Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Politics in the pulpit


‘I don’t think politics should be brought into the pulpit,’ said the gentleman who waited for me at the church door after all the other mass-goers at Sunday’s 8:30 am Mass had departed. ‘You upset my wife: she wanted to walk out during your homily.’

It was the start of International Refugee Week, and I had taken the opportunity to preach about asylum seekers in Australia. The gospel according to Mark was propitious: the Kingdom of God is like the tiniest of seeds sown in the ground, growing slowly and invisibly, but eventually producing the greatest of trees, a place of shelter and welcome.

Every member of that Sunday congregation was a seed; every word they uttered in support of asylum seekers was a seed; every gesture of welcome they showed to asylum seekers was a seed. 

If I had read out at Mass the pastoral letter about marriage issued by the Archdiocese of Sydney on Refugee Sunday, would anyone in the congregation have protested about politics being brought into the pulpit?

The letter was an unambiguous statement of the belief of the bishops regarding the nature of marriage and the current discourse about rights: a broadside fired against attempts to legislate for gay marriage. Some might have disagreed with the letter’s exegetical strategies, or its presentation of natural law. No reasonable person, however, would have questioned the right, nay, the duty, of the bishops to enter into the same-sex marriage debate or to engage in the public square with issues raised by proposed parliamentary legislation.

We hear the voice of the Church on issues of sexuality and reproduction all the time, but we strain to hear the Church speak out on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers. Recently Malcolm Fraser berated Tony Abbott for the Coalition’s recently announced asylum seeker policies, which he said were based on ‘falsehoods, misinformation, and a blatant playing of politics with the lives of vulnerable people.’

Mr Fraser went on to describe Abbott’s policies as ‘the closest thing to evil you can get.’ It was perhaps my desire to hear an authoritative voice in the Church speak out boldly on behalf of asylum seekers that I detected the tone and cadences of a prophet in Mr Fraser’s article. 

What particularly provokes Mr Fraser’s ire is the lack of integrity in the presentation of information, with the result that this deliberate misinformation fuels unfounded fear. Richard Towle, the regional representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has also recently lamented the way misleading language is being deployed to undermine sympathy and support for asylum seekers: ‘Queue jumping…is probably the most toxic and poisonous expression one could find to undermine the institution of asylum – because it (falsely) presupposes that there are two ways that you can claim asylum.’ 

Where are the voices in the Australian Church that will boldly and authoritatively speak the truth about asylum seekers? Where are the pastoral letters berating the many untruths told by politicians about asylum seekers and the institution of asylum?

Aloysious MoweAloysious Mowe SJ is Director of Jesuit Refugee Service.

Topic tags: Aloysious Mowe, preaching, pulpit, politics, asylum seekers, gay marriage, Archdiocese of Sydney, Malcolm F



submit a comment

Existing comments

It is so refreshing to hear the Gospel preached in church, the good news that Jesus brought, that the Kingdom of God is near, the time of justice and peace. Thank you for preaching the Gospel, Fr Aloysious.

Janet | 09 July 2012  

Oh yes, Inigo surely speaks through you....Keep speaking, thanks, pace e bonum, Pauline

Pauline Kennedy | 09 July 2012  

I think the church tends to focus on issues where it feels under threat from secular forces. And gay marriage is one of those issues. The churches do seem to perceive morality as a central issue rather than talk very much about money (which is mentioned a lot in the Bible) and humanitarian issues like asylum seekers. I am involved with a refugee support group in my small town and most of the people involved in this group are not church-goers. I agree that more focus needs to come from the leadership of churches about asylum seekers.

Pam | 09 July 2012  

Thank you Aloysious. You are clear and unambiguous. I am ashamed of our approach to Refugees. Its likewe have forgotten what the word refugee means altogether. Forsometime ihave been wanting the government to get Malcolm Frazer and Frank Brenne , and maybe yourself, on a national working committe to set out our true aussie respsonse to this difficult situation for boat people. keep upthe good work Judy

Judy Brown | 09 July 2012  

Aloysious, your parishioner's wife heard you through the filter of party politics. She did not identify your words on behalf of the vulnerable and homeless as the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. I too as a parish Minister (Uniting Church) have been accused of 'bringing politics into the pulpit'. I have pointed out that it is not I who have brought party politics into church; it is those who view the issues of justice in our world through their loyalty to particular political parties. I can only preach the teaching of Jesus. For a Christian who professes to be a follower of Jesus, the question must be - which comes first - loyalty to the way of Jesus, or loyalty to a political party?

