It seems our atheist Prime Minister thinks it’s a good idea to talk to the Australian Christian Lobby, following in the footsteps of her predecessors.
This is the same group, mind you, who came out strongly with cries of alarm over Julia Gillard’s avowed atheism, and warned that Christians would be unlikely to vote for her. The same group who, every election, somehow manages to get the leaders of both major parties to visit and be subjected to questioning on its policies from a remarkably narrow religious point of view. The group who sends a questionnaire to all parties asking for their policies and commitments.** The questions range from concerns over same-sex marriage, to euthanasia, to insistence on occupying a place in the national curriculum and – incredibly – to a request for all parties to commit to never allow the introduction of sharia law in Australia. The questions are clearly designed to elicit a particular answer – one that claims to reflect the values of all Christians in Australia.
They do not.
Because make no mistake, the ACL is not representative of the majority of Christians in Australia. Despite its claims, the views it espouses are largely aligned with a particular Pentecostal type of Christianity – one that has featured heavily in US politics, both federal and local. We’re talking the kind of lobby group that advocates getting elected to school boards in order to ban science texts that teach evolution, and block informed sex education that doesn’t boil down to ‘don’t do it’. Back in 2007, I looked into the ACL, and its claim to speak for all Christians.
So if it is, in reality, such a small group, why do the leaders front up, year after year? Why do the parties fill out their questionnaire?
It would be nice to think that our leaders were concerned with reaching out to people of all faiths. Sadly, this just isn’t true. Gillard popped up at a fundraising dinner associated with the Catholic Church’s efforts to canonise Mother Mary MacKillop last night, and now says she will meet with the ACL. Her party has already answered its questions.
But has Gillard said she will give equal time to representatives of the various Muslim communities in Australia? Jewish? Buddhist? Pagan? Agnostic? Atheist? She has not. In fact, she has made no attempt whatsoever to adhere to the statement she made when first asked about her own beliefs – that she would treat all people of faith equally.
If Gillard is serious about that, she will take steps to meet with groups that are representative of the diversity of faiths in Australia. If she really wants to treat everyone equally, she’ll answer their questionnaires. And she’ll also answer questions from atheist groups.
There is no sign that this will happen. What it looks like from here is that Gillard is pandering to what she perceives to be an influential lobby group – and that she is so eager to have their votes that she will risk alienating a huge number of people in Australia.
We expected this from Howard, and from Rudd. Both of them were very clear about how much their religious beliefs influenced their political decisions. Abbot has been very cagey about his faith so far this election, but has said nothing to imply that he won’t continue to look to it for guidance.
But from a Prime Minister who wears her religious position proudly, and who says that she will treat all faiths equally? Gillard made the Australian people a promise – and unless she moves fast, she will stand revealed as no different from her predecessors – willing to treat some people as more equal than others.
**(As an aside, I was deeply disappointed to see that the Greens, who in 2007 refused to answer any of the ACL’s
questions, had decided to partially engage with them this time around. In the last election the Greens made it clear that they would not be engaging with the ACL, who they considered unrepresentative of anything but a vocal minority with extreme views. This time, targeted for apparently ‘godless humanist’ views by the Christian Democrats, the Greens seem to be trying to pacify the loudest voices – and as a result, their strongly principled stand is undermined by what looks a lot like fear.)