On Tuesday 20 April 2021, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave an address to Christian Leaders at the Australian Christian Churches conference on the Gold Coast. This is not the first time Mr Morrison has spoken about his faith, nor did he say anything particularly controversial, but that has not stopped a storm of news and social media coverage about the place of faith in politics.
Following is a transcript of what he had to say (after his initial greetings):
“I do want to share something with you tonight, a few things that are on my heart. I need you help… Jenny sends her best by the way, thank you for your prayers for Jen, particularly most recently. She’s amazing. I’m just thrilled the rest of the country is getting to work out what I’ve known for a very, very long time. She’s a great blessing, you know, she’s got an amazing heart, the way she’s used the opportunity God has given us for such a time as this. The way that she has been able to reach out to people and just be a blessing to them and a comfort to them. Her heart is just as big as it comes and God is using her, I think, in great ways, in political ways. I didn’t come to talk about politics tonight … the opportunities that have come her way. Leila and Danny Abdallah, I don’t know if you know Leila and Danny? They lost their three children, when they were run over at Oatlands and Jenny has forged an amazing friendship with her and that family, and the other families that are affected, and that’s an amazing faith that forgives and they’ve been a blessing to this country.
But, I do need your help. My father-in-law was an amazing Christian. There wasn’t a day that went past when Roy wasn’t in complete wonder about how God saved him. He grew up in Bondi when it was a lot tougher than it was today, and he had a bit of a rough time growing up. He was a bit of a loner and God reached him through a great church where he was and he just lived the rest of his life saying “I can’t believe how great God is” and he would just give thanks every single day. And, when I was younger – because I started going out with Jenny when I was 16 – I would sit and we’d have discussions, Roy and I. Even back then I was interested in things political and so was Roy. We would talk about government and talk about all this and he’d get very frustrated with me because I wouldn’t answer all the questions. And I said, “you know Roy, you know, I can’t fix the world. I can’t save the world. We both believe in someone who can”. And that’s why I’ve come here for your help tonight because what you do, and what you bring to the life of faith of our country is what it needs, in my view.
Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, you may know of him, he was the chief rabbi in a synagogue in London. If you haven’t read any of Rabbi Sacks’ work, I strongly encourage you do. He wrote a book just before he died called Morality. Now, it wasn’t about what you might think or I think, most people who are outside of faith communities would think when you say “morality“. And he said this about it, he said: “You lose your morality and you’re in danger of losing your freedom.” He said “Our rights used to be how we were protected from the state and now, it’s what we expect of it.” He said “What we once expected from family and community, now we can track this to the state and to the market.”
And he channelled someone else, famous economist Friedrich Hayek: “Freedom has never worked without deeply ingrained moral beliefs.” He was talking about community, and you can’t replace community with governments, with the market, with other institutions, you can’t. You can’t replace the family, you can’t replace marriage, you can’t replace the things that are so personal and ingrained and come out of us as individuals with systems of power or systems of capital. These are important things but they can’t replace community.
At every church people say to me, “what church do you go to?”… I say “Horizon Church, used to be known as Shirelive Church”. You know other churches, there are Baptist churches, there are Brethren churches, I’ve always been at a community church. That’s where I want to be, and a church that believes in community and creates community. And the essence of community is each individual understanding that they’re valued, that they’re unique. That they can respect one another. That they can contribute to one another.
