In politics and the economy, Christianity is increasingly suspect
A question for Easter Monday: would Australia be better governed if our political leaders were practising Christians? Would the economy work any better?
One thing that’s changed since last Easter is that we’re no longer led by a prime minister happy to let his Christian faith be known. By contrast, I wouldn’t know what Anthony Albanese’s religious views are, if any.
An Easter Vigil held at St James Church in Sydney on Easter Sunday.Credit: Steven Siewert
Another thing that’s changing is the decline of adherence to Christianity in its many denominations. This is partly the immigration of many people of other religions, but mainly the growing indifference of many from formerly churchgoing families. And, perhaps, the growing number of university graduates.
According to the 2021 census, the proportion of people identifying as Christian has fallen from 61 per cent to 44 per cent in a decade, with those reporting “no religion” rising from 22 per cent to 39 per cent.
So, it’s no exaggeration to say we now live in a post-Christian society. Nor that a growing number of people have a low opinion of those who profess to be Christians. They’ve said or done something bad – well, what would you expect?
Actually, that’s a good question: what do we expect of Christians? How differently would a professing prime minister behave to one who kept their religious opinions to themselves?
In Scott Morrison, Australia had a prime minister happy to let his Christian faith be known. Anthony Albanese’s faith is far less known.Credit: James Brickwood/Alex Ellinghausen
I think the main expectation of most people – certainly, most young people – would be for Christians to be always on about their opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and gender-changing.
Plus, their God-given right to discriminate against those in their churches, schools or hospitals who don’t conform to these views.
Is this the view of themselves and their mission – and their God – that Christians and their leaders are happy to convey to the rest of the nation? That Christ died on the cross to preserve a narrow view of sexual morality?
To be fair, it’s only when clergy speak on such controversial matters that the media takes much notice of what they say. An archbishop preaching a sermon on Love One Another gets a headline only on Good Friday.
But I suspect it’s only on matters of (their view of) sexual morality that the churches go out of their way to attract media publicity. By default, this is the churches’ burning message to the nation.
If that’s all Christianity has left – if it now sees itself as an oppressed minority fighting to protect its right to discriminate on religious grounds – then whether our prime minister is an out-of-the-closet Christian is of little consequence for the governance of the nation and the health of the economy.
As we saw with Scott Morrison, such a prime minister won’t prevail against the weight of the nation’s support for sexual freedom and opposition to discrimination on sexual or religious grounds.
The worst we could expect is feet-dragging on the goal of increasing women’s role in politics and the paid workforce.
But this is not the Christianity I grew up with, nor does it fit with the values and behaviour of the many Christians I still mix with. Everything I know about the church and its Saviour tells me sex is just a small part of its definition of what it means to live a “moral” life.
The imitation of Christ is about loving your neighbour as yourself – and defining “neighbour” very broadly. It’s about honesty and meticulous truth-telling, about justice tempered by mercy, about forgiveness and fairness.
And, from what I read in the New Testament, it’s about Jesus’ preoccupation with the poor and strictures on the rich: “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”
When I heard a secret recording of Morrison speaking at a prayer meeting, the sentiments and phrases reminded me of my parents and all the prayer meetings I had attended.
But in watching Morrison’s words and actions as prime minister, my recurring feeling over the four years was that nothing about them reminded me of Jesus.
He was not the only prime minister to pander to, and play on, the worst features of the Australian character. Punishing boat people who arrive without an invitation. Telling the underprivileged that “those who have a go, get a go”.
Ignoring the law to use robo-debt to falsely accuse people the mean-spirited regard as dole bludgers. And insisting on keeping unemployment benefits well below the poverty line.
If we could get a prime minister who acted in a less un-Christian way, it wouldn’t matter much who or what he believed in. The economy would be fairer, and we could all enjoy our prosperity with a clearer conscience.
Ross Gittins unpacks the economy in an exclusive subscriber-only newsletter every Tuesday evening. Sign up to receive it here.
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