Fr Frank Brennan SJ, Professor of Law at the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University, replied in Eureka Street (10 Aug 10) that a conscientious Christian could vote for the Greens.
Clearly the Greens will not be gaining the votes or preferences of Pell and Wallace. But was it principled and prudent for them to make this public declaration? Could not a conscientious Christian still vote for the Greens? And are their policies more anti-Christian than those of the major parties?
. . . Some Christians, myself included, think that the Greens are not classifiable as straight out anti-Christian. While some of their members may be (much like Mark Latham was in the Labor Party), others like Lin Hatfield Dodds have given distinguished public service in their churches for decades.
On some policy issues, I daresay the Greens have a more Christian message than the major parties. Consider their stand on overseas aid, refugees, stewardship of creation and the environment, public housing, human rights protection, and income management. On all these issues, the Greens are far more in synch with the periodic utterances of most Church leaders than either of the major political parties. The Greens have been the only party to hold back the tide against the race to the bottom in the asylum seeker debate since Kevin Rudd was replaced as Prime Minister.
Brennan parts company on issues like abortion, stem cell research, same sex marriage and funding for church schools.
But given that some of their policies, and on issues which will be legislated in the next three years, are arguably more Christian than those of the major parties, I think it best that Church leaders maintain a discreet reticence about urging a vote for or against any particular political party.
Australian Greens leader, Senator Brown responded to Cardinal Pell’s abusive criticisms by saying that his party’s’ policies are much closer to mainstream Christian ideals than Cardinal Pell. He said Pell’s “anti-Christian” claim was a lie, and that he had fallen out of touch with his people. “The good archbishop has forgotten the ninth commandment, which is ‘thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour’. He’s lost the ethic of the golden rule and the Greens have kept it. The Greens are much closer to mainstream Christian thinking than Cardinal Pell. That’s why he’s not standing for election and I am.”
The Catholics the senator spoke to support an end to discrimination, he said. “They support compassion to asylum seekers and they support the BER (Building the Education Revolution) scheme, like the Greens do. Cardinal Pell opposes those things.”
Senator Brown said the archbishop’s views on gay marriage were “discriminatory and biased”. “The majority of Catholics support equality in marriage (as do) the majority of Christians in Australia. The Greens are with the majority but both the big parties, like Cardinal Pell, are opposed to 21st Century majority thinking in Australia. He’s lost contact with his own voters … his own Catholic majority in this country.”
Senator Brown said Cardinal Pell had “taken up the rhetoric of the extreme right in Australia. That is not new but he has become very politically active against the compassion and the environmental commonsense of the Greens policies.
Lin Hatfield Dodds was the Greens Senate candidate for the ACT and a member of the Uniting Church. She was ACT Australian of the Year in 2008, is a past President of the ACT Council of Social Services, and headed up UnitingCare Australia for many years. In 2006 she was proposed into the field of candidates for the Presidency of the Uniting Church in Australia. She wrote on Being a Christian, and being Green (ABC Religion and Ethics, 10 Aug 2010).
There’s a bit of white noise around at the moment about the respective places of religion and politics in our democracy.
I am a Christian and the Green Senate candidate for the ACT. The Christian faith for me is in large part captured in that well known passage from Micah 6.8: “The Lord has told us what is good. To do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.”
I am tired of the conservative elements in the church I love so much being seen to speak for all of us. George Pell and the Australian Christian Lobby do not speak for me or my church. They do speak for some who are part of the Christian faith tradition in Australia, but not for all. And that’s the point. The Christian tradition is broad and diverse. Over the two thousand years of the Christian movement, many and varied expressions of the faith have arisen.
What most Australians outside the churches see as “Brand Christian” is all too often, in my view, the unattractive side of conservative Christianity. Recently profiled web-based materials that claim that the Greens are “ideologically anti-Christian with specific anti-Christian policies,” or the comment by the ACL earlier this year that the Greens “have an explicitly anti-Christian agenda” are inexplicable to me.
What exactly does that mean? What is an “explicitly Christian” agenda? I am a Greens candidate because the Greens policy platform and values connect deeply with my own faith-based values and priorities.
I care about standing up for the poor and caring for our fragile environment. I care about welcoming the oppressed, caring for the old and the sick, and eliminating racism. I care about integrity in public life and the right for each citizen to participate in decision making in the community. The Greens have policies that align with my deeply held positions on all of these issues and more.
I am not saying that to be Christian is to be Green. Within my own church, people are elected members or candidates for each of Australia’s three major political parties. I know politicians who are people of faith from across the political spectrum, and each of them feels as I do about the alignment between their deeply held faith based values and the values of their chosen political party. And that’s as it should be.
For any one church or person or political party to claim God’s imprimatur is a nonsense. The ecumenical movement over the last century is a clear demonstration of the widely held understanding that there is no valid claim to a “one true exposition” of the Christian faith.
We live in a pluralist social democracy. Australia is a multi-cultural, multi-faith nation. Our political parties are not fronts for organised religion. Our political parties, including the Greens, are spaces where Australians from every faith and none join together under common visions and common values to try to make a positive difference in their communities and for our country as a whole.
Too often, a small group or (worse) an individual person claims the authority to speak on behalf of all Christians. When this is done the movement of God is severely compromised.
There are a significant number of Australians whose values and faith mean that they will support the Greens. There are a significant number of Australians whose values and faith mean that they will support either the ALP or the Coalition.
God is beyond human limitations; we should not, and cannot, seek to reduce the movement of God to our own framework of political or moral values. Instead, as citizens of a social democracy, we must engage respectfully with each other. And as we listen to each other’s views and respect each other’s experiences, we will build a better world together.