtue. But like Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten disciplines the boundary between his faith and public life.

The stance of Turnbull and Shorten may even make us question politicians who let their faith be known because it is good politics. It may (or may not) increase Mr Morrison’s vote, but it won’t justify the decisions he makes a Prime Minister.

So, all power to PM ‘ScoMo’. I will pray for him as duty bound, and with added interest because he is a fellow-believer. But I thank God for Mr Turnbull too, and for all who choose to serve the community as politicians. It’s a hard job, and they need all the help they can get.

Rite of Passage


On this day 55 years ago, 21st November 1959, Bishop Ralph Hawkins confirmed me into the Anglican Church in St Mildred’s Church in Tenterden. This was the first time I wore long pants – my new school uniform, in fact. Bishop Ralph preached on the unlikely theme of ‘Motherhood’, earnestly admonishing us to love the three Mothers, our earthly Mother, our Motherland Australia, and God. A feminist sermon before its time. I remember nothing of this sermon, but my mother (earthly mother) reminded me of it frequently!

My grandmother had prepared me for confirmation using the Scripture time at school for this catechesis. I don’t think I was a good student. I got stuck on the first question in the catechism, ‘Question: What is your name? Answer: N or M.’ I made absolutely no sense of this.

Bishop Hawkins prayed:

Defend, O Lord, this thy servant with thy heavenly grace,
that he may continue thine for ever,
and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more
until he come to your everlasting kingdom.

And I, as I had been taught, answered,

Amen.

St Mildred’s in Tenterden