Pentecostal

ABC Labels Pentecostal Liberal Members “Hardline”, “Far Right” in Barely Veiled Attack Just Months Out from Victorian Election

2 September 2022

3.6 MINS

In a conveniently timed hit-piece, just months out from the November Victorian Election, the ABC has called Pentecostal Liberal members “hardline” and insinuated that they are “far right”. Predictably, this has stoked fears and speculations of Pentecostal conspiracies among readers.

Published recently, the article raises concerns around a Pentecostal “infiltration” of the Victorian Liberal Party. It characterises Pentecostal belief as aggressive, seeking to “penetrate” and “conquer” the nation, while simultaneously highlighting an alleged influx of members from “a single faith community”.

Whether or not the allegations made within the piece are true or not is irrelevant (Pentecostals have just as much of a right to seek political change through democratic means as the LGBTQ or climate activists have been for decades).

What is relevant is the impact that this article will inevitably have in stoking anti-Pentecostal (and anti-faith) fear and prejudice in the lead-up to the Victorian election.

Stoking Fear

The piece was clearly well thought out and carefully constructed. The headline(s) elicited a fear response, utilising loaded words like “branch stacking”, “infiltrates”, “slam”, and “hardline”. All the while retaining the appearance of objectivity.

The headings in the article all reflected one side of the discussion, capitalising on reader tendencies to scan through online material, rather than read it carefully.

Online reader behaviour research shows that people typically consume only certain parts of an article — normally the most outstanding parts. It is by quickly scanning that most readers develop an overall affective (or emotive) impression of the content they are consuming.

hardline Pentecostals

For those who don’t read the whole thing, the ABC article’s title and headings leave a clear impression —

  • “Victorian Liberal Party branch stacking claims as Pentecostal church ‘infiltrates’ branches”
  • “Traditional membership in decline”
  • “Voice in parliament”
  • “Accusations of branch stacking”
  • “‘It was cooked’”
  • “150 expulsions after audit”

Through scanning these headlines, keywords throughout the article, and the accompanying images, a clear narrative (constructed largely in the mind and emotions of the reader, lest the ABC be accused of making unsubstantiated claims) emerges.

You might think that Pentecostal Christians are exploiting a decline in “traditional” membership to infiltrate the Victorian Liberal Party — likely through dodgy means. You’ll also get the impression that there is a coordinated conspiracy by this extreme, hardline, far-right cult to infiltrate the Liberal Party.

Moreover, the accusations, audits and expulsions will make you strongly suspect that this underhanded plot has been exposed.

Innuendoes

You might not notice that there was no confirmation in the ABC article — or by those interviewed — that the 150 people expelled in 2021 were even Pentecostals. Maybe they were; maybe not.

There is just a note from a 2020 internal Liberal Party email alleging that the “majority of the new members over several years are connected through a single faith community” and that some of the applications had been “unusual” (meaning that the applicants may have changed parties or previously campaigned against the Liberal Party).

About halfway down the article, after quoting extensively (and one-sidedly) from a disillusioned Liberal Party member, the ABC includes a note:

“The ABC is not suggesting the allegations of branch stacking are true, only that they have been made.”

Thanks for that. It’s kind of important, considering that the overall impression of the article leads one to the opposite conclusion.

The piece ultimately serves as little more than a barely veiled hit piece that singlehandedly undermines both the Liberal Party and Pentecostalism.

Getting It Wrong

As James MacPherson has highlighted, the legacy media are not outstanding at rightly representing Pentecostal Christian beliefs. And this ABC article is no exception.

It seems to treat Pentecostals like a homogenous group when nothing could be further from the truth.

Major institutional denominations within Australia include Australian Christian Churches, Hillsong, C3 Global Network, and International Network of Churches. Organisations like Ps Margaret Court’s Word of Faith-oriented Victory Life Centre in Perth are not affiliated with any of these institutions, and there are undoubtedly countless smaller and independent Pentecostal churches and organisations as well as a diverse range of different denominational traditions within Pentecostal thought.

And this is to ignore the diversity found in charismatics within other Christian denominations.

Despite the fact that charismatics agree with many of the distinctive practices and teachings of Pentecostal churches, the ABC (and others) have chosen to isolate and target Pentecostals in particular.

Perhaps, they are afraid of alienating the Christian Church as a whole.

The piece capitalises on peculiar Australian phobias of theocratic political takeovers (with Pentecostalism a particular suspect) and exploits common Australian misunderstandings (and simplifications) of the Pentecostal movement.

To be fair, a denomination that 1) refuses to bend to cultural pressures on matters of sexuality and truth, 2) emphasises caring participation in one’s community and nation, and 3) actively seeks to have a wider positive influence in society leaves itself wide open to these kinds of criticisms. Maybe this kind of stigmatisation is inevitable.

The piece also exploits fears and hatred of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison (who was associated with Sydney-based Horizon Church) and conspiracy theories about his plot to install a theocracy in Australia — theories stoked by a series of investigative hit-pieces by the staunchly anti-Christian magazine Crikey.

Of course, orthodox Christian views on gender, sexuality and life inevitably look “far right” in the most radically anti-Christian and left-wing state in the country. As the culture shifts further and further away from historic Christian belief, we can only expect such a response from the political and media elites.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, despite its own admission that legitimate Pentecostal participation in the Liberal Party has been ongoing for years, the ABC has written this hit-piece just three months out from a crucial Victorian election.

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8 Comments

  1. Warwick Marsh 2 September 2022 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Utterly brilliant and much needed article Cody. The mainstream media are absolute hate mongerers!!! Jesus would call them modern day devils!

  2. Leonie Robson 3 September 2022 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Great read Cody…
    Thanks 👍🏻

  3. Margaret Angenent 3 September 2022 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    Well written, Cody. I saw the article a few days ago/ Was very impressed with the two pentecostl church grou[ps mentioned,, both from Gippsland. Wish that there were more pentecostal groups willing to do the same

  4. Con Michailidis 20 September 2022 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    I felt the same way you did Cody when I heard this on the radio. They wanted to accuse of branch stacking and make people think that that the Liberal Party in Victoria was undergoing some illegal invasion by Christians, yet wanting to distance themselves from outright accusations or make it seem as if others are accusing and the ABC is just reporting. that. It was pathetic listening to it. This is typical hate politics by the ABC. It aint journalism that’s for sure.

    • Cody Mitchell 7 November 2022 at 10:36 am - Reply

      Thanks, Con. You’re right—it’s very clever, but it isn’t journalism.

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