A number of people have recognised that the Australian Christian Lobby’s policy survey, Australia Votes, is an improvement on other ‘Christian values’ checklists. How far does it actually get us as Christian voters?
Truth vs. justice
At Cyberpunk + Blue Twin, we’ve been considering how to think as Christians about an election in which truth and justice seem pitted against one another. I’ve been arguing that our primary goal as Christians in this election cannot be to put Christian ‘rights’ first.
How does the Australian Christian Lobby’s questionnaire stack up? Out of the 24 items, I counted 9 that are explicitly focused on Christian rights, including #2, about maintaining Christian prayers in parliament.
However, the ACL seems to feel this tension between truth and justice, because other questions try to express both Christian rights and the care of others. Take #15 on school funding, which asserts that support of Christian schools is also a vote for the vulnerable:
Given that many of the students attending low fee independent and Christian schools come from families of a similar socio-economic background as those of public schools, will your Party guarantee that any review of funding for the non-government school sector will result in no reduction in the level of funding in both real and relative terms for these schools?
Similarly, #7 (the only item on taxation) tries to connect Christian tax benefits with fighting poverty:
The ‘Henry review’ of Australia’s taxation system recommended the winding back of Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) arrangements. FBT concessions make churches and church-based service-providers in the health, community and welfare sectors more financially viable, ensuring the maintenance of services to some of our most vulnerable people. Would your Party support the retention of FBT concessions for churches and faith-based charities?
At these points, the questionnaire is unhelpful, implying that we can have our cake and eat it. I doubt that the Fringe Benefits Tax and Christian schooling are amongst our big justice issues! The way these questions are formulated seems like an attempt to rationalise the preservation of Christian rights.
One of the most unhelpful things about the questionnaire is its leading questions. Several of the questions presuppose an answer. #20 assumes that a Christian must support internet censorship:
Recent Government trials have shown that blocking Refused Classification (RC) material at the ISP level is technically feasible. Will your Party commit to the filtering of RC material at the ISP level to provide a safer internet environment for children? Some ISPs already provide commercial filtering products for parents to protect children from legal but otherwise harmful internet content. What would your Party do to encourage wider availability of such services?
The way the ACL tells it, an ISP filter is the only choice if you really care about children. However, other Christians have made a good case against the filter. I liken the filter to tweaking the printing press in an attempt to censor book-reading: even if it did work, it cannot teach our children how to interact wisely with our messy world. I see internet censorship as one of the most wrongheaded things that Christians want to support in this election, while the ACL are adamantly in favour of it.
Along similar lines, #23 assumes that a Christian cannot support a human rights act:
The National Human Rights Consultation recommended the enactment of a federal Human Rights Act. However many Christian churches and groups opposed a HRA because of little evidence of overseas versions improving human rights and their being used by activists to undermine freedom of religion. Given the time and expense of assessing Parliament’s present position on the HRA, will your Party rule out introducing a Human Rights Act or equivalent instrument in the next and subsequent parliament?
Is a human rights act simply wrong? Well, I don’t really know. These are not black and white issues but grey areas, yet at these points the ACL is very quick to decide things for us.
On the plus side, the abortion questions are quite good. Abortion is one of the ‘Christian values’ that really can be a justice issue, and Christians ought to have something real to say about it. If the ACL questionnaire is anything to go by, I’m encouraged that Australian Christians are beginning to move away from the simplistic mantra that abortion is wrong, and beginning to think more rigourously about a Christian ethic that deals with the shades of grey.
Where does this leave us?
Politics is messy because the world is messy. There is no simple choice for Christian voters because we don’t live in a black and white world. The ACL have made a lot noise about the Greens declining to answer 18 of the 24 questions but, as you can see, I’d probably be declining to answer some of them myself! If the ACL questionnaire leads us to think there is an easy Christian vote somewhere in the muck of this election, then it has backfired. As Trevor Cairney notes, policy comparison charts have real problems — especially the attempts to create Christian checklists. Still, these charts can be another tool in sorting out this election, so here are some more to help us weigh things up:
And now, it’s so easy to vote below the line!
I’ll leave you with a final reflection from one of our visitors: How would Jesus vote?
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.