The major issues that occupy Federal Parliament, and the policy platforms of the major political parties, ought to be of central interest to Christians, and to persons of other faiths, as well as to those of no religious persuasion. And so they are.
One of the more interesting political developments since the late 1970s has been the rise of serious Christian interest in politics and the political process. In Australia, this is evident in the emergence of self-confessed Christian parties such as Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party; in the willingness of high-profile politicians to freely acknowledge their personal Christian commitment and its influence on public policy (from Kevin Andrews to Kevin Rudd); and the growth of well-resourced and influential faith-based lobbies such as the Festival of Light, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the Australian Christian Lobby.
Jesus is Lord, but Caesar’s name is on the ballot paper, and there is nothing quite like a federal election to focus the Christian mind (and heart) on public policy.
There has also been growing interest in the intersection between politics and faith by the commentariat, not all of it unremittingly hostile to evangelical Christianity or devoted to rigid secularism. This has been accompanied, in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election, by a flurry of Christian interest in surveying party policies and the stance of selected politicians on key issues. Indeed the production and distribution of these “sin surveys” could almost be considered a growth industry. The five most prominent of these surveys are discussed below (in alphabetical order).
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), based in Canberra, offers a suite of resources including a tool to compare party policies; customise your party policy search; and how MPs and Senators voted on conscience issues. The ACL put 25 questions to each of the political parties on key issues it believed were of concern to Christians, notably on “pro-life” and “pro-family” issues, refugees and asylum seekers, and climate change. The New South Wales Council of Churches has endorsed the ACL election website.
The Sydney-based Centre for an Ethical Society conducted a survey (PDF 89KB) of the Liberal Party/National Party coalition, the Labor Party, the Australian Democrats and the Greens on 16 quite specific policy questions, and posted official responses on its website (PDF 4.8MB). In addition, the CES rated the four responses on a “Good Samaritan Index”, (PDF 51KB) with results virtually inverse to those of the conservative surveys.
The Adelaide-based Festival of Light sent ten questions plus background information to over 1,400 federal election candidates, covering issues such as prayers in parliament, marriage and relationships registers, benefits for homosexual couples, abortion, human cloning and religious vilification. The FOL information is voluminous and listed under political party (scroll down on homepage) and under the name of each House of Representatives and Senate candidate.
The National Council of Churches in Australia launched an Election Briefing Kit (PDF 139KB) focusing on “international affairs” (i.e. global conflict and climate change), WorkChoices (the Howard government’s workplace relations legislation), Indigenous Australians, climate change, and “community harmony”, and housing. For each of these subjects, the NCCA presents a Christian vision, a reflection, and a series of questions for candidates/parties.
The Melbourne-based Salt Shakers organisation put together a 27-point “Australian Christian Values Checklist” which has the effect of portraying the Christian Democratic Party as angelic and the Greens as the devil incarnate, with other parties sliding between the two extremes. This survey differs from all others examined for this article in that, as Salt Shakers Research Director Jenny Stokes put it (PDF 199KB), “We look at [party] policies and tell you how the Parties have behaved (voted) on a range of moral issues; and look behind the headline policy to the philosophy behind their worldview”.
In addition to surveys, various churches and related agencies have engaged in intensive political lobbying and advocacy, supported by published resources for parishioners/members. Earlier this year, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement titled “A vote for us all,” emphasising the doctrine of the common good and highlighting “life” issues, family, Indigenous Australians, access to education, health funding, ecology, immigration and refugees, and international peace.
In August, the Public Affairs Commission of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia published an eight-page booklet (PDF 102KB) seeking social cohesion and focusing on indigenous rights, war and peace, and poverty and equity.
The National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia has an election website with an impressive suite of resources, supported by a strong parish education campaign titled “Growing a Nation of Hope”. The emphasis is on active political citizenship, and issues addressed include justice for Indigenous people, dignity and fairness in employment, refugees and asylum seekers, multiculturalism, peace, climate change, and aid and development.