Senior figures, including the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader among others, have been discussing their religious beliefs in a new book on faith without the usual deer-in-headlights reaction that occurs whenever a politician spots a godless and cynical journalist looking for a gotcha moment.
Likewise, while many left-leaning media critics attack the usual conservative Christian suspects like Abbott or Kevin Andrews, they fail to recognise the broader influence of Christian belief on left-of-centre political media favourites such as Peter Garrett (whose music through to political public service are infused with evangelical belief) or ALP-icon Kim Beazley (the best Labor prime minister we never had) who grew up in a fiercely Christian family and whose notions of social justice helped drive him into a political career.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott at the Canberra Baptist Church in 2015.
Photo: Brendan Esposito
And in the case of the impromptu Rudd scripture reading, shouldn’t we recognise the benefits of our national leaders exposing themselves to ideas that go beyond Canberra and the immediately partisan?
After all, there is value in a politician reading great philosophical works – or for that matter cultural and artistic masterpieces like Shakespeare or the great religious texts such as the Koran. Indeed, Paul Keating admitted a passion for composer Mahler helped him do his prime minister job properly by providing a brief metaphysical escape from Canberra’s relentless bureaucratic monotony.
It is also worth noting the key role of Christian groups in the ongoing debate over refugees and off-shore processing. Clearly there is Good God and Bad God and a trawl through the history of Labor reveals Christianity and its social justice values a great incubator for future politicians and leaders.
“Doing God” is becoming much more of a necessity and something politicians can’t continue trying to avoid. A debate over protection of religious freedoms is currently underway in Parliament and only last week our political leaders, led by the Prime Minister, felt it necessary to intervene in the case of Adelaide Archbishop Phillip Wilson demanding that he resign his position having been found guilty of concealing acts of sexual abuse.
At a more symbolic level the Greens have recently led calls to abolish the reading of the Lord’s Prayer from the start of Senate sittings potentially removing a potent sign of our cultural past. Politicians hiding their religious beliefs might want to consider what might be culturally, politically and symbolically lost with such choices as they continue to do political expedience over doing God.
Michael Scammell is a freelance writer.