Thinking About the 2010 Election

In a fallen world there is no perfect political party, no perfect political candidate, and no perfect political policy. Indeed, we must always keep in mind Psalm 146:3: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save”. But we must also recall that God has ordained the institution of the state to maintain justice and punish evil (Romans 13:1-7).

Thus we all have obligations as to how we best live as citizens and what sort of government we support. Christians can and do disagree about these matters, and biblical Christianity ultimately transcends mere party politics. Having said that, some political parties and policies may be closer to biblical concerns than others.

And so too political leaders. In this election we have a pro-life and pro-family Catholic up against an atheist, socialist, and pro-abortionist. But of course as we all witnessed recently, unlike the American system, Australia’s political leaders can come and go – it is the caucus which ultimately decides who will be the leader and what policies will be advanced.

So beware of focusing too much on the high-profile leaders. It is the policies and platforms of Labor and the Coalition that must be closely and prayerfully examined by believers. To help in that process a number of Christian leaders prepare a Christian Values Checklist ahead of each election (state and Federal).

It examines the main parties and a number of smaller parties on around 25 different issues, ranging from educational policies to their stance of marriage, family and life issues. For what it is worth, the smaller Christian and family parties (CDP, DLP, FF) consistently come out ahead, followed by the Coalition, then Labor, then the Greens.

Of course one’s assessment of the parties will depend on what the believer sees as key Christian values. Many believers of the right are concerned about the steady assault on marriage and family, the abortion holocaust, etc. On those and related fronts the Coalition is usually ahead of Labor.

The religious left will speak much about social justice. That can be a vague and misleading term, but however it is defined, it usually translates into votes for the Greens or Labor. But a few things can be said about this.

It sometimes appears that believers on the left think they have some sort of monopoly on social justice matters, and they seem to occupy the high moral ground about it. But if social justice is concerned about economic and politic policies which are to help all people, then it is not so clear that the left side of politics can claim so much here.

Yes there are plenty of Bible passages speaking to these matters. But the key issue is which political and economic mechanisms best secure this justice. Why do we assume that only leftist policies are in fact so good for people, especially the poor?

The truth is all political parties deal with economic issues, and it is a question of which economic policies in fact really do benefit all Australians. Indeed, the real question to ask is not, is this party concerned about the poor, but, what economic policies will in fact best help them?

Does a more or less free market approach in fact best address issues of poverty and wealth, or the more statist or socialist model? These are empirical questions which must be assessed according to fact, rather than theory. So one needs to set aside rhetoric here, and examine how actual policies impact on all this.

Moreover, it does very little good to talk about social justice when we kill 100,000 unborn babies each year. Where is their justice? How are they shown compassion and acceptance? Sadly, the parties of the left are much more cavalier about human life, whether in the mother’s womb, or towards the end of life.

Leftist rhetoric tends to speak of humanity in general terms, or in class terms, whereas a Christian ethic of justice should consider actual people, especially the most vulnerable. Scripture speaks much to this. Consider for example the following passages:

Proverbs 24:11 Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
Proverbs 31: 8-9 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Prov. 31:8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.

While these texts do not speak solely to matters such as abortion, they surely are key texts about this which cannot be ignored. Parties which minimise or ignore the right to life of our most vulnerable and defenceless citizens surely must be queried in terms of their Christian ethic.

Political Realities

C.S. Lewis once warned about the dangers of “Christianity and…” Whether it is Christianity and socialism, or Christianity and liberalism, etc. In a fallen world no political party will fully reflect all of God’s concerns, nor will any one policy or politician. Thus we must wisely and prayerfully consider where our votes are going.

As mentioned, rhetoric alone will not suffice. For example, Julia Gillard has been trying to out-Howard John Howard since becoming PM. She knows full well that to win this election she must clearly distance herself from her radical socialist past, and put out an image of a very centrist and even conservative leader.

But if elected, all that is going to change. It is the large forces of radical and leftist sentiment in her own party that will certainly come to the fore. Her own abortion on demand position will be allowed even further free rein, as will the very strong push in her party for same-sex marriage and adoption rights.

