Newcastle Anglican priest Rod Bower reveals his Hunter background in new book, Outspoken

HIS mother was a 16-year-old Newcastle girl who gave him up for adoption, the three fathers in his life died tragically young, and he had a “raging hangover” when he walked into a Mayfield church in 1984 as a first step towards becoming an Anglican priest.

Father Rod Bower tells the story of his Hunter upbringing in his new book, Outspoken, to explain how a conservative country boy became known years later for challenging the powerful on some of the most controversial issues of our time.

Father Bower’s signs outside the Newcastle diocese Gosford Anglican Church have championed marriage equality – “Dear Christians. Some ppl are gay. Get over it. Love God.” – gun reform – “When will they love your kids more than their guns?” and the environment – “There is no planet B”.

But it is his passionate advocacy on behalf of asylum seekers and against their detention that has seen him directly oppose the two politicians central to last week’s prime ministerial spill, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton.

In an interview this week before the book’s release on Monday Father Bower criticised both men for asylum seeker policies that he said dehumanised some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Passionate: Newcastle Anglican priest Rod Bower on ABC TV's Q & A program in May.

Passionate: Newcastle Anglican priest Rod Bower on ABC TV's Q & A program in May.

He questioned the “concerning influence” of the “Christian right” in Australian politics and was disturbed by evangelical Christian Scott Morrison’s first speech to Australians as prime minister last week. Mr Morrison said fairness in Australia meant “a fair go for those who have a go”.

It is a definition of fairness that excludes many marginalised and disadvantaged Australians, but it reflected the prosperity theology that informed the pentecostal Christian church Mr Morrison attended, Father Bower said.

Prosperity theology was developed in America and holds that if humans have faith in God he will deliver security and prosperity.

Father Bower said such a view “sanctified” trickle-down economics and created “a very dangerous mix that will continue to marginalise the poor and benefit the rich”.

“It consecrates a whole social and economic system that continues to widen the gap between rich and poor,” Father Bower said.

“It does seem a Christian right element is becoming a concerning influence, and even a force, within Australian politics.”

Leadership: Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg after the leadership spill that left Mr Morrison as Prime Minister.

Leadership: Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg after the leadership spill that left Mr Morrison as Prime Minister.

In his book Father Bower recounts how therapy was essential to deal with the legacies of his childhood, including an alcoholic adoptive father, and allowed him to stand up for the marginalised based on the teachings of Christ.

“I grew up in an extraordinary environment with an extraordinary sense of freedom but there was a dark side. I wasted a good 10 years of my life drinking too much, and a fortune. I used to hoon up and down Hunter Street when I was a young man in the 1970s because that was what you did,” he said.

The public speeches, television appearances and regular controversies sometimes left him “utterly exhausted, empty and drained”.

“Were I not somehow rather driven by my vocation to fight for a more just society I’d be happy sitting in this room with my books,” he said.

Newcastle Anglican Bishop Peter Stuart this year appointed Father Bower Archdeacon for justice, ministries and chaplaincy.

“It is an acknowledgement by Bishop Peter that social justice issues are particularly important to him,” Father Bower said.