OPINION | Greg Bondar & Brad Chilcott
Friday 10 June 2016
We asked Greg Bondar from the Christian Democratic Party and Brad Chilcott, founder of the Welcome To Australia movement and a member of the Labor Party why an Australian Christian should or shouldn’t vote for a Christian party in the upcoming federal election.
Greg Bondar says Christian parties fill a void in our political system
I am often asked, “should Christians consider voting for a Christian party? Why should a Christian and/or churchgoer consider a Christian party for their vote? As a committed Christian and professional politician, I can attest to the fact that if there is anything that will spark a spontaneous debate, if not an outright argument, it is a discussion involving politics and the church – even amongst believers.
So as followers of Christ, what should be our attitude and our involvement with politics?
Can we have political views outside the considerations of our Christian faith? In my view the answer is no, we cannot. As a Christian, everything I think (thought), say (word) or do (deed) is ‘Christian’ inspired.
The so-called ‘free’ Churches like Baptists, Methodist, and Charismatic, hold that the separation of Church and State is an absolute. In practice, this separation already exists in Australia in that we do not have a governing church authority that decides how we vote.
This does not mean that we have to separate our faith and beliefs from politics. Christian political parties exist all around the world. In our case, the Christian Democratic Party fully supports the separation of Church and State, which means we oppose the State ever establishing a “State Church” or interfering with the personal and religious freedoms/conscience of its citizens. The majority of churches hold strongly to this position and is a key distinctive of most protestant denominations.
Conversely, separation of religion and state is not an option for Muslims. Sharia (Law) is an all-encompassing program for every aspect of life, including the governance of the State. Muslims have no choice but to reject secularism for it excludes the law of Allah. That said, even the Muslim world is sharply divided on what the relationship should be between the tenets of Islam and the laws of governments.
As secularism grows, atheists and agnostics are trying to expand and diversify their ranks. More people than ever before are identifying as atheist, agnostic, or otherwise nonreligious, with potentially world-changing effects. If the world is at a religious precipice, then we’ve been moving slowly toward it for decades. A lack of religious affiliation has profound effects on how people think about death, how they teach their kids, and even how they vote.
There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernises, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon and so will the Netherlands and New Zealand whilst the United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities. Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it has ever been – even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers, to borders, to architecture.
Australia is a nation that was built on Judeo-Christian values. Indeed, the separation of church and state is a principle that is deeply rooted in Australia’s Judeo-Christian heritage; that principle is also biblical. That the church must be separate from the state does not preclude the existence of political organisations that advocate for the preservation of Judeo-Christian values in our laws, culture and way of life.
Whilst believers throughout the ages have lived, and even flourished, under antagonistic, repressive, pagan governments which was especially true of the first-century believers who, under merciless political regimes, sustained their faith under immense cultural stress, so most Christian political parties are run by Christians with Christian candidates. The CDP aims to glorify God through politics by standing candidates of faith.
As Christians, it is imperative that when we vote we do so according to our biblical beliefs. We must grasp the fact that our government cannot save us. Only God can. The church continues to make a mistake if it thinks it is the job of secular politicians to defend, to advance, and to guard biblical truths and Christian values.
Where we have a voice and can elect our leaders, we should exercise that right by voting for those whose views most closely parallel our Bible-based beliefs.
Christian political parties fill a void in our political system left by the major parties and provide a potent counter-balance to other secular-based political parties that take an openly hostile stance to our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. The existence of similar groups around the world demonstrates that Christian political parties are not radical, far-right parties, but a legitimate political force that have an important role to play in political debate that shape a nation’s future.
Today, there are many politicians and even political parties such as the Greens that campaign hard to suppress our Christian values, heritage, and traditions. Christian political parties proudly and shamelessly stand firm against those who campaign against Christianity, Christian values, religious freedom and free speech.
If voters believe in preserving what remains of our Christian heritage and strengthening traditional family values then it is imperative that all Australians do the right thing on the 2 July 2016 and vote for a Christian-based party.
* Greg is a NSW state director for the Christian Democratic Party
Brad Chilcott says there isn’t just one way to follow Jesus with your vote
Eternity: In talking to you, we’ve made a few assumptions, the first of which is that you won’t be voting for a Christian party in this election (Brad is a member of the Labor Party). Can you outline why you think a Christian should perhaps not vote for a Christian party?
It’s not necessarily that I think we shouldn’t vote for Christian parties. I think we should be assessing each political party based on the example, life and teaching of Jesus and then vote according to which party we think lines up most closely with that example and the community that was envisaged by Jesus.
