New Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s evangelical Christian faith was mocked on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) satirical programme Tonightly on 27 August, with a pair of comedians singing, “You’ve got to love thy neighbour unless they vote Labour or are foreign or gay.”
Other lyrics included: “we love Jesus, Jesus, but not refugee-us,” and, “to do what pleases Jesus, deny them all visas.”
ABC later defended the skit, saying that it was not an attack on Christianity; whilst Mr. Morrison responded to it by saying he would “turn the other cheek,” according to Premier Christianity who reported this on 31 August.
What should we make of this?
Reading the responses to this on Premier’s Facebook post of the article, one commenter suggested, “I’m sure as pm he has enough clout to get those biased morons sacked.”
“I’m not keen on what [the satirical comedians on ABC] said, but national leaders getting media staff sacked for making fun of them is not the hallmark of a healthy democracy.”
Comment on Facebook (1 September) in response to Premier’s article on the ABC skit
Quite rightly a friend of mine wrote in response to this: “I’m not keen on what they said [i.e., the satirical comedians], but national leaders getting media staff sacked for making fun of them is not the hallmark of a healthy democracy.”
If, as society, we regard the frequently anti-Islamic and frankly blasphemous lampooneries of Charlie Hebdo as a normal and acceptable corollary of free speech, then we must regard skits like this in the same vein. There is no basis here for getting people sacked; and Mr. Morrison not only did morally the right thing, but also legally and constitutionally the right thing, in not pursuing the matter.
However, it doesn’t only require unconstitutional government intervention to get somebody sacked. All that’s usually required is a Twitterstorm of vitriol against the offending party and — democratic or undemocratic though it may be — the overwhelming social media pressure usually tells.
In the UK, the 2010 Equality Act forbids discrimination against a person on the basis of their:
marital (or civil partnership) status
being pregnant or on maternity leave
race (including colour, nationality, ethnicity or national origin)
If somebody were to go on TV mocking a public figure on the basis of most of the above characteristics, their career would be over.
For example, can you imagine the response if a public figure were to be mocked on the basis of his or her skin colour? Or on the basis of his or her sexual orientation? Or on the basis of his or her disability?
Society wouldn’t tolerate such a performance. And yet it seems to be perfectly acceptable to mock someone on their basis of their (Christian) faith — there will be no publicly-ordained sackings in this case.
Law versus the new public narrative
The law is on the side of Christians in this — as it is on the side of anyone who is a potential target for discrimination.
“Regardless of the legal status of Christians, there is undoubtedly a public narrative afoot which says that Christians should not be protected from discrimination. According to this narrative, it’s fine to be a Christian provided you don’t actually believe anything (morally, ethically, historically) the Bible teaches. However, if you’re silly enough to take seriously anything the Bible says, then you clearly are an ‘extremist’ and hence don’t deserve to be protected under anti-discrimination law. You have committed that most heinous of criminal acts — that of being ‘bigoted.’”
And yet regardless of the legal status of Christians, there is undoubtedly a public narrative underfoot which says that Christians should not be protected from discrimination.
According to this narrative, it’s fine to be a Christian provided you don’t actually believe anything (morally, ethically, historically) the Bible teaches.
However, if you’re silly enough to take seriously anything the Bible says (morally, ethically, historically), then you clearly are an ‘extremist’ and hence don’t deserve to be protected under anti-discrimination law. You have committed that most heinous of criminal acts — that of being ‘bigoted.’
All of this, as I say, is an attempt to put Christians — and especially evangelical Christians — outside the pale of anti-discrimination legislation.
Apart from the popular tendency to homogenize evangelical Christians into a dunderheaded cohort of right-wing, hate-filled, Trump-supporting morons stuck in the seventeenth century, the main basis for the present hostility against us is, of course, that we disagree with the contemporary popular sexual ethic.
Up until now Christians have been the main targets for this hostility. But since our views on marriage, sexual ethics and abortion are largely shared with Orthodox Jews and Muslims, it shouldn’t be surprising if we see these religious groups also start to come under the same popular condemnation.
Ofsted was heavily criticized earlier this year after its heavy-handed inspection of the Haredi (Orthodox Jewish) Yesoday Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill, London. Ofsted was responding to an absurd (and unnecessary) complaint made by secular campaign group Humanists UK.
Is the ABC’s skit a fair representation?
Which brings us back to the question of whether the ABC’s lampooning of Mr Morrison was a fair representation of Christianity — or even his Christianity?
Personally I think it was mocking Christianity.
Amongst the Twitterati there appears to be a widespread assumption that anybody who takes the Gospels seriously must be a socialist.
This is based on a shallow and out-of-context reading of verses such as—
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Matthew 5:43-44
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Mark 10:21
If Jesus told us to “love our enemies” (i.e., refugees) and to “sell all that you have and give it to the poor,” then that’s socialism!
“Babylon Bee recently did a great satirical piece on this attitude. It was entitled, ‘“Jesus Was A Socialist,” Says Man Who’s Obviously Never Been Within 10 Feet Of A Bible.’”
The truth is, whilst the Gospel and the words of Jesus call us to be people of compassion and to love the kind of people we wouldn’t naturally go near— it’s also true that Christianity does not espouse any particular political system.
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21
In other words: Be a good and honest citizen within society — pay your taxes — but always honour God first.
That does not dictate any particular political system, or demand any particular electoral vote, right or left. (Of course there are forms of government which are extremely anti-Christian; in many of these their citizens don’t even get a fair vote: yet the same admonition applies.)
Of course, many Christians in the UK are socially conservative (small ‘c’) — naturally, since the worldview of Western society is generally moving away from the Christian ‘moral compass.’ Obviously Christians will often be socially conservative in the midst of such a trend.
“Christianity — even evangelical Christianity — doesn’t dictate any particular political system or voting preference. One’s voting record is always a matter of one’s own conscience, as one understands the rôle of Christianity within society.”
But there are also many evangelical Christians who are politically left-leaning and socially ‘liberal’ — such as my friend earlier who made the comment about reactionary sackings from on high not being the hallmark of a healthy democracy.
So Christianity — even evangelical Christianity — doesn’t dictate any particular political system or voting preference. One’s voting record is always a matter of one’s own conscience, as one understands the rôle of Christianity within society.
In a similar vein: many Christians in the UK are Brexiteers, many are Remainers. You cannot pin us down into such straightforward political categories.
Therefore what is the ABC skit doing? Is it mocking Christianity? — yes. Because it’s playing into the public narrative that evangelical Christians are the aforementioned, right-wing, Trump-supporting morons — and therefore (according to the public narrative) ‘beyond the pale.’
If religious freedom in the UK is something you’re concerned about, please sign the Barnabas Fund’s ‘Our Religious Freedom’ petition here.
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Graham is an evangelical Christian believer living in Sussex, UK. He is passionate about helping people to understand what the Bible really says, and about explaining what the Christians of the early centuries believed and taught.