Scomo, Politicians & Prophets

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There has been a lot of commentary over the past 2 weeks on the faith of our new PM, Scott Morrison. Here is my two bobs worth:

Politicians and prophets have very different callings. Prophets, or in their secular version, social activists, point us to what we can and should be. They are not satisfied with simple improvements in the human condition, but long for a world in which every person finds justice and is treated with dignity. 

We need prophets. They force us to recognise the vulnerable; they dispel the myths that the powerful create to justify the neglect of those with little power; and they call us dream of equity, love, grace and justice in our societies. 

Politicians are not prophets. When forming policy and passing legislation politicians are constrained by the demands of their colleagues, their party policy platforms, what they can get through the Parliament, their budgets and the demands of the electorate.  This means that government policies nearly always include compromise and concession. They will rarely be the best policy imaginable but rather will be the best policy a government deems achievable in the given political context.

When it comes to prosecuting policy in the public domain, Ministers of the government are not free to speak their own opinions but speak as representatives of the Government. They are responsible to publicly makes the case for the policy of the government even when they have deep reservations about it.

This means we cannot read the personal convictions of Ministers (or their opposition counterparts) off the policies they present. This is particularly the case with areas such as refugee policy, where there are no ideal outcomes. I have not spoken with the Prime Minister on this issue, but I have spoken with a number of politicians from both the Coalition and the ALP, including Ministers and Shadow Ministers and I have not met one who is not troubled by our policies towards asylum seekers arriving without visa authorisation. Yet they are also convinced that the current policy regime (or  the one their party proposes to introduce) is the most preferable of what are only suboptimal possibilities.

I don’t think they have lifted their sights high enough. Our options are not limited to an awful choice between deaths at sea or locking up the innocent. I stand with the Prophets calling for political leaders willing to draw our nation down the path of moral greatness that will involve the acceptance of much larger numbers of refugees. Politically difficult but not politically impossible.

We should read the character and the personal values of Prophets off the policy positions they put forward. We should condemn the policy prescriptions of the Government when they all short of our longings for a better future. But I think we err when we try to read the character and integrity of politicians, particularly those in Ministries, off the policies of the Governments they serve.

Which brings me to Scomo, faith and politics. In his maiden speech Scott Morisson identified his faith as foundational to the values he brings into the parliament.

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.

From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way, including diminishing their personal responsibility for their own wellbeing; and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the moral integrity of marriage and the family. 

I have been disappointed by the rush of many of my fellow Christians to condemn Scomo as having betrayed his faith. It’s a tough call being committed to justice, mercy & faithfulness while operating inside a political process that demands compromise and concessions to the politically possible. The system will almost always turn out something that falls short of what we prophets call for. 

I am not a fan of the Coalition. It’s inability to resolve the tensions between its Conservative and moderate elements has given us a raft of policies that fall far short of what justice, mercy and kindness demand. I will continue to critique the policies of the Government. But I will not join the rush to condemn Scomo. I cannot read his character off the policies of his government. I hope and pray that his passion for lovingkindness, justice and righteousness, compassion kindness, remain as strong today as they were the day he was elected parliament. I will pray for him, and for all members of our parliament, that in the midst of a political system that works precisely because it requires compromise and concession, they might find ways to bring us just a little closer to justice and mercy.

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Philip PriorPhil McNabHazel ShuteHelen Wiltshire Recent comment authors
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Helen Wiltshire
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Helen Wiltshire

Thank you for that Scott. I think it is easy for people who are outside politics to lack understanding about the compromises needed to pass legislation. I agree that we need to give the PM a fair go, and give him a chance to prove himself [or not]. I find it difficult to understand that there is not a more humane way we can treat asylum seeker than our current shameful approach. I pray regularly for our government, especially that they would find a better way to care for those who come to us for refuge and asylum, however they… Read more »

Hazel Shute
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Hazel Shute

Thank you Scott. I do agree with what you have said here. We also pray for our Government and it’s Leaders, and ache to see a more humane solution to the Refugee situation.

Phil McNab
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Phil McNab

Thank you Scott for this. I admire the grace you show towards the PM. Because I value your opinions I will work on showing the same but to be honest, I’m struggling.

Philip Prior
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Philip Prior

A thoughtful article Scott. As you say, “I (we) cannot read his (Scomo) character off the policies of his government” It is difficult to work within the political framework of your party and be seen to be true to your values and beliefs particularly when others seem to think they know what your values and beliefs are better than you yourself. But there are some things politicians and in particular politicians are responsible for and the principle one is there own honesty with the Australian people. Unless we can somehow argue that honesty is not an absolute and is open… Read more »

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