I wrote recently about why one might consider joining a political party for the sake of being a faithful Christian presence in the world; even if the party platform involves compromising your Christian beliefs (so as to work towards better outcomes by ‘getting your hands dirty’). At the bottom of that post I mentioned that I’d reached out to some friends who I know are members of the major parties. My friend Hilary is an ALP member, and here are some of her thoughts about how the Gospel works in the political realm.
Like I said in that post, there are good Christian rationales for being involved in either the conservative or progressive sides of the political divide (depending on your picture of progress, or what you’re trying to conserve), or the left and the right (perhaps depending on whether you see responsibility for the ordering of society resting in the hands of the individual or in structural/systemic change). I’m not wanting this to be partisan, and have also asked a couple of Liberal/National Party friends to respond to the same questions. Back when I was living in Townsville, I interviewed the then perennial Greens candidate in North Queensland, Jenny Stirling, who is a Christian, about her membership of the Greens (and if you’re reading this and you’re a member of the Greens I’d love to hear from you on these questions too).
Why did you sign up/ why are you still a member.
I first joined the ALP when I was about 18 because I was very interested in current affairs and politics (no aspirations for myself, I just wanted to be involved in what was happening in our country, talking with other people who were keen about it too and helping support candidates when elections rolled around).
I’m still a member for the same reasons, plus a few more. I was pretty idealistic and black and white about things back in my late teens/early twenties days, and as many have found out, it turns out things are a lot more grey than would be convenient. While I think I was originally very firmly of the opinion that ALP equals the right policy and everyone else is wrong, that’s not my position anymore.
I find some of the party’s practices (when in government) and policies (in and out of office) problematic but my decision to remain a member is based on my belief that there is no perfect party; as a member I have the opportunity to be involved in pushing for better policies from within (and so much of that goes on); and I still feel feel a sense of responsibility/obligation/calling to participate, rather than sit on the sidelines. Having said that, I’m a pretty inactive party member these days and haven’t been to a branch meeting for a very long time.
How do politics and faith mix for you?
Growing up in a family with Christian parents heavily involved in politics, this question has always seemed strange to me, because there’s never been a separation. Both have always been part of my life and I absorbed an attitude seeing political activity as one means of serving others.
I can try to analyse how it fits together and how to explain it to others who haven’t had that particular upbringing, but it really is hard for me to separate.
The world is a broken place. I truly believe that the Bible provides the context and the answer to this, and I know that Jesus is my only way to have a right relationship with God. Jesus has called me to repent and believe, and I have done that.
Christians having accepted Jesus’ salvation still live in a broken world. We’re told to be in the world but not of the world. We do not live in a Christian nation, despite what some would say, and we should not be trying to make Australia (or anywhere) into Christendom, which didn’t work out that great anyway.
I honestly feel that my involvement in politics (at its varying levels over the years) is an (not the only) outworking of my faith. The purpose of my involvement in politics is to seek justice, good governance, equality and peace for all members of our communities, whether I agree with them on their politics or not, and certainly whether or not they are Christians.
There are some policies of the ALP that I will not ever agree with. There are many that I do. The same could be said for a Christian who is a member of another political party. I freely accept that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ do not share the same political opinions as I do. In fact, they might list the same things I have above and see the best way of achieving them as being involved in a different party. I respect that. Jesus comes first, and we’re united in God’s family. Political beliefs comes second and I can agree to disagree with other Christians.
What opportunities are there for Christians to work towards the common good via faithful presence in these institutions (the parties) that are part of life in Australia?
There is limitless opportunity.
Christians have a responsibility (and I do not believe that we all really grapple with this to the extent that we should) to think beyond abortion and same sex marriage as issues that require their attention. These are the go to topics raised when politics comes up. I think we do a disservice to the gospel by limiting our opinions and action to these issues. If you join or vote for a party that has policies you like about those two issues, great. What about everything else?
Christians have an enormous amount to offer in terms of shaping all sorts of policies, because if your conscience is informed by your salvation in Christ, you will be seeking justice and mercy for the weak and the strong in every area of their lives. Every area of political leadership is a moral issue. Christians involved in politics have the opportunity to have a say on all the issues that affect people – health, education, social housing, the economy, everything else. Those issues are worthy of our attention, and we neglect them badly.
If you are a Christian involved in a party, or actually involved in elected office, you will come up against things that are very difficult to reconcile with the gospel and part of being part of a political party means you may have to accept policies from time to time that do not match up with your personal beliefs. Non-Christians in political parties deal with this too (think refugee policy). Smart and passionate people play the long game – there’s work to be done within the party.
Having said that, there may be some issues that you can never reconcile, and that is difficult. But I come back to the fact that we are not entitled to impose the principles of a Christian life on everyone else, we are not living in a “Christian nation”, and whether or not you succeed in getting the majority of your party to agree with you on a particular issue, that does not negate the greater contribution that can be made by those who love and serve Jesus in loving and serving others in the way they engage with politics, in seeking to love and serve the greater population.