Earlier this year, I received a letter from a Christian minister who was dismissive of the Australian Christians political party. As the minister claimed that his views were also held by other Christians, it occurs to me that my response to him might be of interest to other Christians, too, especially as it seems almost certain that Western Australians will be voting again (for the federal Senate) early next year. Here, in a substantially shortened and edited form, is my attempt to clear up some of the misconceptions that some Christians have about the Australian Christians (formerly the Christian Democratic Party).
Your assertion that Australian Christians, in order to achieve your support, must present itself as an alternative government is both unrealistic and unreasonable. Australian Christians is a minor party that does not enjoy the level of support necessary to elect any candidates to the Lower House in State Parliament, or to the House of Representatives in the Federal Parliament. As you know, this requires fifty per cent of the vote, which only the major parties (often with the help of preferences from minor parties like Australian Christians), can achieve. As government is formed by a majority in the Lower House (ie, the state Legislative Assembly or the federal House of Representatives), it is unreasonable to require Australian Christians to present itself as an alternative government. Our only hope at present is to have candidates elected to the Upper Houses (Senate or Legislative Council) of the federal and state parliaments, where candidates require a much smaller percentage of votes to succeed. You have set the bar unrealistically high for a Christian party in a secular society. Furthermore, if you, a Christian pastor, will not vote for Australian Christians, nor encourage others to do so, then our goal of electing Christians to parliament is made all the more difficult.
You claim that simply being a practicing Christian is not a sufficient qualification for a political career, as though you believe our candidates have no vocations beyond simply being Christian. Yet, many of our candidates have professional qualifications that would match the qualifications of those already serving in politics. Some own businesses of their own, some teach at universities, some are doctors, some have served in local government, some are ministers, some are directors and chairpersons, and so forth.
Furthermore, I would far rather support a Christian who understands what it means to “love your neighbour as yourself” and applies that principle across legislation than support a highly qualified, well educated, articulate atheist lawyer or economist or doctor who supports abortion on demand, and the like.
On the matter of policies, Australian Christians has policies on a wide range of issues that have been carefully developed over several years. Our policies are more clearly enunciated than many other parties. And our policies, unlike those of many of the secular parties, reflect a Christian worldview.
You ask specifically about our economic policy, as well as our policies on health, prostitution, abortion, defence, immigration, environment, and other religions, which leads me to conclude that you have not read our policy statement, which covers these topics, and many more.
You argue that in politics compromise is a necessary reality. Furthermore, you believe that Christians who refuse to compromise will be marginalised, ignored and seen as toxic. Yet, for the past 27 years the Rev Fred Nile, an Upper House parliamentarian in NSW, has refused to compromise his beliefs in parliament. While some have mocked him, he is highly regarded by most NSW parliamentarians. He is frequently asked to head committees, for both sides of politics admire his fairness and honesty. Some may disagree on his views, but most respect him for his integrity. His refusal to compromise has resulted in the failure of some anti-family policies and the passage of many sound laws.
You believe that Australian Christians’ stance on abortion and same sex marriage would cause “communal angst.” Oh, that it would! Oh, that pro-choice MPs would have to defend their support for the killing of the innocent, and pro-life MPs would be called to defend the defenceless. Better some communal angst and backlash against some politicians than the cowardly silence under which some 8,000 unborn children lose their lives every year in Western Australia. Peace is not the highest objective.
It seems to me that what you are suggesting is that if Christians are elected to parliament and stand their ground on matters like abortion and gay marriage, that they will be ostracized, and in turn they will harm the standing of Christians in the broader community because Christians will be thought of as non-team players and inflexible, which in your estimation is a bad thing.
I imagine there were many people who thought along similar lines when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stood up and refused to bow to the king’s edict. I imagine they whispered, “Bow down! You’re going to get yourselves killed, and you are going to drag us into trouble as well. Bow down! God will understand that you have a personal view, but that for the sake of peace, for the sake of goodwill, for the sake of your life, for the sake of your families, and us, bow down!”
But these three godly men refused to bow down, even under threat of death. And thus they enraged the king. They caused a massive disturbance in the corridors of power and were summarily thrown in the fiery furnace. But, Jesus stood beside them. This is a good lesson, it seems to me, for Christians engaging in politics.
You make it seem as though the challenges facing Australian Christians are insurmountable. I do not support your negativity. I believe that if Australian Christians candidates are elected to Parliament either at the State or Federal level, they can make a significant difference to the future of this country.
And it is entirely possible, that if candidates from Australian Christians were elected to Parliament, they might gain the balance of power, halting bad legislation and helping to pass good legislation. They might, as Fred Nile and Paul Green currently do in the NSW Upper House, hold the balance of power. But, this is unlikely to happen if Christian pastors and people refuse to vote for a distinctively Christian party.
