Whenever there’s an election, I’m reminded of how little some quarters of the church have learnt how detrimental it is to the Gospel when churches and church leaders make polarising political statements.
While I’m all for Christians engaging with politics, or standing for political office, the church as a whole MUST be above politics, non-partisan, and stick to its central message – the good news about God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Anything that clouds that message is an enemy of the Gospel.
Several years ago, the Barna Foundation commissioned research amongst young adults (16-29) to find out why they didn’t engage, or ceased to be involved, with a church. One of the six reasons given was that the church was “too political”.[i]
So, I find it gobsmacking that some church leaders are still making politically divisive statements and actions even though the evidence is in that this harms the cause of Christ.
Last week, I saw a post on a pastor’s Facebook page encouraging their followers/congregation to, “Let righteousness reign. Put Labor and the Greens last!” I realise this reflects many conservative Christians’ views, but my question is, what message does this send to people in that church who may disagree? What about people who do vote Labor or Green and still love Jesus? What about people in the broader community who are considering Jesus and the Church but are then put off by this statement? Isn’t the Gospel inclusive or do you have to change how you vote when you become a Christian? Also, why is it “righteous” to vote for a conservative party?
This same leader posted the attached chart compiled by the Australian Christian Values Institute.
The Christian Values Checklist informs voters of what each political party stands for on various issues. The report concludes that, if you’re a real Christian, you’ll vote for Christian Democrats, DLP, or Rise Up Australia. If you can’t stomach any of these parties then Australian Conservatives, the Nationals or the Libs would be your choice. But whatever you do, “Let righteousness reign. Put Labor and the Greens last!”
Let’s examine those Christian values. Predictably they’re what you’d expect from conservative Christianity in Australia which has been highly influenced by American evangelicalism. In this tradition, the two main things Christians should focus on are anything to do with abortion or gay people (stop both as much as you can). While the chart helps you understand what various parties advocate on these issues, I can’t help notice the things that are missing. Are not refugees, the homeless, those living with a mental illness, and victims of domestic violence unworthy of the Christian vote? Why are Indigenous people and foreign aid absent? Didn’t Jesus say that the Gospel was good news for the poor? And which party/parties would have the best policies in place to help those on the margins of society? It also appears that poverty and the environment were added on as an afterthought! Maybe I’m wrong, but are they less important than opening parliament with Christian prayer for example?
And consider what’s been happening lately with Liberals in Victoria claiming “the party’s religious right is stacking branches with Mormons and Catholic groups in a drive to pre-select more conservative candidates [who] are often motivated by “single issues” like same-sex marriage or euthanasia. Members of conservative parties, including Family First and Australian Christians, have also been recruited,”[ii]as have people from Pentecostal Churches. Imagine the outcry if these same Christians found out that branches were being stacked by Muslims.
Last week, “the Liberal candidate for the inner-Melbourne seat of Wills … resigned over anti-gay comments … In comments on a conservative right-wing “Christian” blog post, Peter Killin said he would’ve voted against the preselection of Goldstein MP Tim Wilson because of his sexuality and described the homosexual lifestyle as ‘distressingly dangerous.’”[iii] I know Tim Wilson, and he’s a fine man with a passion for serving his local electorate. He responded very graciously by saying he would, “turn the other cheek and leave judgment to others.”
I realise that several candidates have been dropped from various political parties in the last few weeks, for all sorts of appalling behaviour, but when this conduct comes from Christians who want righteousness to reign, I feel compelled to speak out against such hypocrisy.
Stand for the Gospel
Let me repeat, I’m all for Christians engaging with politics, or standing for political office, but the church as a whole MUST be non-partisan. The Gospel is good news for ALL people (Luke 2:10). The church never does well when it’s in charge, it’s not meant to rule nations and manipulate political systems, it’s intended to proclaim a message of reconciliation with a God who loves people and a Saviour who died and rose again to bring forgiveness. I appeal to my fellow Christians and pastors to never lose this focus and to please stop muddying the waters.
 Kinnaman, David and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters.