St Kevin’s thoughts on religion in politics

Lots of Australian politicians claim to be Christians, but somehow the “What would Jesus do?” bit gets lost in the everyday business of arresting Indian doctors and sending refugees to concentration camps. Our new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says he’s a Christian too. What sort?

Two years ago, Chairman Rudd gave a lecture at the University of NSW’s New College on Religion, The State and Politics. Written in the days of WorkChoices and well before Rudd became ALP leader, it begins with the observation that “Christianity began its life as an oppressed minority,” and argues that one of the church’s important roles is to speak out against injustice.

Rudd also describes the five models of political behaviour he sees being adopted by Christian politicians.

Model Number One is what I call the “Vote for Me Because I’m a Christian” model. This is the model I find to be most repugnant. It’s the model that simply says on the basis of my external profession of Christian faith, that those of similar persuasion should vote for me.

This is about as persuasive as saying that because I’m a Sydney Swans supporter (which I am not, and never will be, for reasons which you could well understand), that because I’m a Sydney Swans supporter that all other Sydney Swans supporters should vote for me as well, because we ostensibly adhere to the same belief system.

Unfortunately, this model is alive and well in the politics of contemporary America. Thankfully, it is much less alive and well here in Australia, although there are some dangerous signs that for certain Christian constituencies within our country, this represents an increasingly appealing message. It is a model for which I can find no underpinning scriptural, doctrinal, or theological justification or authority.

I won’t go through the other four, but he’s equally dismissive of them.

What’s interesting for people who might worry about how Rudd’s conservative social views might affect policy, he says this:

Sometimes you […] encounter in the broader Christian community the view that a Christian view should always prevail, no matter what. My response to that is that’s terrific, but we don’t live in a theocracy, we live in a democracy, which is secular.

If you look at the census data, the number of people who profess an active belief in God has gone down over time, the most recent census data saying that about 69% of Australians have such a belief. So the secularity of the views reflected in the political process in my argument, directly express what’s happening in mainstream society, and therein lies the challenge for the church.

But whereas a Christian perspective on contemporary policy debates may not therefore prevail, it should be considered by those in authority, and it must be heard by those in authority. It cannot be rejected contemptuously by those in authority, particularly by secular politicians who simply belief that any view from a Christian or broader religious perspective or theological perspective is inherently invalid.

Such a proposition in my argument, is wrong.

And it’s rather nice to see him quoting the Pope in support of the role of trade unions. Tony Abbott would have been rolling in his grave. Oh, hang on, he’s not dead yet. Ah well.

The whole speech is well worth a read. You can get the full text as a PDF, or listen to an MP3. Thanks to Crispin Harris for the pointer.

[Update: Fairfax journo Andrew West has explored Kevin Rudd’s religion in today’s article More than just a light on the hill.]