It is not uncommon to hear Christians complaining about preaching. Not simply the boring sermon that they heard last Sunday, or the inability of certain preachers in particular, but the entire medium of the proclaimed monologue. In the internet age with all its computer graphics, viral Youtube moments and 140 word tweets, it is felt preaching is to communication what horses are to modern warfare: outdated, cumbersome, irrelevant and only esteemed by those guaranteed to be on the losing side because they have not kept up with the times. However Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, gave a stinging rebuke in Parliament in 2012 which demonstrated that the proclaimed word has lost none of its potency in the internet age; if anything, it can now pack a meaner punch.
As with any speech, the context of Prime Minister Gillard’s speech is important. At the time she was leading a government that was languishing in the polls. Her personal approval ratings were at an all time low, only matched by those of the leader of the Opposition. She has been nicknamed Ju-liar. Her minority government was hanging by a thread in parliament and facing a motion to have the Speaker of the House resign over allegations of inappropriate text messages about women. The Opposition leader was leading the call for the Speaker’s resignation and along the way seemed to be improving his poor image in relation to women.
And then Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave her speech. She began, ‘I will not be lectured on misogyny by that man. Not now. Not ever.’ She then proceeded to offer a stinging and detailed rebuke of the sexism she perceived the leader of the opposition hypocritically displayed. The rest is history. You can view the speech here (http://youtube.com/w/?v=wfo3SGIiSE0).
The speech is worth Christians listening to in order to get an insight into what many in our society regard as sexism. Several of the critiques are valid, some perhaps, in the light of Scripture are not. This is not suprising since Prime Minister Gillard is a declared atheist. However few of the critiques will be new to any Christian living in the West who is engaged with their community. The greater lesson of Prime Minister Gillard’s speech is the ringing endorsement it provided to the medium of the proclaimed word. To say it was potent would be an understatement.
Within a day, the speech had been picked up on by media outlets across the world, from the Spectator to the New Yorker; from the Guardian to the Telegraph. Overnight, the speech went viral, receiving 300,000 hits in its first day and easily surpassing a million Youtube views within a week. Overnight, facebook was awash with comments about the speech; virtual posters were being made quoting it. Prime Minister Gillard went from being nicknamed Ju-liar to being referred to as Julia Caesar.
But this was no flash-in-the-pan effect. Now three months on from the speech, the Prime Minister’s approval ratings have risen across ages and genders; the Leader of the Opposition’s ratings have done the reverse. He has stepped back from being an attack dog and delegated that duty to his Deputy (another Julia). As 2012 closed and newspapers provided their reviews of the year, Julia Gillard’s speech rated as one of the defining moments of the year, and certainly of politics and her leadership. The Macquarie Dictionary updated its definition of misogyny from ”hatred of women” to ‘entrenched prejudice of women’. It is not difficult to imagine that in years to come Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s ‘misogyny’ speech will be published in books of collections great speeches, both in Australia and abroad, about politics and beyond. In short, a 15 minute monologue given with great clarity and conviction did what no amount of advertising or political spin could do. It turned a tide.
What was fascinating to watch in the day after Prime Minister Gillard gave her speech was that most of Australia’s highly astute political commentators missed the significance of her speech. Indeed, several, who would later acknowledge the significance of it, criticised her for it at the time. They did what is so easy to do: they missed the great significance of a very powerful and persuasive speech, no doubt because it was all too familiar. Although they mostly saw the speech live, they are used to watching speeches in parliament. Perhaps they think that Parliament is boring and 15 minute monologues are out of place in the internet age.
Christians sitting in churches hearing 15 minute monologues on the Word of God which they think are boring take note of these commentators mistake, and learn. If the Bible is the Word of God it is not the message which is the problem. Julia Gillard’s speech showed the problem is not the medium either. That leaves two options: the messengers or the hearers.