I want to argue that at their best, organisations like the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) have a profoundly positive role to play in Australian politics but at their worst they offer the worst of smear politics, lowering the level of political discourse in Australia and [far] worse – they turn people off the gospel.
Let me give you two examples:
1. The ACL, under the leadership of Jim Wallis (as distinct from Jim Wallace, the American political theologian) has made some big leaps forward in thinking through which issues are “Christian Issues”. Far from the reductionist list of abortion and gay marriage, they’ve produced this site to help Christians work out who to vote for based on the issues of concern to them. They sent out a survey to each of the major (and several of the minor) parties inviting them to respond on a series of questions.
Now this site is not perfect – I would have liked more questions on the environment (as it stands the only issue they ask about is climate change). I would have liked more questions on economic matters. I also think the touchstone issues list isn’t long enough. But the site demonstrates that the ACL have listened to its detractors from elections past and tried to build a site that is even-handed (it randomly orders the party responses) and doesn’t ask loaded questions designed to show particular parties in a good light. It also assumes the intelligence of those who use their site. Christians will care more or less about different issues and it gives the user of their site the respect to choose those topics that are of concern to them.
2. To the other extreme is the Australian Christian Values Institute (ACVI). They have produced this little flyer which not only reduces the issues Christians should be concerned about as Christian values (I know I wont sleep at night if they stop saying the Lord’s prayer in Parliament) but they reduce party responses to a set of dubious ticks and crosses, designed to make the Christian Democrats look good and everyone else look bad. I was about to start my next sentence with “What really gets up my nose is that…” But there are just too many things for me to pick one. For starters, most of this issues on the list appeal to self interest. Christians are to be other person focused and in a real sense we aren’t voting for ourselves, but for the good of others. I see nothing on that list about increasing overseas aid – just preventing it being used for abortions. For the final point “Support greater care of God’s environment” EVERYONE GETS A TICK! Tony “Climate Change is Crap” Abbott and Julia “We’ll shelve the ETS because remaining in deficit any longer is politically dicey” Gillard gets the same amount of cred as the Greens.
There is heaps more to say, but for now, if I can just end by apologising to my readership who aren’t Christian. The ACVI do us no favours and, quite frankly, I’m embarrassed by them. Please don’t think we’re all like that. Christians aren’t meant to be mindless followers of dubious authority. We are meant to be thinking, reflective people with our Bibles in hand. The ACVI cheapens us. So please accept my sincere apologies.