In early 2007, I spoke at the preview release of Amazing Grace at the Parliamentary Theater in Canberra. It was the story of the courage of Independent MP William Wilberforce, resisting even attacks from fellow Christians who claimed that faith had nothing to say about slavery. Afterwards, a few members of the Christian coalition took me aside and told me that they were so inspired that they thought they should create a Clapham parliamentary sect (the Wilberforce group) and invite my brother to join. I said, “Fantastic! You can immediately look at the policy for keeping children in detention. They weren’t impressed and left. I realized that most of us would rather our heroes were long dead.
I have read that former British Conservative Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger declared the end of the British slave trade. He had been influenced by his close friend, Wilberforce, whom Prime Minister Scott Morrison mentioned in his first speech as one of his Christian heroes. I wondered if Morrison realized that when Wilberforce began to fight for the abolition of the slave trade in 1789, slavery was much more economically crucial to the British Empire than coal is today. ‘hui for Australia. Self-interest meant that it was unthinkable that slavery would be abolished.
The most powerful arguments then were that, yes, slavery was a bad deal, but other nations would not follow us and that would only economically empower France, which was Britain’s main competitor and threat. . And the slave market would continue its insatiable appetite, but only Britain would suffer with greater economic hardship from the gestural policies of abolitionism. Seems familiar?
The demand for our coal is such that we have to keep selling it to the world or hurting ourselves. After Glasgow, politics is settled. The government will trumpet its zero commitment by 2050 in its liberal suburb and its continued commitment to coal in the Australian region. The prime minister and his deputy will not agree to phase out coal because markets like India and China still want it. The market is our defense and it will protect Australia’s second export from both our agreement signed at Cop26 for a phase-down and Boris Johnson’s declaration that the final Glasgow communiqué is the death knell for coal.
There has been a lot of unfair criticism of Morrison’s high-profile faith. A Pentecostal PM is no more a break in the Church-State separation than the first Muslim or Sikh PM I will host will be. A religion-state separation aims to protect the religion of the state, not the state of religion, as is clear in our constitution’s requirement that there be no religious criteria for public service. . Thus, “secular” should mean that all opinions, whether religious or secular, are on an equal footing and none will be privileged. This does not mean that religious views are prohibited. My criticism is not that the Prime Minister has a strong Christian faith, but if he acts sufficiently accordingly. When it comes to treating refugees and helping the poor through our aid program, the Bible would expect a Christian to lead more like William Pitt the Younger than to take a gratuitous political coup by locking up refugees, cutting aid and turning a deaf ear to our Pacific neighbors desperate to see Australia phase out coal.
I am proud that we see some unity on some of these justice issues in the Australian Church today. The whole Christian church is united in calling on Australia to take 20,000 more refugees from Afghanistan – from the Australian Christian Churches (ACC), the Prime Minister’s own denomination, to Catholics and the Australian Christian lobby. Yes, Christians are lobbying for Muslims and calling for an end to temporary protection visas. However, despite strong united representations to the government, we have not seen any political movement.
I’m pro-life (like Wilberforce was with slaves), but that also means I’m passionate about the life of the planet and cutting the smut so that all species have a chance at survival. Wilberforce also founded the RSPCA because he believed that all animals and all of creation bore the maker’s imprint. I find it embarrassing to see the faith politicized, and Christians on the left and on the right can do it. I want my faith to influence my politics but I don’t want the other way around. When faith is reduced to a political agenda of a few issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, it is politicized faith. It must include the refugees (welcoming the stranger), mentioned so often in the scriptures, and the environment, or care of creation in theological parlance. I wish more Christians would surprise me by being less predictable with their politicized faith business card, saying that they are passionately anti-abortion and in the same breath tell me that they are passionately anti-coal and fossil fuels, given that we know what pumping carbon out of the atmosphere does.
This is why I encourage Christians to become hard-line voters because neither side has a monopoly on the faith and governments inevitably become arrogant and must be overthrown. Anything other than an indecisive vote is, in my opinion, a denigration of democracy. Too many Australians are longtime supporters of their political tribe and see it as similar to their football team, where defection is incredibly disloyal. Political tribes are not the same as your soccer team, barricading themselves for them in rain, hail, or sunshine. Your loyalty must be for the good of the nation and the planet. Giving priority to a political tribe is just another form of identity politics.
In his inaugural address, Prime Minister Morrison spoke of increasing aid to end poverty. He was talking about his heroes, like Wilberforce and Archbishop Tutu, so he knew exactly the core of the Christian vision. Today, we need a transition package so as not to increase the unfair charges on the regional coal communities. And although the Bible and the Christian faith are not a political document, their view of all flourishing, including creation, is unequivocal. William Wilberforce had the courage, in the challenges of his time, to live out this costly faith. He let his faith shape his policy, not the other way around. Where are our Wilberforces at this crucial moment?