I certainly won’t be telling you how to vote here.
But as a complement to Geoff Robson’s series on Christians and voting, here I assess various ‘voting guides’ produced by Christian groups in the lead up to Australia’s federal election in September 2013.
I write as a theologically conservative evangelical, Moore College trained, who considers himself well read politically, and believes that Christians values and policy interests cannot easily be pigeon-holed as politically ‘left’ or ‘right’. For example, on personal morality, an evangelical Christian might be thought of as ‘conservative’, but on some social issues, a Christian might be seen as ‘progressive’.
From my circles, I’ve been exposed to election guides from 4 sources. Click on the links if you want to jump to my assessment of each:
- Bible Society Federal Election Guide
- Australian Christian Lobby—Australia Votes
- Australia Christian Values Checklist
- Anglican Public Affairs Commission: Issues and Questions
- Summarises a range of views/reflections on each issue from a variety of professing Christians (with links to the full material).
- Reports both a summary, and then some detail, of each significant political party’s published policies on the chosen issues.
- Disability Care
- Unemployment and welfare
- Foreign Aid
- Climate Change
- Indigenous Issues
- Same sex Marriage
- Refugees & Asylum seekers
- Encourages broad Christian thought and reflection on each issue, and this resists the idea that difficult political issues, e.g. on climate change, can always be reduced to simple black and white solutions.
- Clearly non-partisan in its approach, more reporting the new and views, rather than offering its own commentary.
- Does not assert narrow judgment re. the ‘correct answer’ on specific policy issues.
- Ignores a some important issues of concern to Christians, for example, freedom of religion, problem gambling.
- Some issues raised are narrow in the scope considered, e.g. the area of environment is covered simply under the heading of climate change, without addressing matters such as food and water security; likewise, the family is only addressed in terms of same-sex marriage, and not more broadly in terms of issues such as strengthening relationships via marriage education, or the sexualisation of children.
- Because it features thinkers from a variety of Christian traditions, can tend towards relativism at points, in that many different opinions on some issues are offered as a smorgasbord of options. For example, on same-sex marriage Christians representing every view, including approval, are all given a voice. Clearly I think Christians in favour of recognising same-sex marriage are being unwise and unbiblical. I hope the Bible Society is unafraid to say so also.
- Submitted a policy questionnaire to each of the parties contesting the upcoming election.
- In each area, makes a brief observation about the importance of the issue from a Christian perspective.
- Asks for responses to one or two policy positions it advances from its perspective.
- Records those answers supplied by parties who chose to respond.
Although they are grouped into ten categories for website navigation, there are 22 issues in total (category in brackets)
- Homelessness and housing affordability (poverty)
- Treatment of charities and not-for-profits (poverty)
- Problem gambling (poverty)
- Religious persecution (international justice)
- Overseas Aid (international justice)
- Refugees (international justice)
- Embryonic Stem Cell Research (life)
- Abortion (life)
- Abortion Data (life)
- National curriculum (youth and education)
- Unemployment (youth and education)
- Marriage (family)
- Parenting (family)
- Children (family)
- Classification (sexualisation of children)
- Internet safety (sexualisation of children)
- Sustainability (environment)
- Sharia law (justice)
- Charter of rights (justice)
- Indigenous welfare (own category)
- Freedom of religion (public Christianity)
- Prayer in parliament (public Christianity)
- The most comprehensive and yet also quite specific.
- Excellent web interface and navigability.
- Clearly Christian and biblically based, but not too easily pigeon-holed as right or left in its approach.
- Not obviously pushing in the direction of any particular parties.
- Nevertheless, given Australia’s tendency towards two party preferred results in our preferential voting system in the House of Representatives, it has a helpful section noting the key points of difference between the ALP and Lib/Nat coalition among the areas it has inquired about.
- Still a couple of areas of interest to Christians are not explored. E.g. Sad nothing was asked about support for people with disabilities. In addition, the education funding question is not explored.
- The environment issue is arguably explored in a way too vague and general; e.g. nothing specific asked about climate change or food and water security.
- Arguably by not reporting on parties who did not answer its questionnaire, such as The Greens, one is left ignorant as to how such parties’ policies rate from a biblical Christian perspective.
- Some would argue that although reasonably balanced, it still tends to lean more to the ‘right’ than the ‘left’.
(N.B. the NSW version of the checklist differs slightly from that applicable to the rest of Australia, because of the inclusion of a different Christian political party in the analysis.)
- Single page tabular presentation of responses of 8 parties to 21 issues identified as of concern to Christians, represented via the mechanism of ticks (in green boxes) or crosses (in red boxes).
- The policy positions described for each party are taken from their policy and public statements, media reports, and in some cases, the voting record of the parties over past few years was considered.
- Offers a separate supporting document with more detail.
- Continue to open parliament each day with Christian prayer
- Support traditional family values and teach our Christian heritage in schools
- Support equitable funding for Christian and Private schools
- Family impact statement on bills tabled publically before vote in parliament
- Reduce divorce—provide free pre-marriage education for couples
- Help children—promote and support marriage over de facto co-habitation
- Help children—support presumption of equal parenting after divorce
- Protect vulnerable people—euthanasia to remain illegal
- Life is precious—oppose overseas aid for abortion
- Oppose Medicare funding for gender selected abortion
- Protect marriage—reject party support for homosexual marriage
- Oppose homosexual civil unions & relationship registers
- Protect children—no overseas adoption by homosexual couples
- Protect free speech—oppose vilification laws—they limit free speech
- Keep liberty—allow religious bodies the freedom to choose their employees
- Increased funding for drug harm prevention & abstinence based programs
- Protect children—extend States ban on X-rated pornography to ACT and NT
- Protect our children—support ISP opt-out Internet filtering of pornography
- Stop the deaths of refugees at sea—support legitimate orderly immigration
- Reject carbon pricing—no benefit to families or environment
- Support greater care of God’s environment
- Represents a strong and conservative approach on issues of personal morality, such as the definition and strengthening of marriage, the sexualisation of children, the sanctity of life (being the only guide to mention euthanasia as far as I could see).
