Frustrated South Australian Christians try to join Liberal Party ... and cause a commotion

A wave of Christians attempting to join the South Australian Liberal Party is an act of frustration that they are not being heard, especially when it comes to the value of life, according to Pentecostal pastor Rob Norman.

Pastor of Southland Church (an independent Pentecostal church) in the southern Adelaide suburb of Pasadena, Norman says he is not the ringleader of the push for Christians to join the Liberal party, as some commentators have suggested. Rather, there is a growing number of Christians in churches of many denominations – including Orthodox, Baptist and Pentecostal – who are disillusioned with their political representatives.

“It’s a grassroots thing,” Norman tells Eternity. “This isn’t an organised campaign. I am responding to what I am hearing from those in my church. And other leaders are hearing the same things”.

More than 500 Christians have signed up to join the SA Liberal Party since January. Some of South Australia’s political commentators attribute the influx to a recruitment drive dubbed the ‘Believe in Blue’ campaign, led by a leader of the party’s conservative wing, Senator Alex Antic.

Antic is a social conservative and is seeking to have more of his ilk in the SA party. A leading Christian conservative from another state told Eternity that Antic is doing a good job.

Senator Antic was in attendance at Southland Church in early June when Norman preached on ‘The Great Commission’, telling his congregation that it was part of their Christian mission to become members of a political party in order to have a greater voice in candidate selection. But Norman tells Eternity that he was not “recruited” by Antic.

“We were not approached by Senator Antic,” he says. “This was the direction our church was heading anyway.”

Norman says his church invited Senator Antic, along with three other local Members of Parliament (who were also members of the Liberal Party). In his sermon, Norman never said his congregation should align themselves with the Liberal Party. However, he personally has sought to become a member of the Liberal Party.

The Christian membership influx has rattled the traditionally moderate SA Liberals, who this month put a hold on incoming memberships, including Norman, after concerns were raised by senior party officials that new members may not support endorsed candidates.

After suggestions new members would be required to sign a statutory declaration to prove the authenticity of their membership, the party has now backed down. Instead, it will conduct an audit of its new membership to ensure they hold to Liberal values.

Pastor Norman is one of the several hundred waiting to have their membership ratified.

“We can continue to sit on the sidelines, keep writing letters to politicians. Or we can get involved,” Norman told his congregation in his sermon in early June. “We have two major parties with a rough membership of around 5000 each in the state of South Australia. That’s 5000 members in a state with a population of 1.5 million. Do the maths. It’s not difficult.”

“The passage of legislation that has absolutely no concern for the sanctity of life is abhorrent. We can never accept it.

“It’s very simple. If Christians joined political parties, many of these bills would never even make it into Parliament. They would be cut off at the pass.”

“We can no longer sit back and watch.” – Rob Norman

Norman went on to say it costs about $80 to join the Labor or Liberal Party.

“I want to suggest to you this morning that if you are activated, that’s the first thing to do. It’s a good thing to do. You can start to affect the way things will go. We can no longer sit back and watch.”

Another conservative Chrisitan who joined the Liberal Party earlier this year said he joined after South Australia passed laws decriminalising abortion. Writing for The Spectator, Nick Kastelein said: “South Australia has a very real Christian and conservative voting block, lacking a home and lacking a spokesperson — someone to point to and say ‘I’m with them.'”

South Australia was the home of the Family First Party, founded by Andrew Evans, then the pastor of one of the state’s largest churches, Influencers Church. Since the party’s demise in 2017, conservatives haven’t found their next natural home – with Family First merging into SA Senator Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives Party. But Australian Conservatives disbanded after it failed to get either Bernardi returned, or Lyle Shelton elected in Queensland. Scott Morrison replacing Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister pulled conservative voters back to the Coalition.

Many conserative Christians in SA (and Western Australia, and Victoria) who previously belonged to minor parties now see their future as part of the Liberals.

Both Kastelein and Norman said the passing of SA’s abortion laws acted as a wake-up call to the state’s slumbering conservatives. No doubt Norman was just as disappointed by today’s passing of voluntary euthanasia laws in SA as he was with when the legislation to decriminalise abortion was passed in March.

Norman tells Eternity he has heard growing discontent from many in his own congregation who wanted to take further action to make their voices heard. But it’s not just about joining a political party.

“It’s a multi-pronged approach,” says Norman. “Our church is looking to increase our support for pregnant women through groups like Genesis Pregnancy Support, and now we’re looking into how to support better palliative care, in response to the proposed euthanasia laws. There’s many ways of fighting these things.”

“This is a long game and people are prepared to hang in there for the long haul.” – Rob Norman

Norman says he doesn’t consider himself a “single-issue crusader”, though he believes the endgame for Christians involved in politics have a lot to do with adding more voices who advocate for the sanctity of life. “But, I mean, if you look at what’s just happened in Victoria with the conversion therapy laws, success for Christians in politics here in South Australia would look like legislation like that never even making it into parliament. I really believe that’s possible.”

For now, Norman and over 150 others are awaiting the outcome of their SA Liberal party membership application. The furore, though, won’t stop Christians from joining the political party they best align with, says Norman.

“This wasn’t a case of barnstorming a political party or trying to bring some sort of revolution. This is a long game and people are prepared to hang in there for the long haul.”