Thursday, September 20, 2007

Beyond the politics of Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott

No. 55 – 23 April 2007

By Stephen Chatelier

The recent discussions surrounding faith and politics have been observed with much interest by the media, politicians and church leaders.

For the media, it is a contentious –and therefore desirable – topic. For politicians, it is about capturing votes. For church leaders, it is about having a voice in society. Out of these three key stakeholders, it is the church that needs to be most discerning in its response the latest developments.

Many Christians who may have felt increasingly disempowered in recent years by the strength of the Religious Right, have been suitably encouraged by Labor Leader, Kevin Rudd’s recent musings.

Rudd in his writings for The Monthly and media interviews, has essentially argued two related points. First, God is not “owned” by any political party; and second, social justice issues, not only personal morality, should be a concern for Christians.

After allowing the new Labor Leader some time, Tony Abbott eventually engaged in the discussion at the Young Liberals’ Conference on January 27 this year. Abbott delivered a speech titled, “Rudd’s Religious Sales Pitch”, where he accused Rudd of hypocrisy. That is, Abbott believes that Rudd has been politicizing the issue and is striving to declare the ALP as the “party of choice” for Christians.

Understandably, both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott argue their case with a good dose of political rhetoric. Inevitably, when discussion of the right Christian response to social issues takes place in the context of the political arena, politics will take prime place over theology.

Regarding his interview with Geraldine Doogue on ABC’s Compass in 2005, Rudd suggested that it “has got more hazards for me internally [within the ALP] than anything that you may calculate may be advantageous for me beyond the party. I just think I’ve got a responsibility to start talking about these things.”

While there may be some truth here, this comment must be placed alongside the motivating factor for Rudd to set up the Labor parliamentary discussion group called Faith, Values and Politics. In the same interview, Rudd made clear that politics was the driving force in his setting up the group: “I’m doing what I think at this time in Australia’s political history is right. And that is to engage this debate about faith, values and politics and not to vacate the ground for the other mob.”

Whether it is avoidable or not, the reality is that discussion surrounding the faith-politics nexus is being divided down party lines.

This is where the danger for the church lies. Once a polarization occurs where the ALP represents the socially liberal Christian and the Coalition the socially conservative Christian, the church will find itself playing a political game rather than a theological one. On such a playing field, the church can only lose.

For many, the distinctiveness of the church has always been its strength. Jesus told his disciples to be “in the world but not of the world.” The letters from the Apostle Paul consistently exhorted his readers to “no longer conform to the patterns of the world.”

Rudd’s hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes in his letters from prison during World war II: “The world that has come of age is more godless, and perhaps for that very reason nearer to God, than the world before its coming of age.” Bonhoeffer recognized the need for the church to be distinct from the world – indeed, distinct from the state – if it was going to have real influence.

Many contemporary Christian commentators are now reflecting on the problem of Christendom rather than any triumph in Christendom. American theologians William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas have been singing that tune for years. They believe that the church must consist of “Resident Aliens” – the title of their most well-known book.

In a recently published Australian book, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, author Alan Hirsch suggests that if the church is to once again experience growth, it must set itself free from the mindset of Christendom. He argues that, historically, the church has been more effective when it has been on the margins of society rather than at the centre as instituted by Constantine.

The key here is that the church is on the margins. The extraction of the church from society is not the answer. Rather, when the church is on the margins, it is at the very place where it can speak prophetically to a nation’s political situation. The church in Australia needs to position itself where it can be a voice both encouraging and critiquing political parties of all persuasions.

The message in all this is that while the church is undoubtedly political, it is defined by its allegiance to the triune God. It must, then, exist outside of any politically designated boundaries of Left vs Right, Conservative vs Liberal, ALP vs Coalition.

Both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott are politicians. Their motivation is thus politically based. The benefit in their debate is that it is evidence of the diversity of views amongst Christians. Yet neither represents the Christian view. As Kevin Rudd has declared, “No political party owns God.”

Christians must respond to the current debate bearing in mind that it is primarily a political one. If the church is to succeed in its mandate to work towards establishing a new Kingdom, it is vital that it remembers its distinctiveness. Its political contribution to society is that it offers a radically different system distinct from the politics of the world. Playing on the political field will result in the church aiming for the wrong goals.

