Federal Deputy Labor leader, Tanya Plibersek has told a gathering of Christian leaders to pray that “decision makers don’t harden their hearts”.
Ms Plibersek took leave from Parliament to come to Melbourne to attend the World Vision National Church Leaders Gathering where she was asked by a pastor what Christians can be praying.
World Vision CEO Tim Costello told the group Plibersek had asked him to introduce her to some Christian leaders, so he invited her to the gathering and to his surprise, she said yes.
This afternoon a warm, smiling, baby-cradling Plibersek mingled and chatted with a range of Christians before answering questions from the audience, proving politicians can be candid, friendly, challenging and respectful.
Popular topics were cuts to the aid budget – “If there is one issue you can help with, it’s the issue of aid” – to the problematic tone of modern politics – “powerful voices are amplified” – and the blindspots of the church – “an obsession with gay marriage”.
Asked what she expected or hoped from churches she answered that we should “be the voice of the voiceless … It’s not for me to tell you what to do but I’m inspired when community and church leaders speak up for those people who don’t have a voice.”
Recently while advocating in Parliament for mercy to be granted to two Australians on death row in Indonesia Ms Plibersek shared about her husband’s own time in jail after being caught drug dealing in the ‘80s.
This afternoon she again reflected on her personal perspective on the plight of the two men, but said we must not only care about Chan and Sukumaran because of their “redemption”, but because the death penalty is wrong, regardless of a person’s remorse or reform.
Asked for times she’s seen Christians make a positive impact on politics, she cited the Make Poverty History campaign and the 2003 Iraq war rallies where Christians of all denominations put aside their differences and came together.
But she said, she’s equally been turned off by Christians she’s seen trying to use fear to lobby the Government.
“The lobbying that I don’t respond well to is threat: You know, ‘If you don’t do what we want you to do in the Parliament, we’re going to make our people not vote for you’… I think logic actually and argument, persuasion are much more effective than attempts to throw your weight around.”
A daughter of Slovenian migrants, Plibersek shared about her Catholic upbringing, which she described as focusing too much on personal sexual morality (contraception and pornography were notable mentions). But when asked which Christians had impacted her most and made her take a second look at the faith, she pointed to two family friends who are Priests.
“I have been inspired and touched by a lot of people who have very strong Christian faith, but not all the moral people I have met have been Christians and not all the Christians I have met have been moral people.”
“There are two priests that I know … the thing that I really like and respect about both of these men is that they are thoughtful about their Catholicism … They are able to say ‘these are the things I hope the church will change its view on over time’. I think that balance between obedience and thoughtfulness over time is really important.”
Asked how the Church can help her, she responded that it wasn’t about helping her voice be louder, but to join in and speak up for issues “we have in common”, pointing particularly to increasing the aid budget.
Social researcher Mark McCrindle and ABC broadcaster John Cleary also presented at the National Church Leaders Gathering which was attended by pastors and Christian voices from across Australia.