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The religious right on the move again

By Alan Matheson - posted Tuesday, 22 August 2006

If you thought that the Australia’s Christian Heritage National Forum (ACHNF) might be about the denial of “Christian values” in the Howard Government’s policies on asylum seekers, the destruction of trade unions, low paid workers, people with disabilities, AWB scandal and corruption, the Westminster system and ministerial accountability, the stolen generation and reconciliation, or the war in Iraq, then it was going to be another grey day in Canberra.

Rather, the forum, which came together on August 6-7, 2006, was about combating “the Marxist” and “secular oriented” Australian historians. It was about rewriting “the curricula of all schools in Australia”, expanding chaplaincy services, informing migrants of Australia’s Christian history, expressing regret that the ALP and the ACTU were no longer following JC, to publish “good news stories” and to build a “broad based coalition” because both historians, the media and churches had failed.

It was about rallying the troops from the religious and political right for another bout in the history wars: a “holy band history” if you like, instead of a “black band”.


It is gospel time in the nation’s capital or so it appears.

First we had “the national day of prayer and thanksgiving”; then the current forum a few months later; this will be followed by the Australian Christian Lobby’s (ACL) conference in September (“Building a Nation of Character”; “dress smart casual” with keynote speaker Peter Costello, and hear the President of the HIA discuss, “Self reliance-significance of home ownership in strengthening families and building nations”); then in October the Parliamentary Prayer Network will arrive; and the year will end up with the National Australian Christian Leaders Conference and the Australian National Prayer Breakfast.

Conferences and forums such as these do not, like fairies, mysteriously appear at the bottom of the garden, or for that matter in Parliament House. Neither do agendas or cash to run them.

Most are characterised by ongoing accountability and transparency problems. Funding sources are secret, the role of organising committees or the organisations behind them is unclear, and while they solicit “donations” there is an absence of financial transparency.

The ACHNF was sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC is the organisation distributing “creation” DVDs in schools) and Perichoresis. CCC is a perennial warrior of the religious right. Almost every significant American political and religious right organisation has CCC support or cash behind it. Perichoresis is an unknown organisation “dedicated to spreading the news of the Gospel in the light of the trinity”.

Like other similar conferences, they are run and organised by men. One woman sits on the organising committee of the Forum; of the 30 or so speakers, less than a third are women; and of the “parliamentary hosts” only two are women.


It was a meeting with all of the code words of the religious right: “values”, “Christian heritage”, “family”, “the denigration of Christian values”, and “attacks on Christianity”.

The Prime Minister “praised the contribution of Christianity and endorsed the forum”. In a message he said “the Judeo-Christian ethic, the progressive spirit of the enlightenment and the institutions and values of British political culture have been central to the development of Australian values”.

Note that the political and religious right are always more comfortable with the Ten Commandments, than with the Sermon on the Mount. Watch Peter Costello at the forthcoming ACL conference

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About the Author

Alan Matheson is a retired Churches of Christ minister who worked in a migration centre in Melbourne, then the human rights program of the World Council of Churches, before returning to take responsibility for the international program of the ACTU.

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