Pastors and politics:
addressing some concerns
by Dwight A. Randall
This is an edited address delivered by Dwight at the Australian Christians’ National Conference in December last year.
I want to start by giving a brief introduction dealing with the issue of Christian involvement in politics, and then by answering some specific questions that have been put to me.
When I was a child I remember my father, who was a devout Christian man who gave his life to missions, felt that Christians should not become heavily involved in politics. I can understand his reasoning. He felt that Christians had a higher calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ to a world that is lost without him.This calling has not changed.But the state of politics has.
In the 1950s and 1960s Western laws for the most part reflected a Christian worldview. Pornography was scarce and kept firmly under wraps. Prostitution was illegal and discouraged. Abortion was viewed as an evil—or at best, a tragic alternative. The traditional view of marriage, consisting of one man and one woman committed to each other in an exclusive, life long relationship was favoured by our laws. The religious education of children in public schools was viewed in a positive light. And so on.
But since the late 60s, all of the matters I have just touched on, and many more, have come under sustained attack. Time honoured Christian views relating to marriage, family, morality, the sanctity of life, and so on have been discarded and replaced.
Now I am of the belief that the first priority of the church is not to engage in politics, but to spread the gospel and to help believers to grow in knowledge and love for Christ.
But this does not preclude Christian people from becoming involved in the political process. This does not preclude pastors from providing some light to those in their care about how they can vote in a way that is consistent with their Christian worldview.
In this country, we have the freedom to choose who will govern us, and thus to help determine what sort of laws will be enacted, and what sort of country we will live in.
The ongoing reluctance of many pastors to deal with matters of a political nature is still a considerable problem.It wouldn’t be if politics revolved purely around matters removed from morality and justice, but that is not the case.Laws have been and are being enacted right across Australia that are a full-frontal attack on core Christian beliefs.
Christians understand from studying both Scripture and history that governments not only have the potential to do great good, but to cause great harm.Knowing this, how can we remain removed from this great struggle to preserve our freedom, values and culture?
Often when speaking to pastors I still encounter a lot of resistance. This can be understood, but we still need to keep gently pushing and persuading in order to advance our side of the argument.
The following are some questions that pastors have asked me about Christians and political involvement. I hope that the answers I provide will prove helpful not only to pastors but also to Christians generally.
With so many parties, do we really need a Christian party?
There are political parties that claim to represent workers, small business owners, and the environment. There is also a need for a party that will represent Christian people, churches, schools, and benevolent organisations. There is a need for a party that will defend values such as marriage, the traditional family, the sanctity of life, workers rights, honesty, integrity, justice and compassion.
The major parties have factions within them that argue opposing views on many issues of grave concern to Christians. Frequently, the majority held view is in conflict with a Christian understanding of morality, compassion and justice, and results in the passage of immoral laws.
A Christian party that stands 100 per cent behind marriage, family, jobs and the sanctity of life is critically needed to counter the moral downgrade Australia is currently experiencing. Australians need a Christian party that is not divided against itself and will not compromise on core beliefs that will protect and benefit all Australians.
Would Australia be better off if the Christian parties were shut down and Christians joined the major parties in order to reform them?
Working within the major parties frequently involves compromise. For example, while Labor allows a conscience vote on matters relating to the sanctity of life (for which we are thankful), Labor MPs have to toe the line (or be removed) on matters like prostitution, pornography and homo-sexuality. This presents difficulties for Christians who submit to the moral teaching of Scripture.
The Greens are even more problematic. Christians should never be encouraged to join the Greens with a hope of reforming the party.That would not only be wrong, but naive. The policies of the Greens in relation to matters like same-sex marriage, prostitution, abortion, euthanasia and drugs are the opposite of a Christian view.
Serving as a Christian in the Liberal Party also has its challenges.The Liberal Party has elected members who range from atheists to Christians, from pro-abortion to pro-life, from pro-homosexual marriage to pro-traditional marriage, and so forth.It would be difficult to work in such an environment, although I certainly admire Christians who are doing so.
Australian Christians (formerly the Christian Democratic Party, or CDP) provides the opportunity for Christians to vote for a party that truly reflects their Christian values, knowing that if the Australian Christians candidate is not elected, their vote will then flow on to their second choice at full value. This is a huge relief to many Christians with sensitive moral consciences.
Would it be inappropriate for me to be seen as giving my support to a political party?
Australian Christians is not just any political party. It is a Christian party made up of pastors, church leaders and church members with values that are consistent with the teaching of Scripture. It is the only party that insists that all of its candidates and council members are committed Christians.
Would it be inappropriate to use my position to sway people in their voting preferences?
We do not believe so. The policies of various political parties vary dramatically on many matters of crucial importance to Christians. Some parties like the Greens, disparage Christian values, and are actively working to replace them with secular ones.
Some parties support a woman’s right to choose to end the life of her unborn child by abortion.
Some parties believe that prostitution is a legitimate occupation for young women to enter into.
Some parties advocate homosexual marriage, thus betraying marriage as God intended it and harming the children who are reared in it.
Some parties argue that Christian schools should be forced to comply with anti-discrimination laws that would prohibit them from refusing to employ people who do not share their Christian values.