- Also a robust defence of freedom of religion.
- Alerts unambiguously to where it believes parties have policies which are antithetical to what Christians believe are for the welfare of all Australians.
- The colourful green and red tick/cross format of tabulating party responses implies a simplistic yes/no, black and white approach.
- For example although I agree absolutely with its opposition to same-sex marriage (#11) and also oppose same sex civil unions which mimic marriage (#12a), I have supported the use of relationship registers (#12b) on the basis of simple justice in arranging personal property and inheritance matters. Yet the Checklist lumps these latter two concepts in the same category and opposes both without explanation or nuance. (Many evangelical Christians would share my concern here.)
- Likewise, I agree when it asserts that stopping the deaths of refugees at sea is a very high priority, but the Checklist fails to explore other related and complex issues to do with compassion towards asylum seekers—clearly of concern to Christians, given abundant biblical injunctions to be compassionate and hospitable to foreigners and refugees.
- It covers the environment issues with an exceptionally vague motherhood statement, and by an attack on carbon pricing, with its supporting statement favouring the minority position of scepticism about climate change science.
- By focusing on what it calls “moral issues” and leaving aside what it calls “social justice issues” the Checklist ignores many other issues of importance to Christians. Yet despite its claim, many would disagree with its assertion on social welfare and justice issues that “there really is very little difference between the policies of the major parties”.
- For example, there is nothing on problem gambling, nothing on disability care, nothing on food and water security, nothing on welfare and unemployment, nothing on indigenous welfare. Yet many of these issues impact directly on family life, and some are clearly moral issues.
- Because of the issues selected and the red and green tabular approach, the Checklist clearly implies endorsement of certain parties (that many would identify as being ‘towards the right’) as being suitable recipients of your vote, while warning against voting for certain others.
N.B. The Public Affairs Commission is a body that reports to the General Synod of Anglican Church of Australia (which contains very diverse theology and churchmanship).
- 3-6 questions for political parties to answer, regarding specific policy matters in each area of concern.
- Followed by provision of briefing notes in each area.
- However no provision of parties’ responses, nor any interaction with actual published party policies.
- Non-comprehensive choice of topics of concern to Commission members
- Issues chosen are associated by the Commission with concern for “social cohesion” and “long term national and global good”; and are seen to be complex matters which resist simple “wedge” answers.
- Respect for all in public life
- Refugees and asylum
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
- Constitutional recognition
- Native title and heritage reform
- Responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions urgently
- Care for the environment
- Food security—risks and challenges
- Responding to population issues
- Raises issues otherwise overlooked, such as food security and population questions.
- Raises some issues in greater depth than elsewhere, such as how legal and constitutional matters impinge in indigenous welfare.
- Non-partisan in the sense that it raises issues and in no way suggests which party or parties ought to be supported or opposed.
- Mainly avoids vagueness and over-simplification of complex issues.
- Poor layout, accessible only in a multi-page pdf document.
- With its highly specific policy questions, it repeatedly assumes it knows the correct directions to move, and that these are clearly Christian positions, on what it has previously suggested are highly complex issues.
- Gives no information, let alone analysis regarding party positions.
- Completely unbalanced in its selection and coverage of issues, in a way that many would consider ‘left wing’.
- On the one hand effectively 4 of its 7 issues are completely or largely to do with environmental issues.
- On the other hand, the Commission says nothing of any significance about defending and strengthening marriage and family life—the fundamental, and God-given unit of human society.
- It also completely ignores other issues of importance to Christians, including matters identified by the General Synod of the denomination it serves, such as freedom of religion, problem gambling, or alcohol abuse.
All Christian groups who have provided reportage, advice and analysis regarding issues of concern to Australian believers are to be commended for their efforts.
In passing I was a little surprised there was no attention to industrial relations matters. In addition, the basic importance of the economy to family life was simply assumed without comment (albeit, this is not an area where it is easy to identify ‘Christian positions’).
Thoughtful Christians could benefit from interacting with each one of these election guides, even the ones where they find a considerable amount to disagree with.
However I cannot recommend either the Anglican Church’s Public Affairs Commission paper, nor the Australian Christian Values Checklist, without considerable qualifications, especially for those who do not already have a robust biblical theology.
In the case of some of the very specific directions they propose, both guides are more sure than I think biblical evidence warrants of the Christian correctness of their positions. And both are very unbalanced, albeit in different directions. However, the Anglican Church’s document is most disappointing of all, in my opinion, for its complete disregard of moral and practical issues to do with marriage and family life, so central to human flourishing, and yet so contested and threatened in contemporary Australia.
I think a Bible-based Australian Christian would do best—in informing themselves about a breadth of issues important to believers—by consulting the Australian Christian Lobby’s “Australia Votes” website, in combination with further background material collated and reported at the Bible Society’s Federal Election Guide.
I look forward to reading your opinion.