Julia and the Big Red A(y)

Julia Gillard is in line (depending on the rest of the election campaign) to be our first elected female prime minister. As far as I can tell the only people more excited than the red heads and the females in the electorate are the atheists – because Gillard is out and proud. She’s not definitely the first atheist PM (as far as the internet is concerned Bob Hawke was an atheist, though he told Denton he’s an agnostic not an atheist). She could well be the first. And I thought there had been a pretty muted response from the Christian community – there were even a couple of great articles (one from John Dickson in the Herald, one from Greg Clarke on the ABC website, and one from Michael Jensen on sydneyanglicans.net) suggesting that it didn’t matter.

But the scaremongering has kicked in in the last few days – and more and more Christians I’m speaking to are expressing concern about the idea that Julia, an atheist, might be running the country. I don’t think that the disendorsed Liberal Candidate from Sydney, David Barker, speaks for all Christians when he says this – but he taps into a scary undercurrent in Christian thinking:

“I’m not anti-Muslim. I believe every one should have their own beliefs,” he said.

“But I don’t know if we want at this stage in Australian politics a Muslim in the Parliament and an atheist running the Government.”

Why don’t the atheists deserve a place in a democratically elected parliament? Shouldn’t the parliament be representative of the electorate. This means 10%, roughly speaking, of our politicians should be atheists. The fact that one rises to the top of their party is a testament to their ability and the faith their colleagues have in their ability to do the job.

I’m wondering at what point people think her atheism will impact her ability to govern. Or her ability to act as the leader of the nation. We don’t have the “Christian heritage” the U.S claims as they ban atheists from holding certain positions in public office. There’s nothing in the Bible that suggests the leaders of our nations should be God fearers (we’re not Israel – despite some people trying to insist that the Old Testament should apply to our legislative body today). The New Testament affirms the government of the day as a government chosen by God – and the Roman empire was perhaps the most anti-Christian regime of all time.

I don’t care that Gillard is an atheist. I care more that she sounds like a character out of Kath and Kim. I’ll weigh up my votes on policy alone. Some of those policy positions may be reached as a basis of the application of my faith. That’s my right as a voter. Even if my vote (which won’t go to Labor at this stage) counts for nothing (or just for one) and Labor retain power I’m not going to sleep poorly knowing that an atheist resides in the lodge. At least she’s open about her beliefs rather than claiming to be a lapsed Anglican – one wonders how much time John Howard has spent in church since losing power.

I think John Dickson’s advice for Christian voters is pretty awesome.

“Christians should be willing to change voting patterns after Christian reflection on particular policies. A believer who cannot imagine voting for the ”other side” has either determined that only one party aligns with the will of God or, more likely, is more attached to their cultural context than to the wisdom of scripture…

…So, what principles guide the Christian vote? First, a Christian vote is a vote for others. It is basic to the Christian outlook that life is to be devoted to the good of others before ourselves. In the political realm, Christians should use whatever influence they have to contribute to others, to ”consider others better” than themselves.”

If Christians are worried about Gillard’s moral compass (using the tired old chestnut that atheists can’t be moral) they should perhaps remember two things – all people, atheist or otherwise, are made in God’s image. I assume that includes some sort of moral compass coexisting with the sinful nature, all people (including Christians) have the capacity to act immorally, and all governments (atheist or otherwise) are provided by God. Even the ones that oppress Christians. We should cherish the opportunity we have to have a say in who rules us – but a vote based on scaremongering, or a “Christian Values Chart” like the one Simone rightly loathes, is a wasted vote.


Gary Ware says:

Yes, with some qualifications.
A representative democracy with a bi-cameral parliament mitigates against centralisation of power to one individual.
So, Gillard’s atheism is considered in the context of the presence of different points of view in the Parliament, and her own party.
A vote for Gillard the atheist is not the same as a vote for the Atheist Party.
Tony Abbott made the point that he does not consider himself ‘a Christian politician’ but instead ‘a politician who is a Christian’.
In contrast to Dickson’s comment I would not say that a Christian vote is a vote for others. I would think that a Christian vote is a resource given to us by God that should be used to His glory and for the growth of His kingdom.
With sympathy to Clarke and Dickson, I don’t read the New Testament thinking that it tells Christians to politely submit to non-Christian rule until we’re in the majority and then take over and throw everyone who doesn’t agree with us in jail or into exile.
I think the New Testament lays out a map for Christians living with integrity in a pluralistic society.
I’m not convinced that an Anglican world view is the complete answer. These are the folk who have managed to find ways to accomodate liberal, atheist and homosexual bishops and not have to divide their church. There seem to be shards of those values present in the published articles. (of which Clarke’s I posted a link to on my blog)
I am jaundiced by the ‘Christian Values Chart’. I don’t recall any forum in the denomination to which I belong where these values were canvassed, and like yourself and Simone wouldn’t think that all of them would receive the support of the church to which we belong.
Gillard’s atheism and Abbott’s Christianity must be relevant on some level. Even if their personal positions on various issues match, they have arrived at those positions due to vastly different starting points.

