Tuesday 27 November 2007

So which one was God's party? Any post-election lessons?

Australia has just voted in its federal election and the government of 11 years led by John Howard has been defeated and Kevin Rudd is the new Prime Minister. I was 'over' the election by the time it came and was glad that Australians finally had a chance to cast their votes. I'm a very interested citizen in politics but I have to say that I was weary from political advertising overload, from dissecting policies, listening to media reports and debating the same issues - call it campaign fatigue! I felt that we had the opportunity to be informed and I was ready to vote. And as a Christian I felt that we had political parties that were offering a choice. I don't buy the argument that the major parties were the same - there were some key differences. It was also helpful to have some new tools designed to help negotiate the policy maze and unpack the differences. The most useful was that offered by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) that I described in a previous post. One of the most helpful bits of this site was that it showed me how my local member had voted on legislation that is important to me. But the frustration above all frustrations that seems to be part of every election, is that some of my fellow Christians pedal three simplistic false assumptions EVERY time!

1. That if you're a Christian you'd better vote for Christians because no-one else will.
2. That if you're a Christian that the Christian Democrats are the party that we should vote for because of its stand on a number of critical moral issues; and a sub-theme that there is a limited set of moral issues or values that should concern me.
3. That if you are choosing to vote for one of the two major parties to have your say about the government in the lower house then you need to vote Coalition because no right thinking Bible believing Christian would vote Labor.

I don't want to bore readers of this Blog by examining each of these assumptions but I feel compelled to comment in general terms. I struggled to vote for the CDP. Why? Because I have never been able to trust the policy platform of the party and the accuracy of its policy analysis. Yes, I do agree with its stand on specific moral issues and can stand with them on many of the values that are explicitly outlined (e.g. opposition to the creation and destruction of embryos for research, opposition to same sex marriages, opposing adoption for same sex couples, opposing euthanasia and abortion etc). But there always seems an intellectual dishonesty about the way the party defines its key values, the values it doesn't concern itself with, and the way its members denigrate other politicians and parties based on their assessment. As well, many of the issues on the checklist assume only one Christian position and I believe that for some of the issues they outline there are different positions that are possible (e.g. in relation to school vouchers, vilification laws etc).

In 1998 I was horrified to see the CDP preference Pauline Hanson above the local Labor party candidate in my electorate. Given Pauline Hanson's policies at the time it was difficult to see how this could be justified as a Christian. I was appalled in the current campaign to hear a CDP supporter talking about God's blessing on Australian being withdrawn if Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister of Australia. Why, they were asked? Because John Howard is a Christian and Kevin Rudd is not. I haven't spoken to John Howard about his faith but I am confident that Kevin Rudd has a genuine and sincere faith in Christ based on the words from his own mouth when he visited New College in 2005 and the testimony of others who know him well, including some politicians on the other side of the house. I won't say much about the failure to understand the sovereignty of God in assuming that God is somehow powerless to work through a Labor government. God's word teaches us that "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases (Proverbs 21:1)".

The latest CDP analysis of 27 moral issues prior to the recent election is yet another example of how selective choices of moral issues and selective assessments of party policies leads to misleading guidance for Christians on how to vote. It seems that The Rev Canon Sandy Grant from St Michael’s Pro-Cathedral Wollongong is just as annoyed as I am. In his assessment of the regular CDP analysis of the major parties he suggests that the Australian Christian Values Checklist 2007 ‘is simplistic, reductionistic, and unbalanced’ and therefore ‘runs the danger of being sub-Christian’. While the last point is harsh I agree with the first three comments. Like Sandy I have pointed out omissions from the checklist in the past to no avail. He points out that as usual the checklist is reductionist, limiting values seen as relevant and simplifying others. I agree with these points. Could we not have asked for an analysis of the major parties' stance on:

* the care of widows and orphans;
* the homeless;
* giving aid to foreign nations in crisis;
* the right of an employee to receive fair pay and just employment conditions;
* policies on climate change and how that might impact on developing nations, especially their ability to feed their people, meet their health needs and so on;
* the treatment of aliens;
* the treatment of Indigenous Australians.

Some might also ask for an analysis of how our leaders handle the truth and how this aligns with the Scriptures. We might also consider an assessment of whether leaders can keep their promises, admit their mistakes, and lead with integrity. I could continue but others can join the dots.

At the end of all this, does it matter? Yes it does! Why? As kingdom people we are to be different, to view the world differently and to be salt and light in it. I want to make headway on the critical issues that I know CDP are committed to including abortion, stem cell research, gambling, the damage done by drugs and so on. But I don't believe that their regular checklist does justice to their cause, nor will it take us far enough. As a group of people who represent less than 5% of the population Christians are a minority in a secular society. Yes, we need to speak boldly and with conviction when necessary on issues such as the need to defend the rights of the unborn and to oppose any research that seeks to destroy or manipulate that which God has created. I applaud the Christian Democratic Party in its stance and courage in arguing for such issues. But we also need to open our eyes to the needs of the tragic deaths of children in developing countries who lack simple medication, clean water and sanitation, we need to seek justice for the alien, we need to respond with compassion to the poor. We need to be concerned that climate change has the potential to kill millions through extreme weather events. As a Bible believing Christian I know that this world is under a curse due to sin and that the pain we experience is but a symptom of a creation "groaning as in the pains of childbirth" (Rom 9:22). But I also believe that God expects me to strive to serve God earnestly all the days of life, to be a "blameless and pure (child) of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation" (Philippians 2:15). This of course is not about seeking perfection, but rather, wholehearted devotion to doing God's will. Like light in the darkness we are to shine. I believe that God meant the words he gave to the prophet Micah that what he requires of us is "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with (our) God" (Micah 6:8b).

Our God works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Eph 1:11). We receive the governments that our sovereign God has ordained. Kevin Rudd is not Prime Minister by mistake. Our prayer now must be that God will work in his heart to make him the best Prime Minister that this nation has had. We must uphold him in prayer and plead with our God that he might bless this nation and pour out his Spirit upon many. Our prayer must be that God might "let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" (Amos 5:24).


psychodougie said...

thanks for a thoughtful post trevor

i too often get upset by politically apathetic christians, where the CDP vote is essentially the "lazy-christian-vote"

we do have a great responsibility to think about, discuss, be informed, as well as to pray for our governments.

the lazy-christian-vote is thus somewhat of an oxymoron...

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks for the comment, I always value the feedback. It's hard work to think through all the issues and at times Christians are left confused and uncertain. I appreciate your contribution to this topic.

Ross said...

This is a good post that has helped me to make sense of this issue, especially with another federal election coming up.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Ross, glad it was helpful. I will revisit the topic just prior to the next election. Best wishes, Trevor