Since the announcement of the upcoming 2010 Federal election, I have had more conversations with confused and disillusioned Christians than I can count. People who take their faith seriously are genuinely uncertain about how to vote or make decisions about who the next leader of our country should be. All elections present some difficult choices, but it seems that this one is proving more challenging than others in recent memory. So why do so many Christians seem so unsure?
Some commentators have suggested that Gillard's declaration of her atheism is a hindrance to gaining the “Christian vote”, or that Tony Abbott's Catholicism may alienate some from other faith traditions. At least in my circles, I disagree. Far more important than the personal religious faith of either candidate is the range of critical issues where the major (and most minor) parties agree but which are problematic for many Christians.
First, neither party is offering a compassionate or even reasonable engagement with refugees and asylum seekers. The constant mantras of “border protection” and “national security” are frankly offensive when applied to suffering human beings, some fleeing from countries where we have played a direct role in conflicts.
Those asylum seekers who have managed to arrive in Australia are denied adequate access to essential services, all in the name of not making it too easy to come here. This is not how we should be treating other human beings, made in the image of God. That all major political groups should be advocating further aggressive approaches to limiting the arrival of asylum seekers is distressing and embarrassing, and certainly makes voting decisions difficult for many Christians.
Second, neither of the major political parties is prepared to challenge the pervasive myth of economic rationalism. Debate centres on the best way to stimulate the economy, whether a bigger mining tax would lead to a reduction in exports or how immigration can be used to boost economic growth. There seems little recognition that growth in GDP largely reflects an ever-widening gap between rich and poor in Australia.
Both sides of government are keen to talk about how our growth compares with India or China, but how are our political leaders preparing to tackle the far more important questions of inequality within our borders?
Issues of Indigenous inequality have barely been mentioned during this campaign but are of far deeper significance for the health of our nation than the strength of the mining industry. The Christian faith should help us understand the limitations and injustice of purely economic approaches to life, and until our politicians are prepared to accept that the economy alone is an inappropriate measure of success and progress, I for one will have trouble choosing sides.
Finally, neither party appears to be committed to more than token efforts towards more responsible environmental management. The Bible offers a clear mandate to care for the world in which we live, and many Christians are keen to see efforts at a national level, as well as the individual, to protect the environment. To see serious environmental efforts hampered by deference to business interests and economic growth further erodes confidence that our next Prime Minister will have the courage to tackle these important issues.
So why don't Christians care about this election?
Well, Christians who take the faith seriously care about these issues. In a landscape where the bulk of political leaders of all persuasions don't seem to, it is a struggle to support political parties and leaders enthusiastically.
My challenge to all political parties?
Respond to these profoundly important issues, and give Christians something to care about. Give us a reason to be excited about turning out to the polling booths later this month.
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