Not looking to our own interests?

So-called christian values

Click to see enlarged graphic.

This graphic was produced by The Australian Christian Values Institute to guide other christians in voting at the recent Australia election. It illustrates the issues that many christians are most concerned about.

Like every other citizen, christians are entitled to hold opinions on all the issues this graphic raises, and other issues too. And these opinions may sometimes be out of synch with where our society is going. That’s OK.

But what if some of them are out of synch with the teachings of Jesus? Or based on faulty information? Or simply selfish?

Christian privilege

“The Australian Christian Values Institute believes that Australian values are Christian values.” (from the Institute’s website).

The first Europeans to settle in Australia came mostly from Great Britain and Ireland, countries with a christian heritage. So Australia’s government was nominally based on christian values.

However no-one I know of thinks it was ever a “christian country”. The indigenous people were not christian before white settlement, though they wewre deeply spiritual and many have embraced christianity since. And there were certainly other beliefs present – e.g. Chinese people who came here during the gold rush.

But even among the Europeans, christian belief has often been nominal and in recent years only a minority of Aussies attend a christian church regularly. We christians may regret that, but it is a fact.

  • So having Parliament opened in prayer forces many MPs to follow a ritual they don’t believe in. That would be hypocritical (and Jesus hated hypocrisy!).
  • Teaching our christian heritage is a legitimate aim, but only if other heritages (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Muslim, etc) are taught too.
  • School chaplaincy that is surrogate proselytising is dishonest, and unfair to other religious beliefs and irreligious beliefs also. So either the “chaplains” should be secular or there should be multiple chaplains.

All of these policies try to maintain christian privilege in a pluralist society. This fails to recognise the realities of our culture, and misunderstands Jesus.

As I said, Jesus hated hypocrisy (see for example, Matthew 6:5, Luke 18:9-14, Revelation 3:15-16). We shouldn’t force people to be hypocrites.

But worse, these attempts to hold onto some semblance of power completely misunderstand Jesus’ ministry. First century Jews (generally) were longing for a Messiah to come to throw off the yoke of Rome and establish God’s kingdom on earth by force. But Jesus completely rejected that idea. He would establish God’s kingdom by serving, ultimately by giving his life. He calls us to the same ethos.

Right wing ideology

Several of these policies seem to be right wing rather than christian (a christian might hold them but equally a christian might oppose them). So making a stand on vaccination mandates, “centralised identity” (a rather nebulous policy), building up the armed forces, a belligerent attitude to China, abstinence rather then harm minimisation for drug users and a negative view of the Family Law Court pushes christianity too close to these extreme right wing causes for my comfort.

Many christians would oppose many of these, so making them “christian” policies is a misnomer.

Narrow focus

Blocking violent and illegal porn sites seems to be a worthwhile aim, but it is hardly the only thing needed to “protect women and children”. Surely policies on domestic violence and family refuges should be included here? And care for women in Parliament House!

Likewise “dismantle and reform flawed Family Law Court”, if it is a good policy at all, which I doubt, is surely only a small part of protecting children and families. Shouldn’t an improved minimum wage, better social welfare, more public housing, better funded public education, etc, be an essential part of this policy?

One of the major criticisms of the previous government was its lack of integrity – spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money on rorts to benefit themselves that could be considered corrupt; poor standards of ministerial responsibility; and failing to keep election promises, including establishing an effective integrity commission. Surely integrity is a christian value that should be on this list?

And then there is the focus on christians and families, with little care for some of the people Jesus was most concerned about – the poor and the marginalised (e.g. indigenous people, refugees).

I am reminded of Jesus’ words (Matthew 23:24) about straining out gnats and swallowing camels.

And I am left with the impression that the “christian policies” are often actually conservative middle-class male policies.

Poor judgment

It is interesting that the first 17 policies address very particular and often minor matters, then the last 2 briefly address the much broader matters of poverty and environment, but in a very naive way.

Any analysis of poverty needs to address social issues of privilege, opportunity, inequality, and injustice, and consider causes of poverty and inequality, improving access to education, appropriate taxation, wealth redistribution, etc.

Likewise, caring for the environment requires considering long term costs and benefits rather than short-term profits gained by short-sighted damage. In particular, it requires addressing climate change, which will require a swift transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The more right wing parties on the left side of this graphic generally don’t have policies that address these requirements, and often their policies are quite opposed to them.

The positive rating on #18 & #19 is merited by the Greens, and perhaps Labor, but giving the remaining parties a positive rating is naive poor judgment at best and dishonesty at worst. These are arguably the most important of all the matters listed, and they weren’t judged at all fairly or accurately.

Gender hang-ups

Policies on “recognising and affirming biological sex” and opposing the teaching of “gender fluidity” reinforce the perception that christians have a hang-up about gender. And I don’t believe they are necessarily christian. I can’t see anything inherently evil in recognising that sexuality isn’t always binary and sometimes it may be helpful for someone to have surgery to make changes to how they and others see themselves. We use surgery to correct other birth characteristics that are harmful, so there will undoubtedly be times when this is appropriate to help with gender issues.

How it appeared in practice

A friend attended a “meet the candidates” evening at a local church where discussion was limited to the need for religious discrimination legislation. His reaction was wanting ask questions about poverty and justice, which he felt were more important issues. But he wasn’t allowed.

The kingdom of God in the world

Jesus came to establish the kingdom of God on earth, and to redeem not just people, but eventually the whole creation. Every part of life comes under the influence of God’s kingdom.

But this christian values checklist narrows down the christian focus to issues that often protect privilege, they focus on self rather than others and they don’t address the larger issues of injustice and inequality which Jesus opposed.

Voting for self or others?

I don’t disagree with all the Institute’s policies. But in the end, I am left with the shameful impression that many christians voted for themselves and not for the needs of others, especially those who are victims of inequality and/or have no voice.

And the watching world notices.

“whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” Matthew 25:45.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition …. not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Proverbs 31:8-9.

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  1. Hi Neil, it’s nice to hear from you again.

    I’m really sorry to hear this was a reason why you quit christianity. Do you not distinguish between following Jesus and being part of “christianity”? I am repelled by a lot of what I find in public christianity, but I don’t find that makes the evidence or attractiveness of Jesus any less for me. Was it different for you?

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