We cannot allow what we feel entitled to be to be more important than what we’re responsible for. This is very important stuff that Rabbi Sacks is talking about, because he gets it, that the essence of morality is not what others would think it is, about sexuality and all of these issues. Of course, these things relate to it, but it’s about the dignity and value of each and every human being and the responsibilities that they have one to another. Now, you cancel out one human being and you cancel community because community is just human beings who God loves, and, and is intended to connect us one to another. Morality is about focusing not on ‘you’, but on the person next to you. It’s about focusing, for me, on you, not me. That is the essence of community. You can’t pass a law for it. You can’t create a building for it. It is essentially what springs from each and every one of us. Community. It’s born of what he likes to call a covenant and a covenant as we read, particularly in the Old Testament – he tends to read the Old Testament a bit more often than you! He seems to understand it a lot better than many…
But he speaks about this in a way, it’s not a transaction because in a covenant there are responsibilities. Not just obligations, but responsibilities. There is relationship in covenant, which is what God sought with Israel, in covenant, deep relationship, it’s personal. It goes beyond. There’s the giving of oneself the respect, the dignity, the caring together. The sharing of interests, the sharing of lives. The pledging of faithfulness and achieving together what cannot be achieved alone. A covenant, more than a transaction. Family and marriage, God has created in the same way, to reflect that covenant that we can have. And so I need you to keep building community in this country. I need you to keep doing the things that you do which allows Australians, right here, wherever you may be. Brad [Bonhomme] does amazing work up in Papua New Guinea. I know how much he loves going up there and I’m sure there are many other teams that have blessed our Pacific family. But it’s so important to continue to reach out and let each and every Australian know that they are important. That they are valued, that they are significant. Because we believe they are created in the image of God and that in understanding that, they can go on a journey that I’m very confident you can take them on. And I’m relying on you to do that because that’s not my job, that’s yours.
There are some threats to this that I want to share with you. There is a fashion these days to not think of Australians as individuals, there is particularly, I think, amongst our young people, and I worry about this. It’s called “identity politics”. People think of themselves by the things they can describe and connect them with others. These are important things. One’s ancestry. One’s gender, where one’s from. If you’re from The Shire, well, that’s great, starting ahead of everybody else. As they say, “prayer in The Shire is a local call”. It’s Cronulla for those of you not familiar with what I’m referring to. But there is a tendency for people not to see themselves and value themselves in their own right as individuals. And to see themselves only defined by some group and they get lost in that group and you know when you do that you lose your humanity. And you lose your connection, I think, one to each other and you’re defined by your group, not by, I think, I believe who God has created you to be. And to understand that. And that’s a big thing going on in our community, in our society and it’s corrosive, it’s absolutely corrosive and, I think it’s undermining community and, I think it’s undermining the self-worth that Australians can have because if you‘re only defined by what pack you’re in or what group you’re in or what group you’ve been in or what box you’re put in, how others have defined you or sought to define you either to enlist you to their cause or whatever that might be. Australians need to understand that they themselves individually and personally are unique and wonderful. Because, you know, if you look at each other not as individuals but as warring tribes, you know, it’s easy to start disrespecting each other. It’s easy to start not understanding the person across from you, and this is important for politics for us too, that there is a beating heart over there, there is a unique individual with a unique set of issues and challenges and opportunities and possibilities and all of these sorts of things. And when you stop seeing that and just see someone as, well, they’re of that view and that group.
That’s why people start writing stupid things on Facebook and the internet, being disrespectful to one another and we all know how that is corroding and desensitising our country and our society, not just here but all around the world. I think it’s an evil thing. I think it’s a very evil thing and we’ve got to pray about it, we’ve got to call it out and we’ve got to raise up our spiritual weapons against this because it’s going to take our young people. It’s going to take their courage. It’s going to take their hope. It’s going to steal their hope. We’ve got to pray about that, we’ve got to pray against that because it is such a corrosive thing that we’re seeing take place. Yeah sure, social media has its virtues and its values and enables us to connect with people in ways we’ve never had before, terrific, terrific. But those weapons can also be used by the evil one and we need to call it out.
So, this is the help I need from you. I need your help to keep doing what you’re doing. I need your help to remind Australians how precious they are and how unique they are.