Stephen Chatelier is a high school humanities teacher who writes about faith and politics on his blog, gerrymander.

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Soundings is a publication of the Centre for Christian Ethics, edited by Rod Benson. Soundings welcomes submissions of up to 1000 words that seek to facilitate debate and explore issues of religion, ethics and public policy in Australia and internationally. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Soundings, and the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College, Sydney Australia. Views expressed in Soundings articles are not necessarily those of the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College or the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT.

What has Easter to do with ethics?

No. 54 – 5 April 2007

by Rod Benson

The premier annual Christian feast is upon us again. I picked up a bright, shiny Christian leaflet the other day, and the banner immediately caught my attention. “We are at a moral crossroad; it’s time to demonstrate the true meaning of Easter,” the flyer declared, advertising a nation-wide event scheduled for Easter.

It looked so cheerful and hopeful. But its religious content was at a rather low ebb, and it failed to explain which moral crossroad the sponsor had in mind. I guess I was simply supposed to know what it was all about. Perhaps I go to the wrong churches, or subscribe to the wrong media, or read the wrong bits of the Bible.

But the linking of moral crossroads with the public celebration of Easter in the flyer got me thinking: What has Easter to do with ethics?

Well, in a word, everything – if we’re thinking Christian ethics! The Easter story is the foundational story of Christianity. As we accept what God did for us in Christ, and identify with Jesus in his death and resurrection, God grants us a new life of freedom, assurance and hope. This new life is profoundly shaped by our obedience to Jesus. But what does such a life look like?

I think New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright puts it as well as anyone:

Jesus … calls us to share in his work of drawing out and dealing with the evil of the world; by loving our neighbours, both immediate and far-off, with the strong love that sent him to the cross; and by working out the implications of that love in our own vocations, whatever they may be, in our social and political action, in our relationships (and particularly our marriages and families), and in our caring for those in our midst who need the healing and restoring love of God most deeply.

We are called, as the people who claim the crucified Jesus as our Lord, to seek out the pain of the world, and, in prayer, in patient hard work, in listening, in healing, in announcing the Kingdom of this Jesus by every means possible, to take that pain into ourselves and give it over to Jesus himself, so that the world may be healed …

With the cross as the underlying story of our lives, validated by the resurrection and then implemented by the fire of the Holy Spirit, we can have the confidence to take on the world with the sovereign love of God.[1]

The great Gospel events – the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus – are the foundation of the Christian faith. But Christianity is much more than assent to certain doctrines, or even participation in a particular faith community. To be genuinely called a Christian – which is about as high an honour and as demanding a responsibility as one could imagine – is to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus and to shape our lives in radical obedience to his will and words.

That necessitates getting our hands dirty in the cesspools of this world, identifying with people not at all like ourselves, going without a coat or a meal or a second mortgage when situations demand it, taking on issues that seem beyond us and problems that appear insurmountable, and becoming more and more like the Lord whose name (and whose grace) we have accepted.

Do you have the confidence to “take on the world with the sovereign love of God”? If you’re doubtful, you might just find (or rediscover!) that confidence and love this Easter, as you gather with the faithful to celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who calls each one of us to follow him into the unformed and unfathomed future.

And, speaking of taking on the world with the sovereign love of God, I conclude this Easter reflection with an excerpt from the Easter message of Dr Ross Clifford, the National President of the Baptist Union of Australia (who is, coincidentally, my boss), which I had a hand in drafting:

“This year is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, the culmination of a long campaign of Christian social justice by William Wilberforce. Twenty-one years earlier, Governor Arthur Phillip, launching his vision for the new colony of New South Wales, declared that ‘there can be no slavery in a free land, and consequently no slaves.’

“We give thanks to God for a slavery-free Australia, and for the end of institutional injustice elsewhere that degraded the bodies and crushed the spirits of so many innocent persons.

“But the moral blight of slavery continues in other forms. Modern slavery is a booming international trade with up to 27 million victims worldwide. Human trafficking is the third largest source of income for organised crime, exceeded only by arms and drug trafficking, in a market valued at $32 billion. Men, women and children are trafficked into prostitution, forced labour, military service, domestic service, forced adoption and forced marriage.

“Consumers should avoid purchasing goods and services produced by slave labour such as chocolate made with coca from parts of West Africa, and some carpets, rugs and restaurant foods. In addition, in subtle ways, many who appear free are slaves to legalism, consumerism, unjust employment regimes, and practices that accelerate climate change.

