Monica Doumit: When pollies appear like visions

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends the Ark Centre Synagogue in Hawthorne East on Day 5 of the 2022 federal election campaign, Friday 15 April 2022, in Melbourne, in the Division of Kooyong. Photo: AAP, Mick Tsikas

Christians and their faith are increasingly irrelevant or open to dismissal by politics – except when their votes are needed

There is a convention in federal elections that the major parties call a ‘truce’ on any campaigning on Good Friday.

Instead, the Prime Minister attended a Good Friday service at a Baptist church in a marginal Victorian seat before attending and speaking at a Passover service in a synagogue that evening. The Opposition Leader, along with several of his MPs and the Liberal’s Fiona Martin, who recently crossed the floor and voted against protections for religious schools when it comes to employment and enrolment policies, attended the Good Friday liturgy at a Maronite Church in Punchbowl. The Opposition Leader read the first reading.

It had nothing to do with election campaigning, of course. All these politicians would have been at church services for faiths they do not profess or rites they do not practice whether or not an election was imminent, and the journalists whose job it is to cover the campaign trail would have also happened to be there, even though there was no campaigning scheduled for the day.

…I do worry that there is a perception, conscious or otherwise, that religious believers are not as intelligent as others, such that a display of piety from MPs at Easter or Passover is enough to swing our vote.

I doubt anyone thinks the general public is stupid enough to believe that church and synagogue attendance was not part of the campaign. So why do it? If MPs were going to be so disingenuous about a pause for one of the holiest days in the Christian and Jewish calendar, then why call a truce at all? Why not just continue the campaign, perhaps with an offer to staff members who wanted to attend religious services that they did not have to be on the campaign trail that day? Why the pretence?

I’m not sure, but I do worry that there is a perception, conscious or otherwise, that religious believers are not as intelligent as others, such that a display of piety from MPs at Easter or Passover is enough to swing our vote.

As another example, I was in a room recently when one politician told representatives from religious groups that the Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill was written in simple language so people of faith would be able to understand it. The irony of the comment was that the religious leaders gathered had achieved higher levels of education than the politician who was speaking to them like they were idiots.

I also worry that we contribute to this perception by allowing ourselves to be used by MPs. Our churches are open to anyone, of course, but we don’t need to give those in the middle of a campaign a pulpit on our holiest days, do we? If they want to attend, great.

They can be part of the congregation and be seated in a way that allows their security guards to protect them, but we can also prohibit photographers and camera crews who are on the ‘campaign trail’ from being there. We don’t need to contribute to our liturgies being reported as part of the election news cycle.

The whole saga reminds me of an episode of the West Wing which focused on the fact that Senator Arnold Vinick, the Republican nominee for President played masterfully by Alan Alda, supported abortion and did not attend church on Sundays. There was pressure for him to join other Republicans at church during the campaign.

If you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians, you are just begging to be lied to. They won’t all lie to you but a lot of them will and it will be the easiest lie they ever had to tell to get your votes. – alan Alda, in the west wing

Vinick told media that he respected churches too much to use them for his own political purposes. “I want to warn everyone in the press and all the voters out there,” he said. “If you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians, you are just begging to be lied to. They won’t all lie to you but a lot of them will, and it will be the easiest lie they ever had to tell to get your votes.”
We would do well to heed that same warning during this election campaign by not being swayed by the sudden church attendance of MPs who usually don’t darken the doorways of our churches or any other place of worship, for that matter.

This is particularly the case for those MPs who have a record of voting against protections for human life, against laws that would uphold and support marriage and family, and against the ability of those to who believe in the sanctity of life and the truth of marriage, gender and sexuality to live and speak those beliefs publicly.

“You will know them by their fruits,” Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed.

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