Searching for Scotty: using the Bible to show that capitalism has God’s seal of approval – Part 2Feb 4, 2021
Scott Morrison serves two masters: his God, as a Pentecostal believer; and his people, as a democratically elected leader. And as Ecclesiastics says: “Work hard, enjoy the fruits of your labour and do not be ashamed of your wealth.”
Little Johnny & the Trumpettes last played at the Barradine RSL Club but I left Barradine before them. So here I am in Stapleton Avenue in the Sutherland Shire, outside Scotty’s Pentecostal church, The Horizon. The band is playing tonight to raise money for the descendants of the First Fleet. Scotty has told the band what a terrible time the First Fleeters had.
The band has pulled up and getting their instruments out of Joey (“Chuckles”) Hockey’s old station wagon. He fell hard when his Washington lobbying firm when bust. All that effort sucking up to Trump and the man goes and gets himself unelected.
The senior pastors at the Horizon Church, Brad (“Ken”) and Alison (“Barbie”) Bonhomme rush to greet Scotty before disappearing into a building of cavernous spirituality.
I don’t like my chances of interviewing Scotty. The band is back on the road tomorrow but I want to talk to him about his days as PM. How he would wake up on Sunday mornings, go to the Horizon Church with his family, receive the grace of the Holy Spirit and then, a mere 24 hours later, how he would go back to labouring in the Augean stables of modern Australian politics. How did he do that?
Is this the lifestyle of a man in deep moral contradiction? A man operating in two counter-opposed moral universes? Or is Scotty a morally whole person, where the boundaries between his public and religious convictions are porous?
My questioning will be respectful of “Holiday’s” religious beliefs. It is a serious analysis, as there is a huge public interest in knowing whether his Christian beliefs animate the way he leads public policy making. If he were a private individual, my questions would be both unconstitutional (s116) and a massive invasion of a person’s privacy. But he isn’t. Scotty is a proud religious man and a proud public official. He serves two masters, his God, as a Pentecostal believer, and his people, as a democratically elected leader.
So, this inquiry is about whether the sacred-secular is dichotomised or integrated in the Prime Minister’s core beliefs. He has said he keeps them separate. As a public figure in a secular society, he would have to say that. I don’t believe him. To believe him, one would have to conclude that he is a hypocrite.
Remember when he brought a lump of coal into parliament in 2017 to goad the Opposition? Was his Pentecostal God there, egging him on? Or did he seek forgiveness for this bizarre act later from one of his religious mentors, Hillsong’s Brian Houston?
Then there was his love affair with Trump. Boy, did we cringe! It came to full fluorescence at the White House dinner Trump threw for him. How could Scotty even tolerate being in the same room as Trump? But the PM has been clear: he related to Trump as a whole entity. He loved and admired Trump.
And then there was the time Scotty asked the White House to allow Brian (“Lucky”) Houston, the senior investment advisor of the multi-million-dollar Hillsong franchise, to accompany him to meet Trump in September 2019? Leaders are in the habit of reaching out for religious counsel. Billy Graham comes to mind. Every American president from Harry Truman to Trump (yes) had religious engagements with Graham.
But to ask the White House to put Houston on the list, along with political advisors, photographer and personal assistants, doesn’t that sound odd? Was Morrison in complete awe of the charismatic Houston? Theologically captured even?
Pentecostalism recognises “intercessors”, people in ministry who are believed to have a direct line to God; the chosen people who know the mind of God. Scotty wanted Houston, the intercessor-in-chief, in Washington.
But it all came to nought. The White House refused the request. There are two possible reasons. The request was thought a bit odd, even creepy. Or they did not want any fallout for having the son of a paedophile part of the “virtuous” crowd that hung around Trump. Houston was censored by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse for not reporting his father (Hillsong’s founder, Frank Houston) to the police when Frank admitted sexual misconduct with a minor over many years.
Scotty’s church is located between Bunnings, a thriving engine of capitalism, and Woronora Cemetery, a venerated burial place where questions of the existence of God and the meaning of life echo across the gravestones. This geographic setup is emblematic of a wider trial for Scotty and all Christians – how to bridge the sacred-secular divide.
I am not talking about the conflicts that arise between church and government over hot-button issues such as abortion and euthanasia. These are moral conflicts. I am talking about the relationship between capitalism and religion. For mainstream churches (read, those with plummeting congregations), the rapprochement has always been edgy, if not downright conflictual.
Not so for the new Pentecostal churches. On the occasions I have attended their services, I have seen lots of joy, loud hip hop music, happy young families, intense religiosity … and lots of BMWs, Mercedes and Audis in the car park. The hand of Pentecostalism slips easily into the glove of capitalism.
Pentecostalism is new. It shouts cool modernity. It owes its vibrancy to being a successful schism within a schism. The first schism was the protestant split with Rome. Protestantism grew in the same soil as capitalism. Pentecostalism separated from Protestantism just after World War II. Pentecostalism spiritualises capitalism.
When Morrison gave his maiden speech on 14 February 2008, he confirmed there were three important things in his life: his family, his God, and his capitalism.
Growing up in a Christian home, I made a commitment to my faith at an early age and have been greatly assisted by the pastoral work of many dedicated church leaders, in particular the Reverend …Brian Houston… My personal faith in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda.
“Holidays” wants us to believe he does not refract his political decisions through the constructs of his religion. I do not believe him.
In the same maiden speech Scotty asks:
So, what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24: I am the Lord who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.
Choosing Jeremiah was a cunning move. Why didn’t he start at the beginning? In Genesis 1:28, God says we are to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. Right there is the sanctification of private property rights and Godly permission for his people to run the show on Earth. When Scotty brought the coal to parliament, he was just being consistent with Genesis 1:28. God bless him.
2 Cor 3:17 — and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty — tells Scotty that freedom is God’s wish for us. A clever intercessor would have little trouble putting on an extension lead so 2 Cor 3:17 includes the sanctification of the market, freedom to accumulate and dispose of private property and freedom against government action (that dreaded Socialism).
But when Horizon’s congregation hops into their BMWs after Sunday service for the trip home to their waterfront mansions, they do so with a biblical blessing. For Ecclesiastics 5:18-20 says:
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil … Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil — this is the gift of God.
Work hard, enjoy the fruits of your labour and do not be ashamed of your wealth.
Yes I am being selective in my Biblical quotes. The Bible contains some fine moral principles about not being able to serve God and money (Matthew 6:24); the difficulty of getting into heaven if you are rich (Matthew 19:23); and helping the poor (Amos 8:4-7, Proverbs 31:9, Leviticus 23:22).
The main point is that we have in the Prime Minister a devout fundamentalist Christian who politicises the Bible to make it look like capitalism has God’s seal of approval. Be afraid.