Believers of course vote for their own local members. Where they stand on issues is important, but so too is where the whole party stands on issues. All this must be taken into consideration. While the smaller Christian parties will not be fielding as many candidates, they certainly should warrant some support.

They may not have it all correct (no one and no group ever will) but some of these groups are not bound by party solidarity and caucus chains. They can seek to fully reflect their biblical faith in the public arena, and in their party’s policies.

Individual Christians in the larger parties simply do not have such freedoms. They are bound to follow the dictates of the party. Indeed, the Labor Party allows no dissent, except for a conscience vote on abortion matters. Otherwise Labor MPs are bound to follow the party platform. So even if an individual Labor MP has strong Christian convictions, he or she will be bound by the constraints of the Party.

But God may well lead believers in differing directions here. He is far too big to be adequately represented by any one political party or position. But in this world we must seek for God’s best in the political realm, tainted though it will be by sin.

I for one will see a Gillard win as a real step backwards – spiritually, morally and politically. Indeed, the newly released Canberra Declaration reminds us of some core Christian values and goods which are under threat in this nation. It is clear that a Labor-Green government will in many ways be quite inimical to these values.

It seems that a Coalition government on the other hand will be much more sympathetic to the three key areas highlighted in the Canberra Declaration: the importance of marriage and family, the sanctity of life, and religious freedom.

Indeed, just as there are major differences between the two leaders, with a pro-abortion socialist and atheist over against a pro-life, pro-family Catholic, so too, there are very real differences between a Labor/Green government and a Liberal/National government.

But each believer must prayerfully and thoughtfully seek God on this. The stakes are high, and failure to carefully seek God on this will be tragic indeed. At the very least, we must keep 1 Tim 2:1-2  in mind: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

www.christianvalues.org.au/check_list.html
www.canberradeclaration.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1&Itemid=3

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24 Replies to “Thinking About the 2010 Election”

  1. Bill, thanks for these very important pieces you are writing on the election. The way we are governed and how necessary certain aspects of government are are things I often ponder about.

    I’ve only been of voting age long enough to take part in two national elections thus far and obviously am not yet as well informed as many of the folks posting here. I’m also not Australian and the parties running where I’m at functions a bit differently but I believe the general principles and schools of thought applies in both situations. I’ve voted for two different parties up to now and the way things are looking now I will once again vote differently the third time around when our next election takes place in 2014.

    I’ve committed my life to Christ between the first two elections so that changed a lot of things obviously and now I’m more informed than I used to be which might lead me to vote in a certain way next time around.

    My current position is this though:
    Although we expect government to perform certain duties, there is no way they can possibly run a country successfully or solve all current problems by themselves.

    Many of the big issues can only be solved by churches, NGO’s, other people/organisations of influence in their own local communities or districts. Laws can only guide things in a certain direction and maintain order up to a point. For things to really work, morally sound, well-balanced individuals ought to practise self-governance and help others to do the same.

    The task of government is thus to a large extent to breed as many as possible of these individuals through the policies they implement. There policies should allow those with the know how to solve many problems they can’t solve themselves. Allow businesses to grow, allow people to be educated, award people who are working for the good of others and play an important role in producing more morally strong, well-balanced individuals and restrict those who act against that.

    As you have have already mentioned, there will never be a perfect government but I will vote for a government which promotes strong family units and support those organisations who helps to build these units, a government which promotes freedom of speech, press and religion, a government to whom education is important. Generally a government which doesn’t aim to solve all the problems but allow those who can to do so.

    I’ll definitely be following the rest of the run on to the Aussie election and see how things turn out.

    Servaas Hofmeyr, South Africa

  2. Thanks Servaas

    Yes you are right. Self-government is the starting block of the biblical ideal. There is also family government, church government, and state government. The best the state government can do is allow these other types of government to operate as they were intended to. The role of mediating structures (groups standing between the naked individual and the state, such as church, community groups, etc) is vital in all this. The trouble is, we have allowed state governments to more and more usurp the roles and functions of these other groups. As Thomas Jefferson once remarked: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. Do We Need Social Justice?
    By Gary Demar, 26 May 2009

    … In reality, the cry for “social justice” is a call for the State to do something to fix economic and relational inequities without any regard to a universal principle of justice….