Can I finish with four verses? I just wanted to share this with you in closing. Things that I have learnt while I’ve been Prime Minister and, indeed, long before that. The first one is 1 Chronicles 13:3. It’s about David. It talks about how in the time of Saul they didn’t inquire of the Lord. And it’s important for us to inquire of the Lord. And this is how David established and set up when he became King. That all other kings, Saul had not done that and we know that over the course of Israel’s history that those who didn’t inquire of the Lord, those who neglected the Lord, those who put what the Lord had put in their heart to one side, then their kingdoms went where they went and the people followed them where they went. And we all remember what happened when that occurred and this is a constant reminder to me just in my own personal walk and I’m encouraged by the people I’ve mentioned already tonight and many more. That is something I seem to do and a lot of people outside this place you will understand what I’m talking about, it’s not a political thing. Faith is very much an ingrained part of my life and I just seek His wisdom in the same way you do each and every day and it’s important we do that.
The second one, I like this one, its Psalm 23:5, where he talks about preparing the banquet for you in the presence of your enemies. We’ve got to sit down with them at that banquet. I sit down at that banquet every single day. But that’s where we‘re called. He didn’t prepare a banquet for us in the presence of our greatest admirers and friends who would tell us wonderful and lovely things, as nice as that is. He said, “I have prepared this banquet for you in the presence of your enemies that I will be with you at that table”. It is a wonderful reminder to me each and every day. I was up in The Pilbara the other night, and Jenny, many many years ago got me this lovely little verse and she put it in a frame so I’d see it each morning, about being strong and courageous. Do not be discouraged, from Joshua 1:9. There was a young fellow who was up there, he worked in the mines. And he just came up to me because people were just saying “G’day” and we were talking, just came up and said, “Joshua 1:9”. Now, I said I’ve got that one, I’ve got that one.
And when you read, as we all do, the thing that keeps coming back to me over and over and over again, any of us in leadership understand that, is yes, He’s prepared that banquet and yes we inquire of the Lord, but you must be strong. You must be courageous and you must not be discouraged. What I like about that verse is He knows that we’ll be discouraged. He knows that those who will seek to hold us back would have us feel discouraged, so He knows it’s going to happen. It’s no surprise to Him that we may feel like that so He simply says “don’t be”… Be strong, be courageous, do not be discouraged.
And this came home to me, importantly, during the last election campaign, in fact, and I was up on the Central Coast, and I was up there with Jenny. It was a pretty tough week actually. The last couple of weeks of the campaign and I was at Ken Duncan’s Gallery. And I hadn’t, I didn’t know we were going to go to Ken Duncan’s Gallery, we were speaking at a rally that day and we had to go and hold somewhere as we often do before we go over to the next event. And, I must admit, I was saying to myself “Lord, where are you? Where are you? I’d like a reminder, if that’s okay”. And so I didn’t know I was supposed to be at Ken’s Gallery. Ken’s a great Christian guy as you all know. And I walked into his gallery and there right in front of me was the biggest picture of a soaring eagle that I could imagine. Of course, the verse hit me that soaring on the wings of an eagle, run and do not grow weary, walk do not grow faint. But the message I got that day was, “Scott, you’ve got to run to not grow weary. You’ve got to walk to not grow faint. You’ve got to spread your wings like an eagle to soar like an eagle”.
So, I hope those few things encourage you. They certainly encourage me and Jenny every day. We are very grateful for the amazing prayers and support that we get from Christians all around the country. It is an avalanche, the letters we get, the support we get, the books that are sent to me. I’ve got them all there, down in Canberra, it’s quite a library that’s building up. People send me verses, they tell me their stories, they share things with me. They share things with Jenny.
It’s a privilege, it is an absolute privilege. I’ve been in evacuation centres where people thought I was just giving someone a hug and I was praying. And putting my hands on people in various places, laying hands on them and praying in various situations. I was just in Kalbarri, where the cyclone just has gone through. In all these places, it’s been quite a time and God has, I believe, been using us to, in those moments, to be able to provide some relief and comfort and just some reassurance. And we’ll keep doing this for as long as that season is. That’s how we see it. We are called, all of us, for a time and for a season and God would have us use it wisely, and uh, for each day I get up and move ahead. There is just one little thing that’s in my head, ‘for such a time as this, for such a time as this’. God bless you, thank you very much.”