Church will not be silent on politics

Published in the Courier Mail 12 Oct 04

WE HEARD it said many times in this election campaign that the church shouldn’t get involved in politics. I used to agree with that sentiment, but not any more. And judging by the weekend’s results, neither do the Australian people.

In the lead-up to polling day, many political commentators fell over themselves denouncing any hint of Christian faith in candidates. The Family First Party couldn’t seem to please anyone. They were variously decried for being too Christian by having Judeo-Christian ethics, or for not being Christian enough when they were too “bigoted” to preference someone in a same-sex relationship.

It is a logical conclusion that candidates who represent traditional values are going to attract support from the church. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In the same way, those who represent workers will attract support from unions, and those who represent the abolition of prayer will attract atheists.

It’s the beauty of democracy — and freedom of speech.

For all the horrified talk about the “religious right”, I would suggest that many politicians have created the situation they now abhor. The church no longer has any choice but to get involved with politics because politics has become involved with the church.

For example, before the last Queensland election, Premier Peter Beattie hastily called a community forum to attempt to diffuse the anger at the seeming arrogance his government was showing. Proposed legislative changes to anti-discrimination laws meant church-run schools could not terminate the employment of those who blatantly disregard biblical moral standards.

Neither the Premier, the Attorney-General nor the Education Minister seemed to be able to comprehend the church’s desire to expect a level of moral integrity from all its employees.

Two months ago, at the National Marriage Forum, Nicola Roxon announced that the federal Labor Party would introduce religious vilification laws if elected. The overwhelmingly negative reaction to this was because experience has shown how destructive and divisive this “tolerance” legislation really is.

For instance, a colleague of mine was invited to preach in a Christian church in Victoria. Representatives of the Islamic Council of Victoria attended the meeting, felt offended by some of his comments and made a complaint under Victoria’s religious vilification laws. Several years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, this pastor’s case is still before the commission and because of this, Australia now has the dubious distinction of having the fragile state of our religious freedom noted by the CIA.

Further abroad, Canada and Sweden have enacted legislation against “hate speech”. Last year, under a law against incitement, a Swedish court sentenced a pastor to a month in prison for offending homosexuals in a sermon he preached in his church. The prosecutor in the case told reporters that collecting and citing Bible verses to oppose homosexuality constitutes hate speech.

WITH government interference and restriction on the practice and proclamation of the Christian faith, is it any wonder that the church has decided it must start to speak out in the political arena?

Gandhi said: “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.”

Personally, I think this movement of the church into the realm of political influence has less to do with what religion is, and more to do with what politics has become.
As relativism starts to descend into its inevitable chaos, politics has taken the place of moral referee. And while Western nations long have tried to pretend that politics is morally neutral, it has become glaringly obvious that it isn’t. US author Martin L. Gross, observing this fundamental shift, commented that we live in a world in which politics has replaced philosophy.

If this is the case, and our collective social philosophy is determined by the ballot box, then Australia made an interesting choice on Saturday.

Australians haven’t always had a lot of time for the church but a large proportion of us believe in God. And while a very vocal minority wants us to discard our Judeo-Christian heritage, it appears that the previously silent majority may have decided they want traditional values to remain strong in this nation.

Did the church play a role in this outcome? Probably. Does this signal a new era of totalitarianism by the church and the end of democracy as we know it? Of course not.
In fact, it shows just how robust our democracy is. Because even as some politicians have been trying to shut down the expression of the Christian faith, other politicians decided to give it a voice and it seems they were well-supported.

How all of this will translate into continuing religious freedoms remains to be seen, but one thing is sure. As long as politics tries to dictate to the pulpit, the church will not be silent.

Not everyone is happy about that. But last Saturday, a great many Australians decided that they were — and that’s what democracy is all about.