    Those who oppose “social justice” policies are not against treating people in a just way. They firmly believe that most if not all social justice policies that involve the State are wrong and, in the long run, do more harm than good….

    Using the State to satisfy a concept of “social justice” did more harm than good because it lured people into programs that made them dependent upon the State. …

    Those who administer these programs have a vested interest in their survival and expansion. Winning the war on poverty is not the goal, perpetuating the programs is. “Less than 25 percent of all the tax dollars allocated to fight poverty at every level of government reaches the poor. The other 75 percent goes to pay overhead.” …

    But if that same money—including the revenue lost in overhead expenditures that never reach the poor—were saved, invested, and spent instead of taxed, many more people would benefit, and we would have fewer social-welfare slaves.

    Jonathan Sarfati, USA

  4. My vote will go to a minority Christian party/candidate. If my candidate fails I’ll follow their preferences advice .That way my vote will go to the nearest-to-like-minded candidate/party they could find.
    Any {probably Liberal} candidate who gets over the line in this way is usually mindful of where their support base comes from, so I will have done the best I could with my vote I believe.
    Anna Cook

  5. Let’s grant, purely for argument’s sake, that Labor/Greens do have the higher moral ground on justice, refugees and poverty. Let’s grant, for argument’s sake, that Labor/Green’s immoral positions on abortion, euthanasia, drugs, adoption, stem cell research, reproductive technologies, and gay marriage are balanced out by their superior position on “social justice”.

    Even if we grant this much (and I honestly do not think we can — but for argument’s sake let’s do so), there is a whole raft of Labor/Green policy which is designed to attack and suppress the Christian gospel in this country. For instance

    – religious vilification laws
    – equal opportunity / anti-discrimination employment laws
    – charter of rights
    – secular ethics classes in schools
    – replacing school & hospital chaplains with secular counsellors

    Now, is there a single example of a Coalition government anywhere in this country implementing any of these policies?

    So even if we leave out the moral questions entirely, (which we surely cannot), it is clear that the Labor/Green parties are actively hostile to the Church, while the Coalition is at best neutral towards the church, or even somewhat supportive. Surely this makes it a no brainer which side Christians should be voting for?

    Jereth Kok

  6. I agree whole-heartedly with the quote Jonathan has given. But it is not just the corruption and leaky bucket of government redistribution that Christians ought to be concerned about (as important as those are).

    The other important factor is the utterly demoralising effect that government handouts have on their recipients that Theodore Dalrymple has so eloquently documented. There is no gratitude fostered from giving away free money or free services but just more of an entitlement mentality. As John Stuart Mill pointed out (back when intellectuals actually had a modicum of common sense) all those years ago the moral corruption of government welfare;

    ‘Leave the people in the situation in which their condition manifestly depends upon their numbers, and the greatest permanent benefit may be derived from any sacrifice
    made to improve the physical well-being of the present generation, and raise, by that means, the habits of their children. But remove the regulation of their wages from their own control; guarantee to them a certain payment, either by law, or by the feeling of the community; and no amount of comfort that you can give to them will make either them or their descendants look to their own self-restraint as the proper means of preserving them in that state. You will only make them indignantly claim the continuance of your guarantee to themselves and their full complement of possible posterity.’

    Damien Spillane

  7. I’d like to raise an issue with the Christian Values checklist.

    Can someone explain how “Support parents choice in education with educational vouchers” (no. 7) is a Christian value?

    – Surely this is just a political issue, to do with public and private schools. How is the church affected?
    – School vouchers is an American issue, not an Australian one. I’ve never heard it suggested by anybody that school vouchers should be introduced here.
    – Private schools in Australia receive Government funding, as do public schools. This means that parents who enrol their kids in private school receive value for their tax money already.