“I call on the federal government to step up efforts to end human trafficking in our region, and to support anti-slavery campaigns by Christian human rights and aid agencies such as World Vision.

“When Jesus frees us from our spiritual bonds, he empowers us to share the good news of freedom with others, and to help break all the chains that bind them. The Easter story profoundly and symbolically proclaims freedom from everything that holds us back from fulfilling our purpose and destiny.

“At Easter, Baptists throughout Australia reflect on the great Gospel story of freedom from slavery to sin, and find spiritual renewal for the journey ahead. This Easter, two hundred years after the abolition of slavery, let us celebrate the victory achieved through the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. Let us commit ourselves to action that abolishes slavery to sin and frees people everywhere to enjoy the liberty of a vibrant relationship with the risen Jesus. And let us commit ourselves to action that opposes social injustice and encourages people everywhere to adopt values and principles that honour the risen Jesus.”

Happy Easter to all.

Rev Rod Benson is founding Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney, Australia.

Reference

N.T. Wright, The Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit (London: SPCK, 1992), pp. 104-106.

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Soundings is a publication of the Centre for Christian Ethics, edited by Rod Benson. Soundings welcomes submissions of up to 1000 words that seek to facilitate debate and explore issues of religion, ethics and public policy in Australia and internationally. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Soundings, and the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College, Sydney Australia. Views expressed in Soundings articles are not necessarily those of the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College or the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT.

Poverty and power: Some half time analysis

No. 53 – 28 March 2007

John McKinnon

We have reached the half-way point of the program to halve global poverty by 2015. Members of the United Nations, including Australia, agreed to this target at the Millennium Summit in 2000.

The half time score is not looking good. While some regions are on track to achieve some of the targets, Sub-Saharan Africa is behind on all indicators. One reason for the poor scoreline is lack of action by the developed world. For example, Australia’s foreign aid is still well short of the 0.5% of GNI needed to achieve the goals set out in the Millennium Declaration. As halftime draws near, it is useful to look at the nature of poverty and see why the first half failed to deliver a better score.

A simplistic view is that poverty is simply a deficit of food, water, income, housing, land and/or services. Implicit in this view is that providing the things that are missing will solve the problem. At the level of material deficits and lack of infrastructure, this means supplying food, wells, houses, roads, railways, bridges and other “things”. To the extent the deficit is in skills, providing education is the answer. A deficit in law or governance means provision of police, legal officers or bureaucracy.

Clearly, poverty does involve these deficits. Furthermore, alleviating poverty will involve addressing these material and social deficits. However, this purely materialistic view of poverty is inadequate. The notion of a rich benevolent West providing goods, services and infrastructure to an impoverished developing world is not necessarily healthy. It can create the image of a messianic “developed world” delivering the poor from their poverty.

If it doesn’t work then the poor are blamed due to their inadequacy, corruption, or laziness. Donors can self-righteously point to their generous provision of funds and how it has been “wasted” by the recipients. Such failure of development due to this inadequate view of poverty can result in a reluctance to continue funding.

This is certainly not to decry aid. Aid and development funding are necessary. Most donations come with sincere motives and much is sacrificially given. But is aid used effectively? Is it addressing the real problem? Are other factors preventing greater effective?

Recent development theory has begun to view poverty as more complex than simple lack. A key aspect of poverty that has come to the fore is that of disempowerment. According to Indian development practitioner Jayakumar Christian, the poor find themselves trapped inside a system of disempowerment made up of a complex framework of interacting systems. These systems are cultural, physical, personal (e.g. self image), religious and social. Thus combating poverty involves a complex framework of interventions.

The social aspect of this complex framework is particularly relevant. Christian sees the non-poor adopting a “god-complex” towards the poor involving an attitude of superiority and paternalism. Furthermore, the non-poor create narratives, structures and systems that justify and rationalize their privileged position.

The push for free trade is a good example. When the US was industrializing in the 19th century it protected its infant industries against European competition. Now that the US is in a position of power, the prevailing wisdom is free trade and anti-protectionism, justified by neo-classical economic theory and reinforcing their dominant position. The structure of the World Trade Organisation and the conduct of its meetings also work to reinforce the current power structure even though it is justified by the fa├žade of democracy.

