Family First

Should Christians speak out in the political process?

My answer to the question posed above is “yes”… what’s yours?

Following on from my so called “open letter” about school chaplaincy funding from last week,* I’d like to address one of the comments that made its way back to me via a third party. I won’t name names, lest I betray any confidences…

“[I] wondered if he was too hasty in ruling out involvement of Christians in public discourse in an arena like education”

This isn’t what I’m trying to do at all. I’m actually trying to open a more helpful variety of engaging with the political realm, and those in opposition to Christianity, by hearing their criticisms and concerns, and weighing them up against these five starting assumptions. I’m not advocating that Christians acquiesce to any change in the law that will bring us one step closer to the lion’s den. I don’t have a martyr complex, figuratively or literally.

I don’t know if people have followed along on any of the now quite numerous debates I’ve had online regarding a Christian stance on gay marriage. There have been a few. Here, and elsewhere, and again

Much smarter people than I have disagreed with my position on the relationship between church and state in each of those threads. But because I tend to see my own position in overwhelming clarity, while at least imagining that I have a good grasp of my interlocutor’s arguments, I still haven’t budged.

I think I’d describe my approach to politics as revolving around five poles, or starting assumptions. Perhaps you don’t share them. But at least you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

1. Jesus is the true ruler of the world (Philippians 2). Governments are appointed by God (Romans 13). As Christians our job is to proclaim the gospel to people (Matthew 28), and live such lives among the pagans that our proclamation has some appeal (1 Peter 2).

2. While the earth is the Lord’s, and while he has established guidelines for living lives pleasing to him, and while what the Bible says is sin is sinful… We can not seek to impose Christian morality onto people who don’t have the Holy Spirit, nor should we necessarily try to do that, it is ultimately a bandaid solution if point 1 is not taken into account.

3. Separation of church and state is a good thing, that should be upheld by both church and state – for the sake of clarity on both sides.

4. The nature of a democracy is such that all members of society have equal say about how society is governed, and ultimately it means that the will of the majority will become the law of the land. All parties in a democracy have the right to speak out in favour of their positions, but from a government’s perspective, elected representatives are elected to represent their constituency not to be the puppet of special interest groups (including Christian special interest groups). Special interest groups, or organised lobby groups, aren’t necessarily a bad thing, unless their clout outweighs their supporter base through graft, corruption, or manipulation.

5. Liberal democracies are also focused on providing individual liberties – which are valuable for Christians, especially as they pertain to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of public assembly.

Given those points, if you want to speak out like Danny Naliah, Family First, Australian Christian Lobby, or even somebody more moderate – that’s great. You can’t necessarily claim to be speaking for God, or for Christians, though – you’re simply participating in the democratic process. And arguments starting with “The Bible says” or “God says” in a secular society aren’t going to get a long way when we’re increasingly not just secular, but non-religious. But you should feel free to do it. I’m not, in the words of No Doubt, saying “don’t speak” – it’s not my place to suggest that. I’d just love to see Christians thinking before they speak – about why we feel entitled to be able to impose our views on the majority.

I’d love more Christians to be entering into political discourse – even if they disagree with me, perhaps especially then. I don’t think that means starting our own party, or putting together an Australian Christian Lobby that acts just like any other self-interest group with a powerful supporters base. I’d love more Christians to join real parties (and even better, The Greens). That would be a great witness to our love for the world, and would help out with point 1 from above.

I’d especially love more Christians to be speaking out in favour of 3, recognising 2, and being wary of falling foul of point 4. Which is the approach I’m trying to advocate when it comes to both gay marriage and school chaplaincy, and indeed, politics in general.

I’m not saying “don’t say anything” – I don’t know where the notion that I was suggesting this in the chaplaincy post comes from. I’m not about acquiescence – I’d actually rather hear Christians speaking out against government handouts (which was the position I was trying to articulate) rather than just speaking out in favour of them. The truth, so far as I can figure it out, in the chaplaincy debate – is that we don’t really want the government’s money if it means compromising our position in the schools (where we enjoy the ability to teach children about Christianity). We also don’t want chaplains and religious education lumped together so they can be thrown out together. But even if both are, all is not lost. I haven’t really heard many people saying that in this debate – certainly not on Facebook.

Is it possible that our most positive witness is if we argue that God has given us all an amount of liberty (see point 5), but that we hope people use that liberty to live lives pleasing to him, through submitting to the lordship of Jesus? But if they don’t, we don’t want to force them. We don’t want to spoil the time they have on this earth. And we want the right to disagree with them, respectfully, in honouring our own beliefs and traditions.

