Are the Christian Left politically homeless?
Within the spectrum of Australian politics and advocacy there are plenty of mouths for the Christian right. The atheists and anti-theists are well catered for too. But what of the Christian Left or other more tolerant, compassionate faiths? Are they currently politically homeless?
The Australian Christian Lobby is very good at making the noise of the Christian Right cause heard. Domination of Family First and Christian Democrats is self evident, influence in the Liberal Party is also blatantly clear. Anyone that knows much about the inner workings of parties knows only too well the enormous Catholic base within the Labor party, holding them to conservative lines on many social issues.
So good, in fact, is the Christian Right’s influence on such a large proportion of the Australian political machine, that the Australian Sex Party has made it part of their core mission to oppose people of faith in politics. While their lack of understanding of the meaning of Separation of Church and State or even the divergence of views within faith communities is laughable, as they are presenting a message as simplistic and as far opposed to the Christian Right’s message as possible they’ll always get some airplay.
The Greens’ atheism streak is also evident, albeit not as antagonistic as the Sex Party’s line. Of course the Greens would be torn as many churches provide leadership and the services that the Greens advocate for in areas such as refugees and mental health care, plus there is that large and growing group of eco-theologians. There is plenty of evidence of what I call ‘performance Christianity’ amongst Greens leaders, however, plenty are more than ready to put the boot in, whether that be criticising the pope or going off on a Separation of Church and State rant. Most of the ground troops of the Greens I have had interactions with delight in deriding anyone of any faith as believing in fairy tales.
So where does this leave the Christian Left?
The one solid indicator of left versus right in the Christian spectrum is that the Christian Left (including both progressive Christians and traditional Christians who are politically progressive) generally view their faith as a private thing – they will make their argument on secular grounds to be on equal footing with all, rather than impose a faith based rationale on others.
If one accepts that, then one slowly comes to realise that there are many Christian Left voices in our debate – just not identified as such. I am constantly moved by the increasing number of Christian voices ‘coming out’. Voices like Anthony Caruna and Jeremy Ray have made it clear that the ACL doesn’t speak for them; Geordie Guy, Mike Stuchbery and others (including myself) have made similar arguments as well as argued against the increasingly pitched battle between atheists and theists.
But where is their political home?
It used to be, of course, the Australian Democrats. Before Lyn Allison in particular made the party a very hostile place for people of faith, one could have easily described the party as the political wing of the Uniting Church with a number of Anglican, Presbyterian and other faith leaders also on their membership rolls. The Christian Left base used to be the beating heart of the party, working hand in hand with the secular humanist base to achieve mutual goals of action of social justice, honesty and compassion in politics.
Can the Australian Democrats once again become the political home of the Christian Left? I believe so, but not without a fight. I also believe that until the Christian Left reclaim the Democrats, and rejoin in numbers, the party will never recover. It is entirely up to the Christian Left community as to whether they reclaim the Democrats or start another entity to argue their case.
This is not of course to say that the Christian Left is completely politically homeless. They hide as a minority in a number of parties, tolerating either the anti-theist wing or the Christian Right wing of their respective parties. Or they work on wearing down the more extreme views in their party, usually in a one step forward two steps backwards experience. Or they stay out of the political process, forming a significant proportion of the increasingly large block of swinging voters.
Those of the Christian Left who do care about politics must be as frustrated as I am that their values and views, particularly in terms of compassion with regards to refugees, same sex marriage, and many other issues are not being represented effectively at the highest levels. As more and more speak up to make it clear that the ACL doesn’t speak for us, we should expect that this group of currently disenfranchised Australians will soon join forces in a political home of some variety.
What will that home be? No idea. We will have to wait and see.