A recent news article by Connie Levett (Age, 3 Feb 2007) highlights a further example. It describes a situation in the Philippines where 16,000 babies die each year because of a decline in breastfeeding. The Department of Health along with civil society groups sought new regulations on the marketing and promotion of breast milk substitutes. However large western corporations marketing baby formula appealed through their industry association to the High Court claiming a restraint of trade. When that failed, some serious lobbying took place and the regulations are currently under a restraining order. Those with power continue to play god in the lives of those without, even to extent of risking lives. The narrative of the free market continues to justify this abuse of power.

Poverty as disempowerment exposes the myth of economic growth as its solution. Economic growth may increase a nation’s income without addressing the question of power. In the absence of specific action to redress inequality and power distribution, economic growth will tend to benefit those who already have the power. The US, for example, has nearly doubled its real GDP per capita in the 30 years to 2005 while the proportion of people below 50% of the poverty level (as defined by the US Census Bureau) has increased. Yet even if growth does increase income and reduce some aspects of material poverty of the poor, it may still fail to address the underlying powerlessness that constitutes real poverty.

John Kenneth Galbraith said, “Power is the great black hole in economic theory”. To seriously tackle global poverty that black hole needs to be addressed. The elephant in the room, however, is that to empower some means disempowering others. That is, it involves a redistribution of power. The problem of poverty will not be solved by the rich continuing to donate their excess while failing to give up their privilege.

We in the wealthy world must accept that our position of power is unsustainable and seek to re-democratise the world. That would mean redressing the power imbalances in the WTO, IMF and World Bank. It would mean limiting the power of corporations and returning power to national governments. It would mean an end to corporations buying influence over politicians.

It would not just be about the big end of town though. It may also mean higher prices for our goods and services. It may mean lower returns on our superannuation as corporate profits are checked. It may mean a lower standard of living for those of us accustomed to being at the top of the world’s pyramid. It would mean taking Jesus seriously when he says, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Such changes will not come easily. Power is usually not given away without a fight. It is much easier to continue to provide charity and wring our hands when the problem doesn’t go away. However, in the words of the UN Millennium Declaration, signed by the Australian government,

“we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level… We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.”


The second half is about to begin. It may prove much more costly.

John McKinnon is the NSW State Co-ordinator for Tear Australia.

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Soundings is a publication of the Centre for Christian Ethics, edited by Rod Benson. Soundings welcomes submissions of up to 1200 words that seek to facilitate debate and explore issues of religion, ethics and public policy in Australia and internationally. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Soundings, and the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College, Sydney Australia. Views expressed in Soundings articles are not necessarily those of the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College or the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT.

Climate change: two evangelical views

No. 52 – 16 March 2007

by Andrew Cameron and Lisa Watts

‘You can’t change the weather,’ we all used to say with a shrug, to make the point that some actions are well beyond the powers of puny humans. But a disagreement has opened up among U.S. evangelicals about the extent to which we can, or cannot, change the weather.

The purpose of this briefing is very limited. We simply want to outline the groups involved in this American Christian debate, and note some of their views. We will not evaluate the merits of their respective cases; that task is for future Social Issues briefings. We suspect that similar disagreements might be present among Australian evangelicals; however we don’t want attention to the U.S. scene to polarise our local scene. Rather, we hope that some recognition of the competing views might assist us to clarify the points at issue as we all consider our response to claims about climate change.

We will, however, take serious exception to two of the claims put by one of the parties concerned. These two claims go way beyond the issue of climate change and concern the nature of Christian ethics and the meaning of the term ‘evangelical’. It is important for us to name these two claims as wrong.

But first, can people change the weather? Christian debate on the American scene is, in part, about the extent to which global warming is ‘anthropogenic’, meaning caused by human activity. For signatories of a document by the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), the planet is warming largely due to human causes. The anthropogenic element implies an important moral claim: if humanity started it, then changes to human activity might also stop it. We have changed the weather, therefore we should attempt to change it again; and we should particularly do so, on this argument, out of respect for the world’s poor who will be most directly affected by climate change.

But for the authors and endorsers of a response document by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA), the anthropogenic contribution to global warming is slight, and therefore human attempts to reverse it are overstated and will have little or no result, yet will be needlessly expensive and will involve unnecessary economic dislocations—to be felt most acutely by the world’s poor.

