January 11, 2006


Politics and the pulpit: Religious leaders are bending ears in Canberra and championing principles left alone by Labor (Barney Zwartz, January 7, 2006, The Age)

'There are no damned votes in foreign aid," former US president Richard Nixon famously asserted, and politicians believed him. Thus it was a remarkable triumph when Prime Minister John Howard stood up at a United Nations summit in September and declared that Australian aid would double by 2010.

And it was a triumph won outside the normal processes of politics by campaigning Christians and aid groups. "It's not as though the electorate said double aid," says World Vision chief Tim Costello of the Government's pledge. "It's the impact of aid agencies and lots of Christians." [...]

Another Labor figure, former deputy prime minister Brian Howe, also a Uniting Church minister, says the Keating government didn't pay particular attention to the churches.

"Church memberships are declining, so politicians are inclined to discount their statements because they don't know how many they are speaking for," he says. "Also, in Australia, we are so pragmatic that people who talk about moral or philosophical ideas tend to be discounted."

That's less true today for several reasons, including Christians' growing awareness of themselves as a constituency, and the large numbers of professing Christians in Parliament, and especially the Government. These include John Howard, Peter Costello, Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews, Philip Ruddock, Bruce Baird and, until recently, John Anderson.

Of the religious revitalisation, Monash University's Gary Bouma says: "A number of people in different dimensions are taking whatever they believe more seriously and seeking to drive the social policy implications of what they believe. That's true of Muslims as much as Catholics and even evangelical Christians, who agree with the other two if they shut up long enough to hear what others are saying."

Bouma, professor of the sociology of religion and an Anglican priest, says the Christian Right's influence on public policy has been rising for 20 years.

Lately, Coalition politicians have wooed Pentecostal and evangelical church leaders, with Treasurer Peter Costello paying high-profile visits to Hillsong, the nation's largest church, and endorsing the Ten Commandments. [...]

Some of the credit for the churches' resurgent influence belongs to former SAS chief Brigadier Jim Wallace, who founded the Australian Christian Lobby. "We are starting to demonstrate that there is a Christian constituency which wants to identify itself but has fallen out of the habit and doesn't know how to do it," he says. Some churches are in decline, he concedes, but evangelical and Pentecostal churches are booming, and when they speak politicians start to listen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 11, 2006 1:05 PM

"Some of the credit for the churches' resurgent influence belongs to former SAS chief Brigadier Jim Wallace, who founded the Australian Christian Lobby."

Ah, the sum of all fears. And St. Michael smiles.

Posted by: Luciferous at January 11, 2006 1:20 PM