barnaby joyce interview

Scott Morrison can breathe a sigh of relief.

Barnaby Joyce’s bungled leadership challenge means the Nat will not return to the deputy prime ministership, hopefully putting an end to more Coalition instability.

But beyond Coalition disunity, there could be more personal reasons for any reluctance by the prime minister to have Joyce as his deputy.

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Joyce’s fall from grace came after a series of personal moral failings. First Joyce separated from his wife Natalie, after an affair with former staffer Vikki Campion became public, which he tried to cover up. Then he and Campion had a child together. After that came a sexual harassment allegation, which sealed Joyce’s relegation to the backbench.

Morrison, meanwhile, is a devout Pentecostal, whose personal impulses and leadership style have long been influenced by his religion. Can the two ever bridge that chasm?

What does ScoMo’s church actually believe in?

For someone so deeply religious, Morrison has expressed reluctance to talk deeply about his faith. He has also tried to ward off suggestions that his church influences him politically — arguing that the Bible “is not a policy handbook”.

But the importance of religion to Morrison can’t be denied — he called his shock election win a “miracle”, quoted scripture and thanked Hillsong founder Brian Houston in his maiden speech.

Morrison is a regular at Horizon, a mega-church in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire. Pentecostalism tends to stress a more directly experiential form of worship — singing is important, and some believers speak in tongues.

There’s also a firm belief in the prosperity doctrine, where financial gain is a blessing given to the pious.

What does it say about adultery?

Unsurprisingly, Pentecostals take a socially conservative view on sex, marriage and gender-related issues.

“With respect to individual personal morality, and sexual morality, Pentecostalism would have a highly conservative position,” University of Queensland religious historian Philip C. Almond told Crikey.

Writing in The Conversation, Murdoch University religious studies lecturer Mark Jennings says the denomination takes a “restorationist” stance — a belief that “social and ethical norms of the era of the New Testament should still apply today”.

It’s this worldview that explains Morrison’s approach to issues like same-sex marriage — he abstained from the parliamentary vote in 2017. But it also leaves little room for Joyce’s affair and marriage breakdown — believers generally aspire to heterosexual monogamy as an ideal.

Similarly, Pentecostalism takes an exclusivist, us-versus-them view of the world. Taken literally, this means only good, born-again Christians are worthy of salvation.

As the Australian Christian Council, which Morrison’s Horizon church belongs to, says, “We believe in the everlasting punishment of the wicked (in the sense of eternal torment) who willfully reject and despise the love of God manifested in the great sacrifice of his only Son on the cross for their salvation”.

Does Joyce’s adultery matter?

Joyce’s past failures might not sit comfortably with Morrison the Christian. But Morrison the politician might think differently.

According to writer and academic James Boyce, Pentecostalism’s essence is not “captured by infamous conservative Christian campaigns on sex, marriage and gender”. Instead, Boyce writes that the denomination’s unique perspective on the Christian experience is what matters.

But more importantly, as Almond tells Crikey, Morrison is “one of the ultimate pragmatic politicians”.

That pragmatic streak isn’t uncommon among Australian Pentecostals, writes University of Queensland research fellow Paul Tyson:

“Modern Australian conservative Christianity in general is pretty comfortable combining self-interested commercial and political pragmatism with personal religious freedom and strong private morality conviction.”

In America, meanwhile, Evangelical Christians are willing to overlook President Donald Trump’s deeply un-Christian personal failings because he advances their political interests.

So while Morrison might have strong personal moral qualms about Joyce’s past indiscretions, he’s unlikely to let that get in the way of his broader political goals.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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