At this point it will be useful to pause, because the names and three letter acronyms begin to multiply. We thought it might help to list some of the protagonists in a table:

**********

Global warming is mainly anthropogenic, and policy initiatives should seek to halt it:

Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI)
http://www.christiansandclimate.org
Key document: ‘Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.’

National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)
http://www.nae.net
Main spokesman: Rev. Richard Cizik

Global warming is mainly natural, and policy initiatives should protect the economy:

Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA)
http://www.interfaithstewardship.org
Key document: ‘A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming.’

Authors of an open letter to the NAE
http://www.citizenlink.org/CLNews/A000004114.cfm
Main (?) spokesman: Dr James Dobson (Focus on the Family, FoF)

**********

It is worth noting what the ECI and the ISA agree about. Both groups think that global warming is occurring; both are concerned for the plight of the poor; both want to be guided by scientific evidence, both think that humanity is called both to rule and to nurture God’s creation. However they disagree about:

• the causes of global warming (see above);
• the best way to assist the poor (ECI wants to halt rising sea-levels and changes to rainfall patterns, whereas ISA prefers the kind of abundant economic activity that will raise standards of living); and
• the way to read the scientific evidence (too big to summarise here!).

To a lesser extent, they appear to have a more subtle disagreement about Genesis:

• Genesis 1 emphasises humanity’s mandate for a monarch-like dominion over the creation. The commands to ‘subdue’ and ‘rule’ in Genesis 1:28 are very strong words (so much so that they offend some environmentalists). But does this command envisage us bending every aspect of the earth to our will, or does it acknowledge the way humans are able to meet their basic needs from the earth (as vv29-30 imply)? Both groups seem to lay a different weight upon the concept of ‘dominion’, and to draw different conclusions from it.
• Genesis 2 emphasises humanity’s mandate to work the earth and watch over it. The man, and later the woman, remain embedded in and dependent upon the earth from which they are taken. The ECI and the NAE therefore speak of ‘creation care’ to describe this relationship, whereas the ISA speaks of ‘stewardship’ to describe it. Again, the emphasis is subtly different: we ‘care’ for things as an end in themselves, but we are ‘stewards’ of things that serve some other end.

We hope this brief outline is a useful snapshot of some of the issues at stake. Time and ability permitting, we hope in future briefings to survey some of the scientific debates about climate change, the technical debates surrounding some of the solutions proposed for it, and the economic debates about helping the world’s poor.

But we need to end on a negative note, and oppose two claims made by the authors of the letter opposing Richard Cizik and the ECI’s and NAE’s stance on climate change. There are useful moments of caution in this letter, as when it warns the NAE not to speak too quickly about matters beyond its scientific expertise. There is also some hurt reflected in the letter, and perhaps some apologies are needed if the NAE spokesman has spoken as intemperately as the letter’s authors claim he has done.

However when its authors assert that the NAE is ‘using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time,’ they add that ‘the great moral issues of our time’ are ‘notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.’ But of course if Jesus really is Lord of all, it makes little theological sense to restrict the ‘great moral issues’ to issues of sexual morality. While we at the SIE would agree that these are important moral issues, evangelical ethics is about bringing the good news of Jesus’ lordship to all areas of life. Just as Jesus’ lordship is good news for our understanding and practise of sex, so can it be good news for our use of the earth and our relationship with the poor.

That observation brings us to the most terrible failure of this letter, when it approvingly quotes USA Today’s definition that ‘evangelical’ was and is ‘the label of choice of Christians with conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality.’ But Jesus and his apostles know of no such thing in their announcement of the euanggelion, the ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’. The good news does not rest upon any political persuasion, economic theory, or sexual ethics. It is that the kingdom of God has come, subjecting all and every political, economic, sexual and environmental view to Jesus Christ, that he might lead us to forgiveness, peace and freedom in all of these areas and more. We think, then, that the understanding of ‘evangelical’ supposed by the authors of this letter, is not evangelical at all.

Andrew Cameron is Chairman of the Social Issues Executive (SIE), Anglican Diocese of Sydney. Lisa Watts is a research officer for the SIE. This article appeared as Social Issues Briefing no. 060, 16 Mar 2007. Used by permission.