Some parties argue that Sunday should be treated just like every other day of the week—including Easter Sunday!—with little regard for the welfare of the church or the integrity of the family.
These policies, and the laws that result from them, undermine Christian beliefs, harm mothers-to-be, betray our children, sanction our daughters selling their bodies, corrupt traditional marriage, erode the moral standards of Christian schools, treat Christian people and the church with disregard, and cause great harm to Australian society.
The truth is that all of the matters I have just listed are not so much matters of policy as they are matters of morality. Political parties that venture into the heartland of Christians moral teaching, should not assume that Christians will remain silent. They will not. So, it is not so much a matter of whether church leaders should engage in politics, but whether they can afford to remain silent.
It is our belief that it is appropriate to inform Christians about political parties and their policies. This is a means of helping believers to face their obligation to vote in an informed and positive manner. If a pastor is personally reluctant, or not sufficiently informed to do this, he may wish to consider having someone from Australian Christians speak.
Could dealing with matters of a political nature cause conflict within the church?
This, in the main, has not been our experience. Representatives from Australian Christians have spoken and preached at many churches over many years where they have touched on all of the matters listed above without causing conflict. On the contrary, Christians have often expressed sincere thanks that someone has given them insight into how they can “take every thought captive to obey Jesus Christ.”
But what if touching on some moral/political issues in the church did cause some conflict? Challenging misplaced allegiances can sometimes do this, but hopefully with a productive outcome.Jesus did not shy away from speaking plainly on matters that could cause conflict. On the contrary, he warned, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). So, absence of conflict is not always the highest consideration.
Could introducing politics into the church distract us from our primary goal of evangelism?
We do not believe so. On the contrary, unless Christian leaders address the attacks against Christian values and freedoms, they may soon find themselves prohibited from teaching certain portions of Scripture (such as texts against homosexuality), and even more alarming, they may be prohibited from evangelising.
I encourage my people to examine the various parties and their policies in the light of the Scriptures, and vote according to their conscience.
This is a good thing to do, but in the absence of guidance from their pastor, where will most Christians who are not vitally interested in politics draw their opinions from? Many will not read the policy platforms of the various parties. Instead, many will form their opinions from what they read and hear in the secular media. And, as the media generally favours a secular worldview, what Christians read will be biased. If the media reports on parties like Australian Christians, they are not likely to emphasise that the party is pro-marriage, pro-family, and pro-children, but that it is “anti-gay marriage” and “anti-equal rights.” The media will not mention that Australian Christians is pro-life because it believes that abortion harms women and kills children, but that the party is “anti-choice” and “anti-women.”
Or the media may choose to deprive the party of oxygen by simply ignoring it, as though it doesn’t exist, while giving a lot of free space to the Greens and major parties. On the basis of what the media presents, many Christians will form a skewed view about which party they should support. This is where Christian pastors can provide significant help to their people, either by taking the time to explain the differences between the parties, or asking someone who is informed to do so. For lack of understanding some Christians have thrown their weight behind the Greens, thinking they are a party that is only interested in the environment and social justice, but totally unaware of their radical social agenda.
Christian pastors have a critical role to play in helping believers to submit every facet of their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, including how they cast their vote. If Christian people, with the help of their pastors, become informed, the vote for Christian values in politics would rise sharply, resulting in Christians being elected to our parliaments, and positive changes for Australians.
In conclusion, there are many sound arguments that can be used to support the involvement of Christians in politics, and the need for church leaders to help their people come to an understanding about how they can vote in a manner that advances Christian values for the benefit of all Australians.
Let us not forget that God used Joseph in government to save both the Israelites and the Egyptians.
Let us not forget that men like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and Daniel, are treated in the Scripture as heroes of the faith because they stood before Kings and refused to comply with evil edicts.
Let us not forget that the New Testament teaches us that governments are instituted by God. Romans 13:1 states, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” If that is the case, should those who love God and his righteous laws remain disengaged from politics?
If governmental leaders are, as Romans 13 states several times, “ministers of God” then should not those who love the Lord seek such high office?
Let us not forget that we have been called by our Master to be “salt” and “light.”Salt preserves and adds flavour, and light dispels darkness. Our faith is not a private matter. Many Christians believe that it is unspiritual or unscriptural to get involved in politics. I disagree. The Scripture gives a clear mandate to get involved. Simply to fulfil our calling to be salt and light in society demands this of us.
Indeed, God is the one who insists that nations maintain justice and righteousness. How is that to be achieved if all Christians refuse to get involved? We have an obligation to preach the gospel and make disciples, but that is not opposed to social and political involvement.
And let us not forget the incredible victories that Christians involved in politics around the world have already achieved including the abolishing of slavery, the removal of children from the workforce, the separation of the sexes in prisons, the rehabilitation of prisoners, the establishment of hospitals and schools and universities, and much, much more. With such victories in mind, let each one of us commit to do all that we can do in every facet of our lives to advance godly values in Australia.
Dwight Randall is the President of Australian Christians (WA) and the party’s Upper House candidate for the East Metropolitan Region in the forthcoming state elections.