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Beyond the politics of Rudd and Abbott

By Stephen Chatelier - posted Thursday, 22 March 2007

The recent discussions surrounding faith and politics have been observed with much interest by the media, politicians and church leaders.

For the media, it is a contentious -and therefore desirable - topic. For politicians, it is about capturing votes. For church leaders, it is about having a voice in society. Out of these three key stakeholders, it is the church that needs to be most discerning in its response the latest developments.

Many Christians who may have felt increasingly disempowered in recent years by the strength of the Religious Right, have been suitably encouraged by Labor Leader, Kevin Rudd’s recent musings.


Rudd in his writings for The Monthly and media interviews, has essentially argued two related points:

  1. God is not “owned” by any political party; and
  2. social justice issues, not only personal morality, should be a concern for Christians.

After allowing the new Labor Leader some time, Tony Abbott eventually engaged in the discussion at the Young Liberals’ Conference on January 27 this year. Abbott delivered a speech, Rudd’s Religious Sales Pitch, where he accused Rudd of hypocrisy. That is, Abbott believes that Rudd has been politicising the issue and is striving to declare the ALP as the “party of choice” for Christians.

Understandably, both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott argue their case with a good dose of political rhetoric. Inevitably, when discussion of the right Christian response to social issues takes place in the context of the political arena, politics will take prime place over theology.

In his interview with Geraldine Doogue on ABC’s Compass in 2005, Rudd suggested it “has got more hazards for me internally [within the ALP] than anything that you may calculate may be advantageous for me beyond the party. I just think I’ve got a responsibility to start talking about these things.”

While there may be some truth here, this comment must be placed alongside the motivating factor for Rudd to set up the Labor parliamentary discussion group called Faith, Values and Politics. In the same interview, Rudd made clear that politics was the driving force in his setting up the group: “I’m doing what I think at this time in Australia’s political history is right. And that is to engage this debate about faith, values and politics and not to vacate the ground for the other mob.”


Whether it is avoidable or not, the reality is that discussion surrounding the faith-politics nexus is being divided down party lines.

This is where the danger for the church lies. Once a polarisation occurs where the ALP represents the socially liberal Christian and the Coalition the socially conservative Christian, the church will find itself playing a political game rather than a theological one. On such a playing field, the church can only lose.

For many, the distinctiveness of the church has always been its strength. Jesus told his disciples to be “in the world but not of the world”. The letters from the Apostle Paul consistently exhorted his readers to “no longer conform to the patterns of the world”.

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About the Author

Stephen Chatelier is a high school humanities teacher who also writes on faith and politics.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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