The Truth About the Religious Right

There were some very interesting comments about faith and politics made recently by a Victorian Labor MP. Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said that we all must be concerned about the sinister “influence of the religious right” in Australia. (Jason Dowling, “MP risks religious backlash,” Sunday Age, November 5, 2006, p. 11.) She warned that just as it is a terrible development in America, it is also becoming a big problem here, and it must be resisted at all costs.

Said the Minister: “I know what has happened in the United States and the stranglehold they have on politics over there and the power that they wield, the fear mongering that they engage in, and I am quite concerned.”

She also claimed that she was “pretty well versed in the kind of theological underpinnings and modus operandi of the religious right and I have seen evidence of their influence in Australian politics over many years.”

Before entering politics she was the social justice director of the decidedly left-wing Uniting Church. According to the article, she “had what she terms ‘a reasonable theological education’. Religion’s role in politics was to assist the disadvantaged — not to dictate morality, she said.”

There are all kinds of questions and comments that arise after reading such remarks.

First, it was very thoughtful of Bronwyn Pike to inform the uneducated masses as to the proper role of religion in politics. Obviously the great unwashed are so ignorant of such matters, that we needed a government minister to set the record straight, and enlighten us as to the truth of these matters. And she offers us her own “Thus saith the Lord,” a nice new golden rule: “to assist the disadvantaged – not to dictate morality”.

Hmmm, let me see if I have this straight: “Thou shall not kill.” Nope, sounds like morality to me. “Thou shall not steal.” Ditto. “Thou shall not lie.” The same.

It seems that all these morality-based injunctions will have to go, as Ms Pike does not seem to approve of them. That leaves us with only one task: assisting the disadvantaged, whatever that means.

Now if I happen to believe that a free market approach to economics is the best way to assist the disadvantaged, will Ms Pike support me? Or does her profound understanding of theological truth dictate that only a socialist-type approach is allowable?

Second, while Ms Pike claims to be “pretty well versed” in these matters, I have not been aware of her theological qualifications up till now. It is strange that she insists on how wrong the religious right is, all the while passing on to us divine pronouncements that look identical to leftwing political manifestos.

If her theological education came at the hands of the Uniting Church, chances are good she may not be fully up on what Scripture says, or the historic Christian creeds, or the great doctrines of Scripture. Instead, she may be more well versed in the writings of such noted theologians as Karl Marx, Noam Chomsky and George Soros.

Strange, but she seems fully qualified to speak out on matters of faith and politics, telling all Victorians what the proper theological position is, but rails against those who dare share their own beliefs and convictions if they come from the opposite side of politics.

Evidently religious influence in politics is acceptable only if it comes from the far left.

Third, if the religious right is so thoroughly entrenched in the US as she claims, and is having so much inordinate power there, how does she explain the just-held midterm elections, which resulted in a huge Democratic swing? What was it that she said about “the stranglehold they have on politics over there and the power that they wield”? Sounds more like the religious left may have the real power there, along with a mainly hostile and leftist media.

It seems that for all her concerns, Ms Pike is being worked up into a fever over nothing. Just more chicken little alarmism from the left side of politics.

Fourth, she attacks groups like Family First, arguing that “Family First had a strong religious background. ‘In South Australia they are certainly connected to some of the more fundamentalist churches’.” So what does that all mean? Of course, by using the now pejorative term ‘fundamentalist’, she seeks to equate Family First with radical Muslim suicide bombers, and other ‘fundamentalists’.

Also, it denigrates the theological position of large portions of Australian Christendom. Fundamentalism in the good sense of the term simply means holding on to the fundamentals of the faith, such as the deity of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, and salvation in Christ alone. Why does Ms Pike abhor such fundamentals? Is she thereby telling us she rejects these classic Christian doctrines? Just what sort of Christianity does she adhere to?

And why does her religious background and participation not disqualify her from political life, if it disqualifies Family First?

Finally, I find it interesting that somehow the so-called ‘religious right’ is always anathema, while the religious left is never to be faulted. After all, those most foaming at the mouth about the supposed takeover by the religious right never offer such concerns when the religious influence happens to be left wing. For all their scaremongering about theocracy and religious takeovers, they never complain when there is a religious takeover from the left. They instead become comrades in arms, marching step to step over all the latest trendy issues, be it same-sex marriage, no nukes, save the whales, or abortion on demand.

It seems for those on the left, God only speaks with a socialist accent.

Now as it happens, I really do not mind if believers choose the left side of politics. They are quite free to do so. I may happen to belong on the right side of politics, but as I have remarked many times over, I must always hold my convictions tenuously, and with openness to be corrected. At the moment I believe that in many areas conservatism more or less aligns with my understanding of Scripture and theology. But I am open to move on these points.

I just wish those on the left who are so darn sure of themselves would show a little more humility and openness.

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6 Replies to “The Truth About the Religious Right”

  1. Great article Bill.

    We are disgruntled Uniting Church Members and from our experiences you are spot on.
    We appreciate your responses to issues facing us all.

    Regards Llew & Nan Mitchell

  2. Which is best: repair a leaking tap, or sop up the puddle under it? She sees the job of the ‘religious right’ as sopping up the puddle.
    Excellent article, Bill. Thank you for speaking for all of us.

    Elwyn Sheppard

  3. Dear Bill
    Thanks for a good article. I guess that there would be complaints but it seems to me it would be good if all politicians and editorial writers had to state their presuppositions or bias. Before I wrote to senators on cloning I looked at some of the first speeches and was impressed by some from each party. I appreciate those who take the trouble to answer letters with a cogent reason for their views. A democracy used to be a place where one was allowed one’s views so long as one did not use brutality to enforce them.
    Keep on reminding us to think
    Katherine Fishley

  4. Dear Bill
    Whilst Sir Humphrey agreed that it is helpful for a politician to claim that she came fom a Christian background, in Bronwyn’s case, however, he thought she was brave to claim theological understanding.
    Stan Fishley, Melbourne 

  5. The Health minister Bromwyn Pike is opposed to a federal government funded school chaplaincy program. At least the federal government is trying to do something to deal with an out of control social disease. Many children are raised with out proper parenting/mentoring in a home where the father is absent, due to divorce ect. So why not at least give this type of support to the youth in schools so they can experience some loving support and maybe slow the suicide issue? A lot of money has been splashed around to dangle the carrot in front of the voters face to get an extra vote in this coming state election. The federal government Chaplaincy program leaves a sweet aroma of compassion whereas Bromwyn Pike’s health agenda has the smell of apathy.

    Michael Bourke

  6. Very well said indeed Bill. Pike as a former UCA spokesperson is just demonstrating the rank apostasy that is to be found in much of that organisation.

    BTW. You left off your list of the “latest trendy issues” that of climate change!

    And for the record, I would disagree with Pike that the church that founded Family First is particularly “fundamentalist”. From my experience of more that 15 years attending that denomination, the brand of Christianity promoted is more in line with a superficial seeker-sensitive format than with a truly fundamentalist theology.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

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