This is the first post in a week-long series on Christian voting and the NSW election. Given that you’re reading this I’m going to assume you’re one of two types of people:
Person A is the Christian political apatharge (to coin a term). But the week before an election their conscience is pricked and they realise they’ve been like a day-dreaming kid in class. So they dive for Google to get easily digestible information in order to sate their pricked conscience, vote in a way someone else told them to, and then go back to watching Biggest Loser.
Person B is a Christian political Kerry O’Brien – across the Australian political landscape and able to quote obscure legislation like a modern-day Rainman. But more than this – they’re familiar with all the dominant schools of thought on Church-State relations; they’ve decided that Augustine and Aquinas, Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas are all morons; they’ve determined their own path forward on political-theological-ethical engagement and they’re here just to ‘check up’ on me.
In these posts, I’m mainly going to be writing for the A types (sorry Kerry). B’ers are most welcome but I’m not going to be pitching things to you. Of course I should note before I continue you might be in a C or D category – not Christians but interested in or apathetic to politics. Welcome – I hope you too find some interesting food for thought and that I can help to debunk some of the hideous stereotypes surrounding Christians in the political sphere.
But while we’re on the topic of Christians working in the realm of politics I want to dedicate my entire first post to just that topic. What we’re going to look at is a tale of two political organisations – the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and the Australian Christian Values Institute (ACVI). I’ve written elsewhere about these two in the national arena but I want to write again about their foray into state politics.
These two organisations have taken two different approaches to educating the public about what the political parties think and believe. The ACL has released the website NSW Votes, where they surveyed a number of the parties standing for the NSW election and asked them to give short answers to 22 questions. The website is clear – easy to navigate and, above all, the parties are the ones answering the questions. I’ll return to the content of the questions later.
The ACVI on the other hand has, once again, released a Christian Values Checklist, a tick-a-box how-to-vote sheet with 21 questions.
I want to illustrate the problems with using the checklist method of explaining complex ideas by running my own checklist. In it I’m going to compare the survey styles of the ACL and the ACVI.
Now as you can see, I’ve asked questions here that, in general, favour the ACL’s survey over the ACVI. But there are obvious problems with my survey:
- It doesn’t demonstrate that a positive answer is more “Christian” than a negative.
- It switches between questions framed in the negative or the affirmative.
- It doesn’t recognise that “support” has a wide definitional range and so telling us that the survey uses the word is pretty useless.
- It ultimately doesn’t give the surveyed organisations a chance to answer for themselves.
Here we find the major flaws in the ACVI checklist. It reduces Christianity down to a set of “values” (by which I think it means things that make us grumpy). The questions are framed in a way that favours parties that sit on the right-of-centre. It seems to suggest that all parties “[s]upport greater care of God’s environment” without acknowledging the massive rifts between them on how we actually pull that off. And of course, it relies on source material that may not reflect a party’s current stance on issues.
Aside from anything else, there are clear errors on the ACVI checklist. The Liberal party has publicly announced they have no intention of repealing the school ethics legislation – for example.
Now in saying this, I don’t mean to convey that the ACL website is perfect and should be the source of all your information about what to do next Saturday. This site, doesn’t have a single question about the environment, adoption law and the Community Services department or the provision of public education. I think these are massive blind-spots on topics that all spring from our doctrinal convictions (our creation mandate, our theology of adoption and our commitment to the understood Word). It’s these topics that I’ll be addressing this week, along with a few other things you need to know about how to vote in a state election.
I’m looking forward to your comments, if there’s anything you want clarification on or anything that you desperately want me to cover before Saturday, let me know.