Is there a danger of losing more than we’re bargaining for because of the way we’re so dogmatically trying to shoehorn everybody into Christian behaviour by organising lobby groups and political parties and not engaging with the world? Family First is never going to be a legitimate political force in Australia. They’re simply a mouthpiece for people who may not admit it but would like to legislate Christian values, or the Danny Naliah types.

The more we appear to be on the fringes, the more we appear to be relying on some sort of special pleading for our own personal point of view in an increasingly diverse nation, and the more we appear to be condemning other people’s exercising of liberties based on our “imaginary friend” and our “2000 year old book”, the less appealing Jesus is… why not let God, through the Holy Spirit, and the Bible, convict people of their sin, and then judge them accordingly – rather than trying to play judge, jury, and executioner ourselves (or at least legislature, judiciary, and executive…).

I’m going to spend the next few days reading through Andrew Cameron’s material (alongside K-Rudd and John Anderson’s material) from the 2005 New College Lectures on Church & State.

*Where, if you care to, you can read how I engage with a couple of atheist Facebook commenters from the platform I’ve outlined above…

Unseparating Church and State: The right way

If you’ve been reading my thoughts on the election (particularly in the build up) you’ll know I’m no fan of Family First. And you’ll mostly know why – but in a nutshell, I think their policies tend to be myopic, theocratic, lack nuance and their existence can be harmful for the cause of evangelism. I think the perpetuating the idea that God is a social conservative who wants you to vote for one party is harmful for the cause of politics and the liberty of the church.

But I hate the idea of being a person who offers criticisms with no solutions. I think Christians should be actively engaged in the political process. I’d love to see more convicted Christians running for office. Just not on a “God Party” platform.

So here’s my solution, dear reader. Tomorrow. Go out and join a political party. Any political party. Preferably one that you feel philosophically aligned to – but if you’re feeling particularly adventurous join one that needs some Christian perspective on their policies.

Join a party. Go to branch meetings. Become active in policy discussions. If we all did this we’d have an active role in forming policies before elections rather than having to select the lesser of two evils.

Lets stage our own Greenslide. If every member of your church joined the Greens and advocated for the environment, for social justice, and for a less rabidly anti-Christian platform we’d have the makings of a fantastic party. You might even get preselected to run for office somewhere. Put your hand up and go for it. Don’t turn the government into a theocracy. Be prepared to be in a position where you have to compromise. But such is life. The process will be better for having Christian voices heard the whole way along, our parties also run democratically – just like the government. Just remember Australia is a pretty secular country and you have to govern for Muslims too.

Family Last: Why I’m not voting 1 for Family First despite being a Christian

A well meaning friend, perhaps unaware of my position on Family First, suggested that I become Facebook Friends with Queensland Senate Candidate Wendy Francis. I have met Wendy (a few years ago), I used to play football (soccer for the luddites) against her son. Anyway. I added her. She seems like a decent, hard working, Godly Christian lady, I’ve no doubt she’s a great mum. I’ve got no doubt she’s a Christian. I’ve got no doubt she’s moral. And I’ve got no doubt she’s intelligent. But I won’t be voting for her. She’ll probably end up somewhere above the Greens and the Australian Sex Party on my ballot paper (I like numbering the senate paper completely. I’m a politics geek. Sue me.). And here’s why. I don’t think she’ll make a good politician. Pretty much by her own admission. If you want a godly, motherly, intelligent amateur holding the balance of power in the senate (which might happen) then feel free to vote for her. I won’t judge you.

She’s been busy on Facebook posting 101 reasons to vote for Wendy Francis. Here are some examples.

#13 I’ve never had media training and I don’t know how to avoid or fudge questions.

#88 I really don’t know quite how to be a politician and I rather suspect I should stay that way and those who vote for me would agree

#71 In a campaign featuring robotic candidates controlled by media minders I’m a fresh contrast. It’s time for un-politicians!

My big problem with the Family First campaign (and its epitomised by Wendy’s appearance on Sunrise) is that they completely lack any form of nuance or any sense that they’ll be, if elected, governing for everybody. Not just the people who vote for them. What they say is fine (almost) coming from the mouths of lobbiests and special interest groups. But this sort of comment from her Facebook profile is just a little scary: “Atheist Prime Minister & atheist Greens with senate balance of power equals the wrong road for Australia”.

I can’t help but think that if she had media minders, or thought like a politician, she may have avoided situations like this.

“legitimising gay marriage is like legalising child abuse”

Comparing anything that’s clearly not in the same category of child abuse to child abuse is like comparing things to Hitler. We have a pretty solid definition of child abuse to work from – and we have myriad victims of child abuse in our community who must feel somewhat slighted by the idea that children with two loving parents are being placed in the same category.

