Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Faith and Politics. Part 2.

Oct 17, 2006

Social Justice Concerns

A bit more needs to be said about the left’s insistence that they alone are the real champions of social justice. Rudd in particular and the left in general make much of the idea that we need to be concerned about injustice, oppression and exploitation. They argue that we need to protect the weak, vulnerable and voiceless, and ensure that everyone is treated justly and fairly. Social justice must be our top priority.

Good sentiments, those, but they need to be teased out a bit more. For example, conservatives would argue that the left seems to pick and choose its objects of care and concern. For example, why is it that the left tends to denounce America and the West so often and so loudly, but seems silent on dictators like Saddam, Kim Jong-Il or Castro? Why the selective outrage here?

Indeed, why is America always the whipping boy of the left, while they remain silent on what is happening in places like Sudan, North Korea or the Muslim world? Why not denounce all forms of injustice?

And the left’s insistence that the weak and marginalised of the world need protection tends to ring hollow, when one considers the most notable example of this: the unborn. No other group is so abused and misused, and no other group is so voiceless and vulnerable. Yet there is almost always a deafening silence from the leftists – be they secular or religious – on the plight of the unborn. If the left really cares about justice, why does it not champion the cause of the unborn and the elderly, and opposes abortion and euthanasia?

Many people would be much more convinced by the rhetoric of the left if they actually supported these most at risk groups. But by sticking to selective causes, the left seems to be guilty of double standards and hypocrisy.

Church-State Relations

Finally, a word about how believers should relate to the world. This is also a huge subject, as were the previous discussions. Whole libraries have been written about them. Here I can just offer very brief, very general, broad-brush remarks.

There have been three main ways that believers have thought about the public arena, politics, and society. More specifically, there are three main possible models (among others) that can be explored. They all deal with how faith should intersect with the public square, with the affairs of this age.

One can be called the naked public square (a phrase made famous by Richard John Neuhaus). It says that the public arena must be kept free of any religious influence, and remain radically and forever secular. It says faith may be a private affair, but it should not have any public ramifications.

Another can be called the religious square. This is where specifically biblical values inform and direct the political process. The extreme version of this is a theocracy. And it is of course the moral panic over theocracies that one hears so much about today from the secular left. They are convinced that a religious takeover of the political and social order is just around the corner, and insist that it must be resisted at all costs. (Of course I fail to see evidence of such sinister takeovers in Australia, and can ask why it is that a radical leftwing takeover is seen as unproblematic.)

A third can be called the civic square. This is simply where all ideas, beliefs and ideologies come to the public square. People are free to lay out their cases, argue their beliefs, and seek to persuade others. In this model, people can make their case, much as in Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London, and the rest of the populace is left to make up their own minds.

That is how a democracy works, and that is a fair and level means of debating these issues. Despite the claims of my critics/enemies, that happens to be my preferred option, and it is probably the option of most believers, even those of the so-called religious right.

Again, the past few paragraphs could be spelled out in much greater detail and nuance. Much of what I just said needs to be more fully qualified and elaborated. But it gives a rough idea of my position, and that of many others.


Kevin Rudd is quite welcome to argue that his faith entails a leftwing approach to things. And so are those on the religious right who argue the opposite. Debate and discussion are good and healthy, and Christians need to be involved in their world, even if they end up on opposite sides of the political fence.

And even though it will shock my opponents, I even have Christian friends who are in the Greens and Labor parties. Christian fellowship can and should extend beyond political and ideological lines.

I clearly have a conservative orientation, but I do not say it is a case of “Thus saith the Lord”. I know I am and will be wrong on many things. Even though I hold many views forcefully, I am still aware that I can change my position, that I do not have all the truth, and that my limited, finite viewpoint is never to be fully equated with gospel truth. I hope my views will somehow approximate the absolutes of Scripture, but I can never claim or hope for more than that.

It needs to be recognised that all sides on this religious debate need flexibility, openness, and humility. None of us have all the truth on any matter. None of us are perfect. None of us have a corner on the faith.

My critics will not find much of comfort in anything that I have written here. But leaving aside those radicals on the far left, I think most people of more moderate persuasion will recognise some ideas here that may have been of help in sorting out these very complex, multilayered and difficult issues.

Part One of this article can be found here:

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5 Responses to Faith and Politics. Part 2.

  • Of the three models concerning how believers should relate to the “public arena, politics, and society”, I would rule out the “naked public square” model on the grounds that it is mythical. It is simply not possible to keep religion out of politics because everyone has a religious bias, even the atheist.

    From a practical Christian perspective, I would favour a combination of the other two models. As a supporter of democracy I favour the “civic square” model, but would consider it my Christian duty to lobby for “specifically biblical values [to] inform and direct the political process” as in the “religious square” model. Where do I fit in here, Bill?

    Another difference between Bill and the religious left is that Bill is concerned that his views “will somehow approximate the absolutes of Scripture”. This is no concern of the religious left many of whom even deny that there is such a thing as “absolutes of Scripture”!

    I also observe that those on the religious left tend to be theologically more liberal than those on the religious right. This fact in and of itself is enough to satisfy me as to the merits of the religious right/left spectrum. Theological liberalism begins with denying the authority of Scripture and the progression of such tends towards apostasy.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Thanks Ewan

    Yes I was afraid a short article dealing with a complex issue might result in a certain lack of clarity.

    Yes, I favour the religious model if it means seeking to bring religious influence to bear by the normal democratic means. Religious folk have as much right as anyone else to do just that.

    If the religious model means a theocracy where there is no religious freedom, and if it means coercing everyone to follow one religious model whether they like it or not, and if it means there is no division between the political sphere and the religious sphere, (classic Christianity has always insisted there should be), then I am not in favour of it.

    Of course to my way of thinking, that sort of threat does not come from Christianity today, not even the religious right, but from radical Islam, which desires to implement sharia law for everyone, which allows for no sacred-secular distinction whatsoever, and which has no concept of freedom of conscience.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Agreed Bill. Actually there is another religion that is oppressing religious freedom (especially if one happens to be a conservative Christian), and is attempting to coerce everyone to follow its religious model whether they like it or not, and that of course, is secular humanism!

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • I think that, as Ewan McDonald seems to be saying, because theological liberalism begins by denying or diluting the authority of Scripture, it represents a direction towards apostasy and of course should be recognised as headed in the wrong direction. Ergo, the “Religious Right”, its policies, approach and emphases are objectively more Christian than that of the apostatysing “Religious Left”.

    I mean, I was reading Kevin Rudd’s position elaborated in the current Monthly magazine, and, as you mentioned yourself, Bill, while he was repeatedly wgoing on about standing up for the most weak and vulnerable, he conspicuously left out any mention of the plight of foetuses — by far the weakest and most vulnerable members of society!

    Clearly such people can’t be taken seriously, for by their fruits ye shall know them. The Religious Left simply represents baptised socialism, who amend the seventh commandment to read, “Thou shalt not steal — except by majority vote!”

    Frank Gashumba, Melbourne

  • I have been appalled at the rise and rise of political correctness in the UK which has resulted in Islam being a protected religion and Christianity being villified and essentially aboloished from the public arena.

    It is a growing issue in Australia that cannot be ignored. Secular humanism, apostasy and political correctness are all threats and need to be recognised and treated as such, in our prayers and in our actions.

    My hat off to you, Bill, for being a strong voice against all three. We all need to be more like you in standing up and voicing our concerns, campainging and voting as such. May God bless you and your family.

    Garth Penglase

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