Gospel truths?

tony abbott
Friday Forum
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BARRY GITTINS

As part of their passive aggressive, internecine sparring, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has had yet another indirect crack at current PM, Malcolm Turnbull.

The beleaguered Fairfax media reported yesterday that ‘Mr Abbott argued mainstream political leaders had failed to promote the “virtues and benefits” of Western civilisation including “Gospel values” and free speech.’

What does Mr Abbott mean when he cites ‘Gospel values’? Gospel simply means ‘good news’, which is not a concept generally associated with the former PM.

While in power, Mr Abbott reduced the pittance paid to single parents to feed, clothe, house and educate their children.

He cut assistance to women and children fleeing from family and domestic violence.

In mangled policyspeak he misrepresented the message and person of Jesus farcically, in a debate about refugees and asylum seekers that was ably captured by US-based satirist John Oliver. Abbott suggested that ‘Jesus knew, ah, that there was, a, a place for everything, and, and, it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.’

As with Mr Abbott on that occasion, words fail me. (The fact Jesus Christ was a refugee himself seemed to have escaped him.)

The former PM and his colleagues attempted through successive budgets, unsuccessfully, to further brutalise the poor.

Mr Abbott authorised the callous treatment and neglect of refugees and asylum seekers – adults and children – that have led to rapes, assaults, murders and deaths from medical neglect, etc. Sadly, that deliberate policy of neglect and cruelty continues.

The former PM’s idea of free speech meant safeguarding the right to abuse the vulnerable; to demean people without power. Those who were black or Indigenous or not Anglo-Saxon/Celtic.

Mr Abbott and his colleagues gave Gillian Triggs – the person entrusted with defending people’s human rights – a good going over; but didn’t drive her from public life or her duties as president of Australia’s Human Rights Commission.

I believe that whatever Abbott means by ‘Gospel values’ has nothing to do with the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus, famously quoting the Jewish prophet Isaiah, said that ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:19).

In light of that Messianic ‘doorstep’, Gospel values and Tony Abbott may be strangers to each other.

In his manifesto, Mr Abbott also took a hefty swing at ABC presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied, whose Anzac Day tweet about the suffering on Manus Island, Nauru and in Syria and Palestine (subsequently withdrawn and apologised for) created something of a perfect storm. Young, female, Islamic, black. Alien. Duly targeted.

Mr Abbott saw her perceived affrontery as that of ‘an over-promoted, politically correct 26-year-old’; symptomatic of ‘the cultural cowardice that’s penetrated to the very heart of our institutions’ (ie the ABC).

Politicising Anzac Day wasn’t an issue for Mr Abbott in 2011, however, when Jim Wallace, the then-managing director of the rightwing Australian Christian Lobby tweeted his hope that ‘as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic!’… the tweet was also withdrawn and apologised for; however, that insensitive tweet didn’t draw Mr Abbott to the barricades.

Stirring racial, cultural and religious tensions isn’t a Christlike activity. Demonising marginalised people isn’t saintly.

Yesterday, someone I have great respect for, the Rev Tim Costello, had this to say about character and values: ‘For me, nothing speaks louder about a leader’s character or a country’s than how it treats the most disadvantaged and vulnerable – both at home and abroad. For many of us, it is the definition of what it is to be civilised and is a source of inspiration in a world momentarily short on inspiration…’

That sounds a bit more gospelly to me.

What do you think represents Gospel values in our culture and politics?

Barry Gittins is a writer/researcher with the Salvation Army.

Image: Flickr/US Embassy Kabul

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