    This is the one “value” which to me sticks out as not belonging in the list. (Well, maybe no. 5 as well.)

    Jereth Kok

  8. Thanks Jereth

    But with all due respect, you seem to be under-informed here, and in fact missing the point. The real issue with educational vouchers is to make education parent-controlled as opposed to State-controlled. When parents are given real funding options here, it makes them the real power centres in education, not the State. I would have thought all believers are interested in the issue of Christian education, and the related issue of religious freedom.

    You really should understand that those who ultimate control the purse strings can and will control the content and curriculum of education. This should concern every Christian and every church. Voucher systems take power away from bureaucrats and hand it back to those who matter most: the parents. Such freedom of choice in education is part of the larger issue of freedom of religion.

    And of course you are quite wrong to suggest this is just an American issue. The Coalition has extensively considered this issue in the past, and even Julia Gillard has toyed with the idea while Education Minister. Thus it is still an ongoing and lively debate right here in Australia for all the major political parties.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. What Damien says is right. Theodore Dalrymple is most insightful — see Bill’s review of Our Culture, What’s Left of It. He amply shows how decades of welfare have given its recipients more material wealth than even most of the richest had 200 years ago, but has trapped them in dependency, fostered ingratitude, and rewards sloth and conceiving out of wedlock.
    Jonathan Sarfati, USA

  10. Hi Bill,

    I just read the 23 point checklist from christianvalues.org.au and the immediately obvious thing is that this a check list of conservative political statements, not Christian values.

    In fact one would be hard-pressed to find a single point in this list that could backed up by the Gospel (at least without a good amount of “interpretation” layered on top).

    And really, retaining Christian Prayers in parliament is the number one, top of the list, most important issue for conservative Christian voters?

    Cheers,

    James Beattie

  11. Thanks James

    Of course you have conveniently failed to inform our readers that you are a leftwing atheist. Why exactly then should we take your version of events as gospel? (Pun sort of intended.)

    Christians know that issues such as the sanctity of life, religious freedom, and the institutions of marriage and family certainly are major Christian concerns. Indeed, the very ability to proclaim the Christian gospel in the public arena is directly under threat by various religious vilification laws, hate crime laws, etc, which we of course address in question 19.

    And just where exactly do we say that retaining Christian Prayers in parliament is the “most important issue for conservative Christian voters”? In any numerical list, one item will always have to be the first. That does not necessarily mean it must be the most important. We could easily have enumerated these questions in any number of other ways.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. Hi Bill,

    It’s fun to be back 🙂

    Well I think “leftwing atheist” is a bit strong. How about “centre-left sceptic”?

    Of course no one should accept that from me, I’m sure there are plently of Christians who would scoff at this list and perhaps start one of their own which had “feed and house the poor” as the first item on the list.

    It seems silly to me that the authors of this list are concerned about getting lessons about Christian heritage and Christian chaplains into state schools. Presumably they are sending their own children to religious schools. Where are the freedoms of the non-religious in this scenario? (or does the philosophy of freedom only extend to other Christians?)

    James Beattie

  13. Thanks again James

    Yes welcome back and thanks for a bit of truth in advertising here. Nice to hear you might be moving a bit more in the right direction!

    As to the checklist, the whole purpose of my article (and another recent one like it) was to say it is not perfect, not everyone will like it (especially lefties), and other questions might have been included. But all that I have tried to explain in detail, especially here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/07/29/christians-and-the-election/

    So I am not sure how much more I can say. Perhaps grovel on my knees and say sorry it does not fit your bill?!

    As to Christian heritage and Christian chaplains in state schools, plenty of believers are rightly concerned about the secular left stranglehold not just in our history departments, but the entire school system. Also, Labor has clearly said the whole chaplaincy program will be up for review when the funding finishes next year, and Julia Gillard said when she was Education Minister that she wanted it changed into a secular program. So while the exact outcome remains to be seen, we can rightly be concerned here.

    And I for one am not sending my kids to religious schools.