Christians hate it (I know I do) when atheists suggest that Christian parenting is child abuse. So why would we, as Christians, use similar language to describe family structures we disagree with. Even if it wasn’t her who posted the message (and she says it wasn’t, but that it was a staffer) it’s the kind of amateur hour thing she seems to be proud of (based on her points above). And she didn’t distance herself from the sentiment in subsequent interviews. A little media training and political nous goes a long way.

Something can be bad for a child without it being child abuse. This lack of nuance is appalling. Is she saying that any child without a father is suffering abuse? Does it follow that any mother who leaves her husband and becomes a single parent is also an abuser? Or is it only if they leave their husband for another woman?

I sympathise with her position on same-sex couples adopting. But I think it’s a much more complex situation than can be adequately argued or justified on Twitter in 140 characters or less. Is it better for a child to have loving gay parents than no parents? Probably. As soon as you concede that point you’re on the back foot. Coming out with emotive tripe that seems designed purely to cause scandal is a ridiculous political strategy designed only to resonate with the lowest common denominator of Christian thought.

My biggest problem with Family First is that they almost completely fail to empathise with the people they oppose. Christians, by the grace of God and our parliament, enjoy incredible freedom in our country. This kind of “we speak for the majority so we’re going to prevent any minorities being represented” mentality is just scary. You know what happens in cultures that oppress and silence minorities. They start sending them to death camps. There. I made a Hitler comparison.

Politics has famously been described (probably by Churchill) as the art of compromise. By being definitively “non-compromising” and “non-political” you’re essentially saying that you don’t care about the outsider. The people who don’t hold your views. That’s not what being a senator, or being a Christian, is about.

Benny on electoral reform

The latest Electoral Reform Green Paper, Strengthening Australia’s Democracy (available from ), was recently released. While it covers an issue that has been jumped all over recently by mainstream media, that of lowering the voting age, which while somewhat interesting, it also covers issues which I think are far more discussion worthy.*

I love talking about electoral reform. It is one of my favourite topics. I could talk about this paper a lot.

For today, sections 5.42 to 5.62 discuss the voting system used in the house of representatives. Currently, the house of representatives uses a preferential voting system. In effect, this means you can choose to give each candidate a number, and if for some unknown reason you give your first preference to a Family First candidate, throwing your vote away, you get an automatic reprieve and your vote is reallocated to your second preference. This process of preference skipping is repeated until a preference for a sensible party (or occasionally the greens) is reached.

In all seriousness though, the preferential system is a mostly sound system. The main problem from most perspectives is preferential systems always favour majority groups. A candidate needs to be the first to reach 50% of votes, via an initial majority or through preferences. For example, in Queensland, in each electorate, the candidate who gets to 50% first will win. Thus, as one of the main parties will generally get to 50% on preferences first in each electorate, minority parties will generally fail. Thus, even if 10% of Queenslanders support the anti-environment party and everyone else puts them as last preference, if those who support are roughly distributed evenly across all electorates, they won’t win a thing. Thus, sizeable minorities that otherwise do not form the majority views in any electorate will have no representation in the lower house.

Alternatively, the Senate has a proportional system. A fantastic article on how our proportional voting system for the Senate works can be found here : . Or if you are dull like me, go read (the incredibly wordy and complex) section 273 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. The way our proportional quota vote counting system works is very interesting, and I don’t think too many people in Australia have much idea how the Senate is actually elected.

So, back to the new green paper. One of the opportunities it outlines is for the House of Representatives to shift to a form of proportional representation, with divisions at the state or sub-state level. The green paper even discusses many of the arguments for and against the idea (it is quite the paper). This change has the potential to change the political landscape. It also raises some interesting issues for how the ballots will be developed (i.e. will the option remain of voting “above the line” for a single political party, thus accepting the party’s preference order for candidates).

I am still making my way through this paper (at 260 pages it is quite a study). And there have already been a few parts of it I have been disappointed with (the discussion of current proportional vote counting in the paper is poor). But this thing provides topic fodder for months.

*Utilising Nathan’s asterix technique, and noting my prior post, lowering the voting age is pulp news. Further, a 16 year old who wants to sail around the world is not news, and everytime the State Premier/Deputy Premier etc has a press interview, they should not be asked their opinion on said teenager sailing around the world, and their comment is not news.

Election day

The countdown is over. We voted this morning. Robyn told me afterwards that she’d voted for Family First. It was a funny joke. We laughed. 