Nathan Campbell says:


Thanks for your thoughts.

In con­trast to Dickson’s com­ment I would not say that a Chris­t­ian vote is a vote for oth­ers. I would think that a Chris­t­ian vote is a resource given to us by God that should be used to His glory and for the growth of His king­dom.

I thought that’s what Clarke and Dickson were advocating for actually – the use of the vote as a valuable resource for helping the poor and downtrodden. Which would, broadly, fit within the parameters of God’s glory.

I guess at this point the question is whether God is more glorified when we choose to allocate our resources to the needy (ie voting on the basis of refugees), or the protection of the planet (ie voting on the basis of the environment, or voting to protect human life (ie voting on the basis of abortion laws), or voting on upholding “Christian valuesTM (ie voting to ban any notion of civil recognition for gay relationships). I think it’s a complicated question – but I think provided we’re making the decision weighing up these factors with the goal of God’s glory we’re doing our job as Christians, stewarding our role in a democracy.

With sym­pa­thy to Clarke and Dick­son, I don’t read the New Tes­ta­ment think­ing that it tells Chris­tians to politely sub­mit to non-Christian rule until we’re in the major­ity and then take over and throw every­one who doesn’t agree with us in jail or into exile.

I’m a little confused as to whether your “sympathy” is a result of agreeing with, or disagreeing with Dickson and Clarke – I don’t think Clarke and Dickson are suggesting that is the course of action for Christians. So I’m going with “agreeing”…

I’m not con­vinced that an Angli­can world view is the com­plete answer. These are the folk who have man­aged to find ways to acco­mo­date lib­eral, athe­ist and homo­sex­ual bish­ops and not have to divide their church. There seem to be shards of those val­ues present in the pub­lished arti­cles.

With respect, I don’t think this is fair on the Sydney branch of the Anglican church (the tradition Dickson and Clarke write from (for those following at home)). The SydAngs have done their best to voice theological disjunction with the global community without potentially forfeiting their property rights – and the Pressies are hardly blameless on this front (the Church of Scotland fudged the gay issue last year). Plus, those values when present in the secular world aren’t such a bad thing – I’ve argued somewhere in my archives that the church should pick our battles on the gay marriage front to ensure that we keep the ability to act as celebrants of Christian marriages exclusively when gay marriages become legal. Marriage is not a Christian sacrament. I have no problems with people in homosexual relationships enjoying the legal protections and benefits of those in heterosexual relationships (excluding the adoption of children). This is possibly the remaining shards of SydAng pragmatism in my gene pool presenting themselves though. The nation of Australia is not a church. So I don’t think the compromise in national legislation is the same as compromising within a church context.

[…] are links to blog posts by Simone Richardson and Nathan Campbell. Here are links to articles by John Dick­son, Greg Clarke, and Michael […]

[…] readers here who don’t also read Nathan’s blog,  but in case you missed it, I thought this was a really thoughtful post about voting as a Christian. This entry was posted in Politics. […]

A great post Nathan. Well thought through and well said.

Chris Sandford says:

If I need a plumber I look for someomne who can do the job for the right price and not create new problems (socially or environmetnally – to use a sustainability paradigmz). I don’t check into their beliefs, morals or behaviours unless they impact on their work.
In chosing a politican I suspect we need someone who can get the job done. The issue is what is the job, and this is hard to define, and how much one’s beliefs come into the equation. I suspect we also look at their patterns of behaviour generically and with specific key tasks. …

[…] on the upcoming election. First there is my college friend and coffee-dealer Nathan Campbell. He asks some good questions and links to other – helpful – articles from well thought out Christians. He also […]