Does it really matter if minor parties have, as you suggest, little influence? Is not a little positive influence better than none? Is not a little salt better than no salt? Is not a little light better than darkness? We teach our children to sing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” because we understand that a little bit of light is better than no light at all. For a Christian pastor, you sound incredibly pessimistic, failing to envision any of the good that could be achieved—failing to appreciate that if only one person is elected that provides a wonderful opportunity to consolidate and build—failing to appreciate that sometimes one person can make all the difference. Think of William Wilberforce who was mocked and derided and faced years of opposition in the British Parliament, but who ultimately changed the history of the world in relation to slavery. This one man liberated the lives of tens-of-thousands of people.
Furthermore, you claim that if you had voted for Australian Christians, the vote would have just been passed on to the Liberals anyway. But, have you considered that if you had voted for Australian Christians first, the Liberals would have taken note of that? The Liberals know exactly how much support Australian Christians offers to them. They understand that we can be critical to them in marginal electorates. They understand that if they want our support in these marginal electorates, they must field candidates who share our values. Thus, we help to pull the Liberals in a more conservative direction, as well as helping them to be elected to government. But, by voting for the Liberals first, instead of voting for Australian Christians and then the Liberals, you weaken their perception of the strength of the Christian voice in politics.
You may believe that our impact is minimal, but please bear in mind that if it were not for the Christian Democratic Party (now Australian Christians) in the 2008 WA State elections, the Liberals would not have been able to form government, but instead Alan Carpenter and Jim McGinty would have continued to lead a Labor government. Our preferences were critical to Colin Barnett forming government.
And our preferences were crucial at the State election in March this year. I helped to end the career of the Greens Alison Xamon in East Metropolitan Region, and Ray Moran prevented a Greens candidate from being elected in North Metropolitan Region. Australian Christians played a crucial role in reducing the number of Greens in the WA Parliament from four to two. Surely this is good.
Furthermore, without our preferences Graham Jacobs, a Christian Liberal MP from Eyre, would not have been re-elected, nor would pro-life Labor MP Michelle Roberts have been re-elected in Midland.
A couple of state elections ago, Lachlan Dunjey (not just a Christian, but a doctor—an example of one of our candidates with high qualifications) missed out in the Agricultural Region by 92 votes. If only 92 more people in the Agricultural Region had voted for him, imagine the good this thoroughly compassionate Christian man could have done. But, with Christians giving their first preferences to the major parties ahead of us, this task is made all the more difficult.
I acknowledge that all of the above is not as impactful as electing Christians to parliament, but without the support of committed Christians like you who refuse to support a Christian party, but instead vote for a secular party, how will our vision ever be achieved?
It is not possible to speculate how we would implement our policies if one or two of us were elected to parliament, but I can assure you we would pray about it, we would consult with others who hold similar views in the major parties, and we would devise appropriate strategies for making inroads where we could. We would oppose bad legislation, and encourage others to do so as well. We would advance good legislation. We would endeavour with all our energy to have the greatest impact for good that we could.
I believe that to date Australian Christians has fielded quality candidates who, if elected, would have become competent contributors to government. I have sat in on a great deal of debate in our parliament over the last 15 years. The truth is that I have heard MPs who are ill informed, who hold views that would harm the economy and the community greatly, and who are far from articulate. I have no doubt that if any of our candidates were elected, they would do a fine job.
You conclude your letter by asking me, “Can you convince me otherwise because I can assure you, I am not the only Christian that sees you as I do?”
I know that all too well. Like you, they would rather support a major party that has some elected members who support marriage and family and the sanctity of life, and many others who support abortion, embryo experimentation, cloning, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, legalised prostitution, and the like.
It seems that if these good people can find fault with even the detail of one of our policies, or can view our party, a minor party, or as anything less than an alternative government, or view any of our candidates as naïve Christians lacking professional qualifications and skills, they then feel justified in rejecting the entire party, and communicating their rejection on to others. More than that, they feel a certain sense of superiority in their decision, asserting that they have considered the matter carefully and found Australian Christians lacking, and sadly unworthy of support.
At the same time they conveniently overlook the raft of anti-Christian and anti-family and anti-life views that their major party of choice has supported because their party is professional, worldly-wise, and (supposedly) capable of running government.
It is easy to support the major parties. It is easy to go with the flow. It is easy to appear moderate, even sophisticated, and above the fray. It is easy to be critical. It is much harder to take a stand and make it known in public, where one may be open to criticism and ridicule.
In closing … what would have happened if thousands of Christians like you had chosen to vote for Australian Christians before the Liberals or Labor in the last WA state election? The outcome would have been very different. Australian Christians would now have elected members serving in the Upper House of the Western Australian Parliament. In the main these elected members would be supporting the Liberals, who still would have won the election, except when the Liberal Party introduced legislation that we could not in good conscience support because it violates our Christian convictions. Australian Christians would be building a base at this moment, and developing and refining the skills necessary for serving in government. And Christians would have a viable alternative party to vote for in the future, a party that they could vote for in good conscience because it reflects their dearly held Christian views. This is what could be as contrasted against what is. In the end it is true that we get the government that we deserve.
Dwight Randall is the State President of Australian Christians and ran for parliament in the state election earlier this year.