Lorraine Parkinson | 09 July 2012  

Where are they? Media releases and pastoral statements about asylum seekers can be found on the website of the Australian Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office www.acmro.catholic.org.au and policy comment on the site of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au Right now ACMRO is distributing a kit for Refugee & Migrant Sunday to parishes and schools. The Papal Messages for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees are at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/migration/index_en.htm Authoritative enough? It is a great pity that these materials are much less likely to be used in homily preparation than statements on sexuality. Of course more could be said and done. We need more homilies like yours. I feel the lack is not in authoritative statements but in faith formation.

Sandie Cornish | 09 July 2012  

Thank you for speaking out on this most important issue. Solutions to this issue are not easy but no solutions will be found until political propaganda & political games are removed from the discussion.

Mary | 09 July 2012  

I think it would have been of more benefit for the parishioners to hear a sermon on the Bishops' Pastoral Letter than a lament of Tony Abbott and his so called "evil" policies. A sermon on the babaric murder of children in the womb allowed by state and federal governments would be of much more importance as true Catholics must do all they can do to save the lives of these innocent children from state sponsored killings.

Trent | 09 July 2012  

I totally support your stance Father.I wonder if in part it is selective reporting by the media that is the problem.One can release a Press Release but in the end it is the media who determines if it will actually appear and when or where.Let's face it, SEX sells, Refugees don't -unless they drown! I would like to see more of our senior clergy come up and publically speak their views about Refugeees and STRONGLY so the media and society gets the message LOUD and CLEAR where we, the Church stand on this very important social justice issue. The current political stand by both sides of politics is shameful.

Gavin | 09 July 2012  

Good for you, Aloysious. People don't like being confronted with home truths - Jesus copped it too. But, al least you know some were listening!

Peter Quilty | 09 July 2012  

I agree with Fr. Aloysius' main point. However, refugee advocates need to come up with some prevention as well as cure. If Malaysia or Nauru aren't prevention, then some other proposals need to be made. Just saying that asylum seekers are going to be given their rights as long as they risk their lives on leaky boats won't do it. The Greens policy, which most refugee advocates seem to promote, just won't wash.

harry herbert | 09 July 2012  

Thank you - for this voice of reason on behalf of refugees. Of course, those who wish to isolate religion from politics do not understand the Gospel - having eyes, they do not see, having ears, they do not hear. I fear we will wait a long time for the Australian hierarchy to take a moral stand that may upset their political friends. We must look to the Julian Burnsides and, yes, Malcolm Fraser, to don the robe of the prophet and cry out for justice - alongside those Brigidine nuns and many lay people who have given much to oppose the disgraceful policies and actions - and lies - of Australian governments.

John Nicholson | 09 July 2012  

A very fine piece. Splendid use of the prophetic Malcolm Fraser's words and a splendid identification of the evil of Tony Abbott's stance. The latter (and along with him Scott Morrison) is getting closer and closer to saying "We don't want these people here - they're foreign, they're asian." It's going to take generations for the deeply ingrained thinking (or rather feeling) that went along with the White Australia policy - not really all that long ago abandoned - to die out. And Abbott's 'dredge the bottom' populism is playing to that. Trent's comment reminds me of a line in Chris Geraghty's book, 'Dancing with the Devil' where he talks of those catholics for whom the only sin is sex and the only virtue is obedience.

Joe Castley | 09 July 2012  

I believe that the opposition leader and the opposition spokes person on immigration are both Catholic - that not only surprises me on this issue, but amazes me that Malcolm fraser {not a Catholic} acts more like one should do. They should rethink their speak on this issue we all need our seeds to grow together.

patrick | 09 July 2012  

Good article. Give us more.

Jim Jones | 09 July 2012  

Excellent article! The politics of fear, especially that targeted at refugees, is cruel and unjust. Is is also highly destructive to Australian society.

Malcolm McPherson | 09 July 2012  

Thank you Aloysius!! Fabulous!

Tony W | 09 July 2012  

Thankyou Father - may many more of your brother priests likewise display the courage of their convictions

Cara Minns | 09 July 2012  

Thank God for this soi-disant political talk from the pulpit - regrettably, there is very little of it. I wonder how the lady who was 'upset' would have reacted to the blatant attacks on the Labor Party made from many Australian pulpits, particularly in Victoria, fifty years ago.

Joan Thomas | 09 July 2012  

How refreshing to read Aloysious's guest editorial. Of course the Catholic Church engages in politics from the pulpit and so it should. The pity is that there is a fixation, as Aloysious notes, on sexuality and reproduction while the plight of asylum seekers is ignored. Both Labor and Liberal view asylum seekers as a border protection problem and have encouraged citizens to view them as such. This is particularly shocking when Tony Abbott is a professed Catholic. Surely, citizens should be encouraged to understand the circumstances whereby people are willing to risk their lives and even the lives of their children on rickety boats rather than have no hope of a future worth living.

Maureen | 09 July 2012  

In another parable He says:"Either make the tree good, and his fruit good" - good homilies and politics from the pulpit, or The Word and good coalitions in parliament - "or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt" - bad homilies and politics from the pulpit, or bad coalitions in parliament - clearly enough warning us that evil fruits do not grow on a good tree, nor good fruits on an evil tree; but that nevertheless the ground itself , by which He meant those whom He was then addressing, might grow either kind of trees.

Myra | 09 July 2012  

We need to hear the voice of Church leaders on all manner of issues today - not the least, in fact perhaps most of all - on such isues as asylum seekers. But wishing to extend a humanitarian hand to them and welcome them into communities in recognition of the wealth, freedom and fortune of Australia in contrast to their countries of origin does not resolve the vexed and complicated question of policy development and how to respond to the dangerous, life-threatening practice of setting out on long sea journeys in leaky boats arranged by unscrupulous people smugglers. As well as well thought out moral guidance, we (the general public) need to know the facts behind this issue. Where can such facts - free from judgement be found in modern discourse? I read and hear bits and pieces, but never a comprehensive, authoratative and judgement-free laying out of the facts and figures.

Anne M | 09 July 2012  

Congratulations on standing up and being a voice for the down trodden, if more of priests tackled the issues of social justice some of people may also get involved and perhaps get more action happening on these issues.

Ray | 09 July 2012  

Praising Malcolm Fraser and demonize Tony Abbott is one sided politic. The pastoral letter about marriage should be read in every parish in Australia. Priests should be encouraged to remind parishioners that abortion, euthanasia and contraception is intrinsical evil. Christ's followers should get back in trying to save souls in preference to social justice. Catholic parents are losing their children before they can produce them, because young Catholics are not taught that saving their souls is most important, as there is no shortage of good-doers regardless of what religion or no religion that put social justice before any thing else.

Ron Cini | 09 July 2012  

Indeed. Since the pastoral letter invokes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in support of marriage as currently acknowledged in law, it seems only just to face up to Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person; and Article 14: Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. We cannot negate or thwart the gospel message of more abundant life, but can we ever make it harder for it to flourish!

Julia | 10 July 2012  

It is incorrect "Where are the voices in the Australian Church re- Asylum Seekers. For four years, eight years ago, my local congregation was harangued week after torturous week. The common implication? "If you are not prepared to welcome them then you cannot be a Christian".

Today's Christians are NOT the complacent 'ignoramouses' of the past. A PhD and three Masters Degrees gives me a voice. A unit commander Malaya 1963-64 & Vietnam 1964, 1966-67 the fact I have a contrary view to the Church on Asylum Seekers is healthy. The problem with politically motivated pulpit talks is there is NO right of public response. The issue is a complicated one with more than one way of looking. In Australia we seem to totally ignore issues that face Europeans inundated with Islamic refugees. Even Moslem people themselves are looking at many Asylum Seekers as economic rather than 'war torn' refugees. As a Clinical Psychologist I know people from 'war torn' countries have already experienced significant trauma. The trauma of Detention Centres where better than basic needs are met, cannot be held responsible for that already existing. This gives no rights to burn and destroy good facilities.

Karl H Cameron-Jackson | 10 July 2012  

Why do commenters like Trent and Ron Cini need to resort to gutter politics? Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person (social justice) covers all aspects, ages, races of the human person. So abortion and euthanasia are part of the package as much as refugees. As individuals we already have control over sexuality issues, but we can't directly control our government's policy so we need more politics in the pulpit like that of Aloysius.