Here’s why I don’t vote for Family First…

  1. While I appreciate that Family First put the family first and often that means supporting things that are good for Christians and Christianity – I think their very presence dilutes the conservative vote and is counterproductive for Christians looking to vote on their issues. 
  2. I don’t like the idea of giving politicians a mandate to turn Australia into anything other than the democratic system we have now – theocracies are great provided you’re a believer. Which I am. But they don’t do a good job of protecting minorities or other interests. I’d rather a candidate sympathetic to all than a candidate only sympathetic to me. 
  3. It’s not the state’s job to convert people to Christianity – it’s ours. Separation of church and state is a protection for the church too…
  4. Better the devil you know – I know that the LNP and the ALP will act in a predictable manner based on their convictions. The same can not be said for Family First members. There have been too many loose cannon loonies running for the party for them to have much credibility as a united voice. The idea of a united Christian voice is nice in theory – but you only have to look at the Uniting Church to see it in practice. 
  5. It’s a wasted vote. Unless we’re voting for a Federal senate spot the party will never the numbers to get candidates into seats. What’s the point of voting for Family First when you can be voting against a party you disagree with and keeping them out of power.  

I have no numbers to back this up. But I’m sure I could find them. I know that some people who are single issue voters on abortion will get angry when I say this. But voting for family first when you’re a nominally conservative voter who doesn’t like abortion is pretty much a vote for Labor – who (despite their name being similar to the act of giving birth) are the most likely party to legalise abortion in Australian states.

Obviously the preference system allows you to make this statement while still essentially voting for the LNP – but a real statement would be made by the number of people not preferentially voting at all – and ousting a government without having to rely on preferences at all. 

It may be a principled move. It may make a statement.  But it’s a phyrric victory only. So I won’t be making that move any time soon. 

This is too late to change anyone’s mind anyway. But it’s my two cents worth.

Also, I think it’s slightly ironic that the Greens print out how to vote cards. They’re such a waste of paper. Perhaps we should change the legislation to allow each nominated candidate to place a “how to vote” card in the voting booth. That’s under 10 printouts per candidate per booth – rather than thousands.

Divorce and climate change

There’s some interesting anecdotal evidence, and some reasonable studies that link divorce with social problems, developmental problems and property prices.

The argument on house prices goes that where traditionally couples would have stayed together in “wedded bliss” in the marital home – ie existed as one household – now they are splitting into two households. So the number of “households” has increased dramatically since quick and easy divorces came into being.

According to the ABS Census data on “Living Arrangements” – 9.6% of the population account for 24% of households – those are single person households.

I’m not really a fan of Family First. But I am a fan of families – and think they’re probably the most important “unit” in our society. Steve Fielding from Family First has just done the unthinkable. Linked climate change with divorce.

“We understand that there is a social problem (with divorce), but now we’re seeing there is also environmental impact as well on the footprint,” he said.

“Mitigating the impacts of resource-inefficient lifestyles such as divorce helps to achieve global environmental sustainability and saves money.”

Go get em Steve. So, the left blogotariat (like the commentariat but in blog form) have predictably panned him. The central pillar of the left’s argument is this:

“Fielding thinks that divorce is bad because the Church thinks divorce is bad, but most Australians accept it as a necessary part of life, so Fielding tries to link divorce to something that most Australians do think is bad”

The logic of that statement seems to be that Fielding is wrong that divorce is bad because most people think it’s “necessary” which seems to equate to “good” – with good being the binary, and logical, opposite to bad.

My question, particularly to my left leaning non-Christian friends, is does anybody actually think divorce is a good thing?

It’s not like anyone from the Christian side of things is arguing that it should be illegal – divorce is included in the OT laws in the bible and spoken about by Jesus – essentially as a necessary evil.

I don’t think anyone argues that – I would have thought someone suggesting that we look at ways to lower the rate of divorce as a way to lead more carbon friendly lives would have the backing of the left. It seems like a nice policy solution to an emerging cultural, environmental and economical issue.

It’s particularly an issue because while households are shrinking in number of people they’re growing in number and size.

The 2006 Census Housing Overview says:

Despite the decrease in average household size in Australia discussed earlier, changing lifestyle preferences and greater wealth have resulted in an increase in the average size of houses over time. This is especially evident in the increase in the average floor area of new residential dwellings; which increased by 31% in the 20 years to  2006–07.


“The higher rate of growth in housing stock can be linked to the steady decline in the average number of people  per occupied private dwelling, from 4.5 persons in 1911 to 2.51 in 2006.”

Divorce must surely be one of the factors in this change – it’s not unreasonable to make the sort of link that Steve Fielding made. I’m not sure he deserves the scorn being poured on him by commenters at the Courier Mail and the original blog post from the left.

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