March 2011

The Nation Reviewed

The devil within

By Jack Marx
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.
Christian Democratic Party member Peter J Madden

“What is a man?” asks Peter J Madden, preacher, former sex addict, and heir apparent to the Christian Democratic Party (CDP), led by Reverend Fred Nile, member of the New South Wales Upper House. “That is the great question. Our masculinity is often clouded by what society tells us a man is, what the movies say a man is, what the media says a man is, what the Church says a man is. But the only definition that makes any sense is … that you have a penis. That’s it. You’re a man because you’re a man.” It’s interesting that the man who’ll be challenging Clover Moore for the seat of Sydney in the NSW state election assumes this particular definition.

Born in 1961, Madden was raised in the outer-Sydney town of Windsor. When he was six, he was run over by a car, God seeing fit to hitch a caravan on the back to collect whatever the car missed. The boy emerged from a coma three weeks later with severe brain trauma that “altered my personality radically”. Three years later, by his own account, he was molested by an older female, an experience that resonated into his teens and “set very destructive patterns of anger and lust in my life”. At the age of 20, he was “born again”, but the birth didn’t destroy the Devil in Peter J Madden, who, while travelling the world as a married preacher, indulged a private “sex addiction” that sought satisfaction in the bosoms of prostitutes and lasted until his mid thirties, when he came to see that it was “not I, but Christ who lives in me”.

Last year, his fire-and-brimstone ministry (he travels the country preaching from a truck converted to incorporate a stage and sound system) brought him to the attention of Nile, and Madden has again been reborn – as a political force on the CDP ticket. His impassioned videos raging against the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras have gone viral, along with his personal message of the sinner having been saved.

In a coffee shop in Castle Hill, Sydney’s western evangelical heartland, Madden is a far more appealing creature than the one in the videos, who affects the voice of a radio shock jock and the bouncing gait of a used car salesman, each thunderous proclamation punctuated by a satisfied shift from one foot to the other, then back again, like a boxer on the rebound from his own winning blows. It’s classic evangelical stuff, with a distinctly American show-business chutzpah – more PT Barnum than Jesus Christ – and doubtless owes a debt to Madden’s own personal pin-up, Smith Wigglesworth, a turn-of-the-century evangelist who travelled the world performing ‘miracles’ (or perhaps simply performing).

Madden is boyish in person, with a cheeky smile that begins in his eyes and flows downwards, suggesting that God might not have been entirely thorough in hosing the scallywag out of his servant. Ironically, it’s this very charm – this promise of a man on the edge of temptation – that invests Madden with more credibility than you might ascribe to the robust Christian blowhard of his videos.

“I know the devastation that addiction to lust can bring,” he tells me. “You know, I lost my wife and my family. I didn’t get to raise my kids. And I’ll never get that back. Only just last year, I called my ex-wife, told her I felt I was about to enter into a major battle, and that I felt very strongly that I wanted to ask her and the children to come and stand by my side. She absolutely point-blank rejected that idea. She cannot reconcile the fact that I was unfaithful.”

She might well speak for us all, for the testimony of Madden demands extraordinary faith from the voting public. He insists that his sex addiction was the result of his being abused as a child, though no evidence of this exists on the official public record – we must take his word for it, and taking the word of a man who was visiting prostitutes while masquerading as a married preacher of God requires a suspension of healthy cynicism. He insists that he is a changed man, that he “was” a sinner, but has been “set free by the power of God through Jesus Christ” – presumably the same power that was so successfully defeated by Satan all those years ago. We must believe the Devil dwells no more in the soul of Peter J Madden.

And then there is the message itself, which at times can be as faulty as the very society for which it is designed. “The role of government,” he says, “is to be the firm but loving hand of a father who says, ‘So far and no further.’” He declares: “I don’t hate homosexuals, I love homosexuals, for the Bible commands me to love” – as if love of any meaningful sort can be the result of an order. He insists that the Roman Empire collapsed as a result of “society’s descent into moral decay”, a historical myth most famously propagated by the Penthouse production of the 1979 soft-porn film Caligula – which, all things considered, might well be Madden’s most intensely scrutinised source on the matter.

But he’s not all ham and nonsense. He argues, not without some justification, that Mardi Gras should be moved from the street to a stadium, arguing we “don’t let kids go to Sexpo, so why do we allow them to view the live porn displays that are such a feature of the Mardi Gras?” He believes abortion to be “human sacrifice to the gods of earthly convenience”, which is surely one of the more erudite pro-life arguments that exist. Those who vote for Madden will, like those who vote for Nile, get what they vote for and nothing less.

But Madden is himself an eloquent illustration of the folly of nanny-state politics: a child who, having been exposed to society’s most vile and destructive aberrations, has emerged as a thoroughly decent and likeable chap. (Last September, he married again, “a lovely girl” almost 12 years his junior.) “I always talk about those who’ve never had the advantage of being disadvantaged,” he says. “It’s the rough spots and the hard times of life that actually give you character.”

“I was interviewed for radio recently by a gay Christian,” he says, that smile making its way down his face again. “He ended up telling me that he’d seen my video and thought I was a very good-looking man. And I said: ‘Now, I wanna cut that in the bud right there …’”

Jack Marx

Jack Marx is a journalist, blogger and author, who has won the Walkley Award for his feature I Was Russell Crowe's Stooge'. His books include Australian Tragic: Gripping Tales from the Dark Side of our History and Sorry: The Wretched Tale of Little Stevie Wright.

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