AURELIUS | 10 July 2012  

Politics in the pulpit, how can they be excluded? Were I to say that Jesus was not politically neutral, or that his message was political, I am recognizing something that is at the heart of the biblical message in general, and especially the Old Testament, which was the Bible of Jesus. The Old Testament did not separate religion and politics. The Bible does not compartmentalize them. In fact, one of the most scathing denunciations from the Old Testament prophets was against people who did that very thing, separating religion and politics. The problem was the Israelites did not translate their religious nature into a social policy of justice. This nature did not make a difference in the way they conducted their business, government, economic policies and social relationships, particularly when it came to the orphan and the widow, the disadvantaged, the stranger and the unfortunate and the oppressed. Jesus' teachings empowered the weak, the poor and the needy by giving them hope and faith, reassuring them that God was with them, and that the Kingdom of God based on mercy, love, justice and peace was among them. ( Isaiah 57:15 )

Bernstein | 10 July 2012  

Fr Aloysius- I agree with you. As the least initial deviation from the Truth is multiplied later a thousandfold, likewise, the Truth, when spoken from the pulpit: He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing".All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips... Luke 4;15-22

Monica | 11 July 2012  

Cameron-Jackson - a bag-ful of degrees does not provide you with a voice - membership of the human race does, provided you do not encroach on the rights of others. You argue that military service in Asia gives you an insight not shared by other members of your Church - no doubt you will remember the racism and atrocities (My Lai) committed by many troops invading Vietnam. We are not ignorant of the issues, the difficulties facing Europeans - France, Italy, Spain, Greece - as they strive to cope with the very large numbers (as opposed to the pitiful few landing on Australia) in the provision of accommodation, education and health issues and we compare the European record with the disgraceful behaviour of the Howard Government.

John Nicholson | 11 July 2012  

So Cameron-Dickson is a clinical psychologist. So what! That does not mean he knows what it's like to be banged up in mandatory detention for years! I hope he's not anywhere near me if I ever need a clinical psychologist again. I have in the past. Father Aloysious certainly did the right thing in his homily, and I thank him for his article. I agree with every word. I just cannot understand why a few Australian politicians, and talk back radio screamers, so-called Christians, if you please, constantly wish to frighten the daylights out of the public about a few thousand desperate refugees!! For goodness sake, the whole western world has this issue at present. It is not only Australia. Further, it is an utter disgrace that certain elements of the popular press churn out this twaddle daily. So a parishioner's wife got upset! Oh dear! Well the refugee issue upsets me too, because I feel terribly sorry for them, and terribly ashamed of my country, and it's image. It is outrageous.

Louw | 14 July 2012  

Bravo for this article !!! Yes where are the bold voices and the compassionate christians to speak the truth with love for all!! It appears that asylum seekers are a no-go from the pulpit!!!

helen gibson | 14 July 2012  

Bravo for this article !!! Yes where are the bold voices and the compassionate christians to speak the truth with love for all!! It appears that asylum seekers are a no-go from the pulpit!!!

helen gibson | 14 July 2012  

Commentators like Trent and Ron Cini think that as long as you are opposed to abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage etc, the rest is optional (similar to so many fundamentalist Christians in America). Strange how they can never provide any evidence from the teachings of Christ that this is all that matters.

Tony | 14 July 2012  

My experience of a Jesuit critique of Coalition policy so far is overwhemingly one of being subjected to tedious explanations about the formative influence of Fr Emett Costelloe on Tony Abbott, which is as much a worry for me as it must be for those concerned about the Opposition Leader's self-identification in the public sphere as a practicing Catholic. These contorted inflections invariably take the form of justifications for wealth accumulation and all manner of similar casuistry that the Order has sought to distance itself from since Pedro Arrupe's dynamic renewalist influence. Additionally, Fr Mowe's identity as a Vietnamese Australian adds an important authenticity to his use of his epistemic voice, it being the case that, in my experience, Asian clergy (and I speak as an Asian Australian) tend generally to observe a strict apoliticism in their homilies or else cleave towards supporting the more conservative sexual and bioethical preoccupations of the Bishops. To my mind, Fr Mowe's treatment of this challenging topic reprises both aspects of what Cardinal Bernardin once called 'Christ's Seamless Shroud', evoking the necessity of addressing moral problems that are both personal and political, if our spiritual development is not to be skewed in one direction or the other. Thank you, Fr Mowe. I hope we hear much more from you!

Michael Furtado | 27 July 2012  

Similar Articles

International Criminal Court's African bias

  • Binoy Kampmark
  • 13 July 2012

On Tuesday, the International Criminal Court sentenced Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for his use of child soldiers. It is the first sentence handed down by an institution regarded by many as a political front. As one Congolese official noted, 'You'll never see an American pass before the ICC. All of the accused are Africans.'


Trading fears for tears in complex asylum seeker debate

  • Fatima Measham
  • 11 July 2012

The tear-shedding in parliament over people drowning near our northwest coast was astonishing. In a decade that has seen asylum seekers demonised by policymakers, the reversal was nearly comical: asylum seekers, it turns out, are human beings. It illustrates how poorly the question of asylum has been discussed since 2001.