    As always, we will have to continue to agree to disagree here. But thanks for dropping back in.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  14. Bill,

    “The real issue with educational vouchers is to make education parent-controlled as opposed to State-controlled. When parents are given real funding options here, it makes them the real power centres in education, not the State.”

    Yes fair enough, but this still doesn’t explain why school vouchers should be a “Christian value”. It is just an issue of whether parents should have more or less incentive to enrol their kids in private schooling. Not all private schools are Christian or even religious. It’s a bit like saying that patients should be given greater choice by receiving a tax rebate if they opt for private hospital treatment. Fair enough, but it’s got little to do with religion.

    If in 20 years time (God forbid) there is a powerful bloc of private Islamic schools, would you still be as keen on school vouchers?

    “I would have thought all believers are interested in the issue of Christian education, and the related issue of religious freedom.”

    Of course. But I don’t see how A connects to B.
    “A” being public vs. private schooling, and “B” being Christian education. Private schools are more likely to be religious than public schools, but many (perhaps most) are not. I went to a private school which, though nominally operated by the Anglican church, was incredibly secular, leftist and pluralistic in its worldview. Indeed most of the most prestigious grammar schools, though perhaps nominally attached to a church, offer a very secular education.

    Politically speaking, I am fully on board with the idea that parents who opt for private schooling should receive an equivalent benefit for their tax dollar, either through a tax rebate or through government funding of private schools (as is the case in Australia). This is only fair. But I think it is rather hazardous to try and make a religious issue out of this. It’s best dropped off your list of Christian values.

    (I’m happy to be proven wrong, brother, but you’ll need to do better!!)

    Jereth Kok

  15. No one seems to be mentioning Mz Gillard’s adulterous relationship with Craig Emmerson which led to his divorce. he and his ex-wife have 3 young children. Gillard treats this adultery as nothing of great importance – even joking about it (see Australian Story)
    Do we want a shameless home-wrecker holding the highest position in the nation?
    Lin Brown

  16. Thanks Jereth

    I am not sure if I really need to belabour this point. The ability of Christian parents to ensure that their Christian children have access to Christian education is of course a Christian value or concern. Given that some political parties are less inclined to preserve genuine freedom in the area of Christian education, this most certainly is a value and concern which all Christians should wish to know fully about.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  17. Bill,

    Of course it is important that Christian parents have the opportunity to enrol their kids in a Christian school. But you still haven’t really explained how or why school vouchers is the *best* way to achieve this. For starters, even in the absence of a school voucher system, in my experience low cost Christian schools are quite accessible to the average middle class family who kept Howard in power for 11 years. Secondly, you haven’t responded to my point about school vouchers enabling a private secular education, and (theoretically) a private Islamic education just as much as they might enable a Christian education. In other words, there is nothing specifically Christian about a school voucher system.

    To reiterate what I said: school vouchers would just as easily benefit parents who want their kid enrolled in a secular, Leftist school — such as the one I attended (St Michael’s Grammar), and the one which my sister-in-law currently attends (MLC). For every Christian educated kid which a voucher system produces, there will be another 3 kids produced who have received a secular (or worse) education. Thus no real gain in terms of the “Christianness” of our nation.

    I think that by putting this on your Christian Values Checklist, you’re just asking for people to jump up and down accusing the list of being too right wing. (If only you could see the bashing it has received on some of my friends’ facebook pages). Consequently, it detracts from the checklist’s mainstream appeal. Consequently the checklist will have less effect on the way Christians vote at the election. Which undermines its purpose.

    Jereth Kok

  18. P.S. St Michael’s Grammar, back when I attended it, was quite vociferously pro-gay, pro-drugs, and pro-under aged drinking.
    Jereth Kok

  19. Thanks Jereth

    But where exactly did I or the Checklist state that vouchers are the “best way”? It is simply one very helpful element in the overall discussion. And I already have written a full article on the rationale for the checklist, why some questions are or are not included, etc. I am not about to repeat myself here.

