It has been traditional for journalists and public figures to respect the individual political candidate’s religion as private. America shows us the danger of creeping Christian Nationalism erupting into prominence, and we can’t wave that away as a distant threat. Voters need to know what our candidates’ Christianity means for our future.
We need to give ourselves permission to talk about political candidates’ religious beliefs. Above all, we need to do so regarding Christian politicians.
When Nicole Werner was selected as the Liberal candidate for Warrandyte, some Labor figures tried to raise the point that she had been a pastor for the Planetshakers Pentecostal church. The Australian (19/6) condemned this as a “smear campaign.”
It may well be that Werner’s politics are driven primarily by a loathing for “woke crap.” She may well have left any dedication to the Pentecostal movement’s strangest tenets in the past. She may be worshipping as a much more mainstream Christian now. This is not, however, a question that ought to be hidden from voters any longer.
The media and public figures have tended to respect the religious beliefs of political candidates as private and out of bounds for discussion. While the majority of Christian parliamentarians belonged to mainstream denominational churches, this did not pose as much of a problem.
It has tended to slow change in society because the Christians’ belief in their right to mandate public morality has been imposed upon the rest of us. We have struggled to redefine marriage, a good death, women’s rights outside the Christian majority’s religious rules. That, however, is the negotiation between worldviews inherent in a democratic system.
The American-style Christianity becoming apparent in Australia’s federal, state and local politics is another matter. This Christianity does not negotiate.
The risk for anyone writing about the beliefs and behaviour of the Pentecostal movement is that the writer, rather than the faith, sounds hysterical. Every Australian should read Elle Hardy’s expert and thoughtful account of Pentecostalism’s surging influence around the globe to see that these wild accounts are indeed accurate. Beyond Belief is a gripping read.
One is that no Christian outside the Pentecostal faith is truly a Christian until they’ve embraced the spirit in Pentecostalism. Catholicism is as likely to be seen as the “whore of Babylon.” Society is their mission field: we are all intended to be saved.
There is a tolerance for Jewish people but only if they are in Israel, ready to die to announce the beginning of End Times.
End Times and the return of Christ to rule adds an urgency to their evangelising. Christ cannot return until every single one of you lives purely, as defined by their rules. There is to be no sexual activity outside the sanctity of marriage. No pre- or extra-marital sex, no LGBTQIA+ identity or activity, no reproductive healthcare beyond the ushering of many more Pentecostal Christian babies into the world.
This is all Spiritual Warfare. There is a literal belief in the demonic forces at work in Catholicism, Queerness, Media, Science, Academia, democratic governments. Scott Morrison spoke of social media as the work of “the devil.” How he meant it we cannot be sure, but within Pentecostalism broadly this is meant as a genuine description.
The certainty that End Times are upon is is made more urgent by the fact of floods, fires and plagues. Every iteration of a natural disaster intensified by the climate crisis throws fuel onto the Pentecostal bonfire of certainty that the rest of us must be made pure immediately.
Americans are now seeing the impact of the utter determination of this small minority. This radicalised religion has taken over the Republican Party. Half the country has become deeply dangerous for women of reproductive age, and LGBTQIA+ people. The white supremacy inherent to the movement is evident in the brutal attacks on the demythologised teaching of American history.
The American majority has supported some abortion access and the equality of Queer people by at least 70% and yet the minority is imposing draconian restrictions upon half the country. The Christian Nationalists are now targeting access to contraception and women’s ability to initiate divorce. This is the path to dominion.
The mission to reverse the progressive gains made since the New Deal and the Civil Rights era in America has taken decades but it has been unswerving. The project gives itself permission, however, to mask the theocratic goals for the good of the project, because no honesty is owed to the sinner.
Scott Morrison described himself to a Pentecostal congregation in 2021 as secretly performing a “laying on of hands,” nonconsensually, when he hugged survivors of disasters.
Morrison is understood to belong to the powerful Prosperity Theology strain of Pentecostalism. This involves the belief that wealth signifies God’s blessing. Poverty, in turn, signifies God’s punishment. It is a moral failing in the poor that makes them poor; it is hubris in the politician to intervene in God’s punishment. Those that have a go, get a go, according to Morrison. Apparently the poor never tried.
Prosperity Theology in its utter contradiction of Christ’s message ought to signal to more traditional Christians that the Pentecostal movement is something unfamiliar and discordant.
Eastern European Christianity, resurgent after the Cold War, has intertwined itself with this American Christianity’s beliefs and goals. Australian politicians channelling Orban’s cultural Christian/Western chauvinism share the same enemies: anyone to be labelled “woke.” (“Woke” has become the catch-all word for anyone representing modernity, secularism, pluralism, liberal openness and social justice goals. Sometimes it just means a person displaying manners or compassion.) Muslims are a particular target of this European aspect of the movement, which characterises progressives as “Islamogauche” – the Muslim-embracing Left. This fostering of existential hatred is on display in Koran burnings in Europe.
The Machiavellian nature of the movement is manifest in the readiness to work with anyone. Pentecostalism loathes feminists, for example, but will embrace anti-trans “feminists” to begin the project of forcing LGBTQIA+ existence out of sight.
While Pentecostals may loathe the boorish sexuality of the internet “manosphere,” the latter’s dedication to complementarianism makes them easy colleagues. In this reading of “natural” society, sex is binary and opposite: the man is dominant in world and the home. Woman, only welcome in the home, must only be passive and obedient.
The only female exception is granted the extremist Christian woman fighting against the “woke” evil, such as Moms for Liberty. We have seen that trend emerge in Australia with the Women’s Forum Australia attack on Big W for stocking a parent’s guide to discussing sex with their children in the parenting section. Moms for Liberty are tactically embracing conservative members of the (despised) Muslim faith to broaden their appeal in America. We saw a similar effort underway in the Victorian Liberal insurgency event in Caroline Springs.
Pentecostalism became intertwined with QAnon over the worst of the pandemic, and its messaging has pervaded much of the “freedom” movement that gathered pace over the era. The religious movement’s demand that people believe wild tenets and disdain empirical knowledge makes it an easy vehicle for conspiracy.
The Liberal Party is dependent upon this anti-woke coalition to regain power. Victoria’s John Pesutto baulked when Moira Deeming revealed the extremity to which the anti-“woke” coalition could take the party. It was not accidental that the Conservative Political Action Conference – aka MAGA Australia – part-funded the anti-trans-existence tour in which she took a role. Neither was it accidental that Neo Nazis arrived to provide “security” for the Melbourne event.
John Pesutto campaigned with Nicole Werner in Warrandyte despite his efforts to face down the anti-“woke” insurgency in his Victorian opposition coalition. Winning – even without a Labor candidate standing – was more important for his goals than defeating the insurgency.
The Pentecostal movement that has become the moral weight of the anti-“woke” coalition is not just a belief system aiming to improve our societal ethics. It is a theocratic cult.
Australians need to know which kind of Christianity our candidates represent: a private morality or the authoritarian enforcement of their own bizarre interpretation of Christ’s dominion.
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