Who wins when politics and religion collide, especially in a federal election?
Politics and religion. Bring up these topics at your Easter family gathering and you might get some fireworks.
But the 2022 federal election straddles the most important event on the Christian calendar, so how does the role of faith fit into the political spectrum?
In the heart of Queensland’s so-called Bible Belt, Bishop Cameron Venables isn’t afraid to bring up topics usually avoided in polite conversation.
“Sometimes I meet people who say, ‘We don’t want you to talk about politics because religion and politics shouldn’t mix,'” he said.
“I find that almost incomprehensible.”
The Western Regional Bishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Queensland said it was time to take a leap of faith and open the conversation.
Separation of Church and State?
As Australia’s first Pentecostal prime minister, Scott Morrison has drawn criticism from secularists worried about the threat of theocracy, but he is not the first political leader to openly practice a Christian faith.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese spoke about his Roman Catholic upbringing.
In secular, multicultural Australia, Christianity is still the dominant religion – 12 million people identified as “Christian” in the 2016 census.
Simon Smart, director of the non-denominational Center for Public Christianity, said the term “conservative Christians” was a modern stereotype.
“Historically, Christians have played a very important role in what people consider to be progressive movements,” he said.
Mr. Smart points to the involvement of the Christian Church in the formation of trade unions, women’s suffrage and the anti-slavery movement.
“But it’s also true that over the last 20 or 30 years, as countries like Australia have become more secular, there’s been a bit more capture of significant parts of the Christian constituency with an end of politics.
“The Christian church is such a spectrum of different denominations, but also different political opinions. And it really should be that too.”
Political commentator and Griffith University associate professor Paul Williams said the role of faith in people’s voting intentions has diminished over the years.
He said that until a few decades ago Roman Catholics could be counted on to vote Labour, while Presbyterians were “90 to 95 per cent Liberal”.
“There had been a very strong connection between the vote and the church, but that really faded,” Dr Williams said.
“Regional Queensland has a higher level of Christian identity than most of the rest of Australia, but that’s not why they turned to [Scott Morrison in 2019].
“They swayed because he was pro-mining, he loved football and he wasn’t going to bring in new taxes – an Aussie they could relate to. It really had nothing to do with Christianity.”
What would Jesus do?
So, on today’s political spectrum, would Jesus fit anywhere?
“I think he would actually blow up Vote Compass,” Mr. Smart laughed.
“I think it’s a bit presumptuous to try to guess – certainly for me – what he might do in a given situation.
“But we would probably be able to say broadly that he is likely to be radical when it comes to issues of justice and care for the poor, but deeply conservative when it comes to issues of personal ethics, healthy systems, building communities, etc.”
Authenticity in leadership
For Bishop Venables, all budding political leaders should be inspired by the book of Jesus.
“Jesus was a leader who genuinely listened to others and reached out to others to hear their perspective,” he said.
“Whether it’s the woman at the well, a leper, or a tax collector in a tree, the stories keep coming and going.
“Sometimes we see pictures of leaders posing for photos, but there is no real listening and real response to the information received.”
Archbishop Venables said Jesus’ leadership vision was to protect the most vulnerable.
“There’s this feeling of ‘what is good news for those who are poor in our society?’ and that will bring us to the issues, whether it’s housing affordability and homelessness,” he said.
“In terms of caring – love your neighbor – in terms of loving the environment and stewardship for the future…any candidate who doesn’t talk about realistic politics on this is pretty short.”
Mr Smart agrees that the idea of ’loving your neighbour’ should extend to the voting booth.
“Not just my personal interest or my personal cost-benefit equation; the Christian person who takes their faith seriously should be oriented towards the common good.
“Now different Christians will disagree on how best to achieve this outcome, and that is completely legitimate, but the outcome itself should be shared.”
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