    Parental choice may not be an exclusively Christian value, but neither is freedom, democracy, the rule of law, or a healthy environment. Should we exclude those issues therefore? And yes I personally think that in a democracy Muslims should have the right to send their kids to an Islamic school. Like any other school of course there will be some boundaries as to the content. If the school is teaching jihad and telling kids to hate Australia, then restrictions of course come into play.

    I know all about the flack we are receiving on this Checklist, including yours. Do you really think we can please everyone? There is not a question on here that does not upset someone. We have spent hundreds of hours going through every single item on this checklist. As I keep stating, it is not perfect, but is the best we could come up with given limited time and resources.

    And as I have repeatedly said here and elsewhere, the team will take on board constructive criticism and consider these matters with each new Checklist. However, some people will not be satisfied no matter what we do or say. They are invited to make their own checklist.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  20. Bill, glad to hear that you are willing to take on board constructive criticism. I hope that mine falls into that category.

    I do support what you are doing. I really do. In fact, that is precisely the reason I want to point out 1 (at most 2) out of 21 items on your list which I think are spurious. I’m fully behind the other 19 or 20.

    It saddens me when I see Christian people go “pah” at your list. Of course you can never please everybody. What worries me is that only the most politically conservative Christians seem to find this list beneficial, so in the end my analysis is that despite your “hundreds of hours” spent on it, it ends up preaching to the choir (i.e. poeple who were already going to vote DLP, CDP, or FF anyway). Which is tragic, because your time is worth more than that Bill! Equally tragically, the bulk of people who sit somewhere in the middle will probably disregard the list and end up throwing their votes away on the likes of Labor.

    If on the other hand you tweaked the list just a little (for example, drop #7 — c’mon you can’t seriously think school vouchers are as morally important as abortion and gay marriage can you? — and add a single point about overseas aid), you could make it far more appealing to the centrists out there, while still making it clear to everyone how dangerous the Greens and Labor are. Tactically speaking, that would be a victory because it could mean a whole lot more Christians are encouraged to vote Coalition over Labor.

    Do you see what I’m saying?

    Jereth Kok

  21. James Beattie:

    Christians I’m sure there are plently of Christians who would scoff at this list and perhaps start one of their own which had “feed and house the poor” as the first item on the list.

    Why should a leftist atheopath care? Informed Christians would wonder why “feed and house the poor” should be on the list of something the government should be involved in, as opposed to individuals and the church. As I quoted above, why should they support bloated government bureaucracies that confiscate wealth from the productive to give to the poor while taking a 75% cut, and keeping them dependent?

    Jonathan Sarfati, USA

  22. I would have to agree with Bill in that in a fallen world there is no perfect political party. The choices are even more difficult in America.

    While I do not endorse gay marriage, nor abortions, I also do not endorse a political system sold out to corporate special interests, denies the rights of labor to organize, opposes all forms of non-military and non-corporate socialism, balances the budget on the backs of the poor …..the list goes on an on.

    In a nutshell, I just cannot see myself voting for someone who loves money and power more than their own neighbor. Even the American Christian Coalition’s agenda is endorsing tax cuts. Why they would even be concerned about such things is very telling to the politically liberal Christian. It tells me they love money more than they do Jesus.

    In my mind, the American Republican party is just a modern version of the Pharisees. And the Bible tells me Jesus had a bigger problem with them than he did the woman accused of Adultery.

    So, if it comes down to picking the lesser of two evils, I am inclined to give the woman accused of adultery my vote.

    Michael Kruger

  23. Thanks Michael

    My article here was of course about the Australian elections. But as someone who spent most of his live living in the US, I do not share in your rather unfounded demonising of the Republicans. Your description of them sounds like it comes straight out of the Democrats in particular, or the raging left in general.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  24. Ah yes, Michael Kruger is a typical lefty in his rant against “tax cuts”: wanting to keep more of the money you’ve earned is “greed” and “love for money”; but the government is somehow guilty of greed and love for money when it wants to grab even more of people’s money. And apparently his idea of Christian compassion is generosity with other people’s money.
    Jonathan Sarfati, USA

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