Of course any party that says they’re a Christian party would make the argument that they more closely align with a biblical worldview. I’d argue Jesus’ whole life and the manner of his death indicated that he was on the side of the vulnerable, the marginalised and the oppressed. He was continually trying to include people in his vision for the world and for society. He was welcoming to the outsider, the stranger. He encouraged sacrificial service and not self-interest. He had a preference for the poor and for those who had been disenfranchised by the powerful religious, cultural and political classes of his day. Jesus was non-violent and unconditionally loving of all people. He really pushed the boundaries when it came to acceptance and inclusion.
So, I think if a Christian party aligns with the values that we see most clearly in Jesus, then sure, vote with them.
Is it possible for any one party to measure up to that?
Of course not in full. We need to decide for ourselves which political party most aligns with that each election and vote accordingly.
Where do you think the Christian parties we have here in Australia might be falling down on the metric you’ve outlined?
For too long our Christian parties have been most vocal on issues that are about other people’s behaviour modification rather than self-reflecting on our own complicity in a system that favours the rich and powerful or standing up for the rights of those who are exploited, disenfranchised, oppressed or excluded. We’ve not focused on the economic, political and cultural systems that entrench – and even promote – generational poverty. At various times, we’ve been on the side of discrimination and prejudice instead of trying to end them.
I feel that we’ve often aligned ourselves with the most privileged in society instead of the least privileged. The stereotypical issues that have defined Christian political engagement in the public’s view certainly weren’t the issues that Jesus was most focused on.
Where could a political candidate of faith do the most good – in a Christian party or a secular party?
Creating change comes in a couple of ways. It can be by changing the opinion of society by positively influencing the overarching narrative on any given issue. So, engaging in the media debate, trying to change the conversation by influencing the shape of the narrative (say in the model of John Dickson’s crew at Centre For Public Christianity, for example), or through being a political minority person like Senator Nick Xenophon who can, at times, set the agenda for debate. So there is something to be said by creating change through minority parties.
But, to significantly change social policy and the policies that affect Australians, another way of doing that is to be influential in one of the major parties that can formed government.
I don’t think there’s necessarily a preference of which of these a Christian should do.
But I do think that we often complain about the policies and direction of the major parties and one great way to influence them is by getting involved and having a voice in the rooms where those decisions are being made.
I think sitting on the outside throwing opinion bombs at people doesn’t tend to create lasting change.
What are the key things that will influence your vote this year?
There’s a range of them. But for me it’s about who is on a trajectory towards building a society that includes vulnerable Australians as a priority and giving all people access to great education, healthcare, inclusion, justice, opportunity and equity. I want us to be on a path towards a situation where no matter who you are, what suburb you were born in, what your bank balance is or where you come from that you have equal access to the things that enable a human to thrive in our society: education, healthcare, secure employment, belonging, equality.
For a Christian person who particularly feels moved about the refugee issue in Australia, how should they go about weighing up to who to vote for?
I think it’s important for Christians to be active in both the major parties and to be vocal about the issue, while recognising that change doesn’t happen overnight. We need to work within all political parties to create the most compassionate, welcoming and just policies that we can. But, alongside this, if we want to see lasting change for asylum seekers, we need to be working really hard at changing public opinion on the issue. When Australians collectively demand compassion and the politics of fear begins to fall on deaf ears, change must happen.
So should more Christians become members of the major parties?
If people are engaging in the political process to influence that process towards their vision of a better society, then that’s good for everybody.
For Christians, they should analyse their political leanings through the lens of the life of Jesus before deciding if they should join a party and which one that should be.
I do think that all Christians should take seriously the political implications of following Jesus. The early church made a political statement every time they said ‘Jesus is Lord’ and the very way the church was set up to meet the needs of the poor and made statements like ‘there’s no longer male nor female, slave or free’; all of that is political. Jesus was all about demonstrating a new way of doing life, of being community, of changing our understanding of power, success and status.
The idea of compromise is particularly relevant here. One of the arguments from a ‘Christian party’ that one might hear is that they don’t compromise. They believe that they’re biblically based and shouldn’t compromise to get things done…
The idea that there is only one way to be a Christian and only one set of social, economic and moral beliefs that you can have as a Christian, and that that’s the only way to ‘not compromise’, is really flawed, I think. Every denomination, every expression of Christianity in different countries or different cultures, indeed every expression of Christianity at different points in history in different geographic locations has a unique take on faith and its practice.
For example, I’d say that of course any divorced person should be able to be a part of Christian community. That statement alone in some Christian expressions, both now and even more in recent decades, would be used as evidence that I’ve “compromised” my faith.
For any Christian party, organisation or individual to suggest that “anyone who doesn’t agree with us is compromising on their faith” is, I think, the height of arrogance. It doesn’t recognise the truth that there are lots of ways people seek to follow Jesus in the world today. To say your way is the only way, your beliefs are the only “right” beliefs, or that your particular take on theology or morality is the only “un-compromised Christian” perspective is extremely culturally, intellectually and spiritually arrogant.
* Brad is a pastor in Adelaide and the founder of Welcome to Australia