Reconciling faith with political power
"Moral demand": World Vision chief Tim Costello. Photo: Joe Armao
examines Morrison's maiden speech to Parliament, in which he stated that
his values come from his faith in Jesus, and concludes that Morrison is
a hypocrite (Comment, 23/12). Others, including myself, are puzzled
that the most Catholic Coalition Cabinet in Australia's history can be
so cruel in slashing our aid program – the lowest in our history.
Australia is the fourth richest nation but will slip to 19th position
in the generosity stakes in the 2016/17 financial year.
Francis has been clear calling the billion people who go to bed hungry
each night a "global scandal" but the Australian government has cut
funding that tackled hunger and poverty. Despite ignorant populism that
aid is wasted, the opposite is true; it is a runaway success. It saves
lives through immunisation and clean water and gives girls an education,
a chance for a better life. And it is not trade alone that has lifted
people out of poverty. The halving of infant death rates over the past
20 years – from 30,000 kids under five years old dying a day to 17,000
today – has been as great in landlocked sub-Saharan Africa nations
without resources as in the powerhouses of India or China.
is right to be puzzled as Christian teaching is clear. Christians
believe the resurrection of Jesus brings not only forgiveness of sins
but also liberation for the down-trodden and God's promised justice for
the poor and oppressed. Pope Francis has further attacked "savage
capitalism" that allows inequality to grow; with profits flowing to the
richest and the poor are abandoned. Why are Catholics in office deaf to
their Christian obligations when they smash government aid – one of the
key levers to tackling hunger and poverty?
Is "hypocrite" the
only conclusion to explain the puzzle of such a faith disconnect from
those who assume power? I think not. History has recorded the
inescapable transmogrifying of faith once it is married to political
power. The typical solution of the devout politician is to privatise
faith and truncate the Gospel so it only addresses the personal
dimension of forgiveness of sins, with the social dimension contracted
out to market technocrats. Worse, Christianity is diluted to some
conservative moral principles that act as cultural glue to support the
state sometimes in its worst nationalistic chauvinisms – for example,
Christian nations that went to war for God, King and empire in 1914.
AdvertisementBut Jesus didn't call people to be Christians but to be disciples
that practised all he taught, including the impossible bits like love
your enemies and turn the other cheek. He believed the image of God was
in everyone, even the enemy, and that to see this clearly meant that he
was not truly an enemy but able to be transformed by love.
novel power of the first 300years when Christianity peacefully conquered
the Roman Empire was because they believed, preached and lived this.
Christians ran the only schools and hospitals for the Roman poor and
insisted that slave, female and disabled equally carried the image of
God. This was novel and an explosive idea as the Graeco Roman world had
no such universal ethic or services for the poor. It released the power
of human dignity because all were image bearers. The conversion of
Emperor Constantine was the first episode in history where Christians
became the chaplains to power and strayed from bearing good news for the
powerless to blessing imperial wars and the oppression of rulers.
those who say religion has caused more war and violence I would protest
more than what? Both before and post Constantine, all
societies/governments were religious up until the 1789 French
revolution. But what a record since; secular government fired by
nationalism – yes, sometimes baptised by faith – has arguably caused far
greater suffering. Nationalism fragments universal ethics and clouds
our thinking regarding to whom who we are responsible. Not God but our
It is a primary loyalty to the nation and its
political fears that explains Scott Morrison's action. For me the moral
calculus changed when more than 1000 people drowned. As a disciple I
cannot accept that the best we can do to stop people drowning is to lock
up children and send people mad. Similarly with the budget, we asked
"why is the burden shouldered by the poorest?" Christian politicians
must be held accountable when their decisions inevitably cost lives and
Reverend Tim Costello is the chief executive of World Vision Australia.