Further Reading:

Brief summary of the dispute:
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-evangelicals10mar10,0,7299079,full.story?coll=l

Proposed debate on the ‘great moral issues’ claim:
http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/2007/03/jim-wallis-big-debate.html.

Soundings is a publication of the Centre for Christian Ethics, edited by Rod Benson. Soundings welcomes submissions of up to 1000 words that seek to facilitate debate and explore issues of religion, ethics and public policy in Australia and internationally. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Soundings, and the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College, Sydney Australia. Views expressed in Soundings articles are not necessarily those of the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College or the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT.

Christians, ethics and the ballot box

No. 51 – 14 March 2007

by Simeon Payne

In ten days’ time, on March 24, NSW residents will go to the polls for a State election. Indeed this is the year for elections with all three levels of government being voted upon. Not that readers need to be reminded of this fact. If you are like me, your mailbox, email box and even Christian magazines have been filled with political advertising.

I must confess that at this time I feel nervous. Invariable I have what I call the “awkward political conversation.” It takes two forms. One is with fellow Christians who feel guilty that they are or are not voting for a “Christian” candidate; the other is with those outside the Kingdom of God where the conversation entails correcting the misleading notion that all Christians think or vote in a particular way.

Let’s face reality. There is a huge divergence of opinion on how Christians should approach the topic of politics. It has been over fifty years since Niebuhr wrote his classic work Christ & Culture, and we are still no closer to consensus as to whether Christ is above, with, against or in tension with political culture. Our experience, our Christian heritage, our hermeneutics, our theology and even our eschatology all interact to give all of us a unique take on how we approach this issue.

And then there are the practical issues. If one has the option of voting for an incompetent Christian or a highly competent atheist, what is more desirable? Does the moral Muslim get the nod over the immoral fifth-generation Australian? Is it more desirable to have a distinctly Christian political party or is the model of incarnation more leaning of encouraging Christians in existing parties?

And I haven’t even mentioned the broadest issue of all: whether Christians should be to the Right, Left or indeed Green of the political/ideological spectrum.

So how should Christians deal with the ethics of elections? Ironically, I suspect that most church leaders have not considered the ethical questions posed by each election cycle.

First, I think an ethic of honesty is demanded. I think we should be honest to accept that there is no “one” Christian political approach. There are many. All have implications, some are better than others. But it is the time to move away from simplistic slogans and to encourage all Christians to work through the positives and negatives of all of the broader issues, and come to their own considered conclusions.

Second, I do think there is a role for Churches to discuss and preach on these issues and to critically and objectively evaluate, and indeed elevate, political thought. Churches do have a role to play in each election cycle. But I stress the word objective, and I stress that this needs to take place within my first framework of honestly acknowledging that there might not be one candidate or party that is ideal.

The critical aspect here is that the Pastor objectively and even-handedly raise thinking and reflection on the issue. It is not the Pastors role to “get” the congregation to vote a particular way, but to encourage the congregation to prayerfully and intelligently engage with the issue. If this cannot be done in a mature, reflective and even handed way, then it should not be done.

Third, I maintain that no Church should ever advertise or distribute political advertising for any party or individual candidate. Two ethical considerations come into play here.

There is the principle of the weaker believer to which I previously alluded. For the immature Christian it raises issues of confusion. Distributing or allowing the distribution of political material confuses those in our care with the incorrect notion that we are endorsing or suggesting a particular party or candidate.

The other consideration is that it compromises our mission. It is terribly serious that someone outside the Kingdom might have their journey to Christ waylaid due to the stumbling block of thinking that Christianity means such and such a political allegiance, rather than a fully devoted allegiance to Christ.

It is my hope that each of us will reflect on the broader ethical considerations that political elections invite; and that each of us will work hard to prevent elections from becoming a stumbling block to faith and ethics in the minds and hearts of our fellow electors.

Simeon Payne is the Baptist Chaplain at the University of Western Sydney and a Deacon of Macquarie Fields Baptist Church.

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Soundings is a publication of the Centre for Christian Ethics, edited by Rod Benson. Soundings welcomes submissions of up to 1200 words that seek to facilitate debate and explore issues of religion, ethics and public policy in Australia and internationally. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Soundings, and the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College, Sydney Australia. Views expressed in Soundings articles are not necessarily those of the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College or the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT.