Lyle Shelton's tales from the front line

Former ACL leader tells of cultural warfare in ‘I Kid You Not’

Lyle Shelton tells some shocking stories. The former Australian Christian Lobby spearhead has written of his adventures as a culture warrior, ‘I Kid You Not’, and he is deadly serious.

There are some serious stories in there.

Like the day he read a submission from the Australian Reproductive Health Alliance (ARPHA) while preparing to appear before a Senate Committee inquiry into funding late-term abortions. ARPHA wrote that removing the late-term abortion funding “increases the likelihood of a greater number of persons being born with severe disabilities and high support needs.”

As Shelton points out, pre-natal testing screening means disabled children are not given a chance to live. “Countries like Iceland boast at having eradicated Downs [sic] Syndrome. But that’s disingenuous. What they have eradicated is people with Downs Syndrome.”

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Several politicians had signed onto a parallel submission to the ARPHA. It included then big names in the Coalition such as Julie Bishop, Philip Ruddock and Brendan Nelson. But Shelton labelling them “useful idiots” – referring to the Lenin quote about the easily manipulated – might be going a bit far.

But Shelton gets the Eternity chutzpah award for – during the same inquiry – escorting Gianna Jessen, an American survivor of abortion around Parliament and bowling up to Senator Bob Brown.

Shelton insists he was just being polite and he describes Brown as “one of the most genuinely charming men you will ever meet”. Shelton himself is a mix of the country boy from Toowoomba and culture warrior.

“Gianna is a survivor of abortion,” Shelton recounts blurting out to Brown. Chutzpah. And after the inevitable rejections, Brown vanishes down the corridor.

But it is not rejection by the left that comes across most strongly in ‘I Kid You Not’ but rejection by the Coalition, or conservatives in his country town who agree with him but don’t want to fight – at least, in this reader’s opinion.

Back when he was on Toowoomba Council, Shelton fought a losing battle to ban brothels and strip clubs. He makes the interesting comment: “Two of the councillors were sexual libertarians, and the others were cultural Christians who did not want to be seen to be pushing back on the gains of the 1960s sexual revolution.”

During these early fights, Shelton learned how to gain media attention, and he had a victory in banning the more explicit form of strip show (At this point, I am being a little more coy than him).

Most Christians will be with Shelton as he chronicles battles against abortion, porn and the industrialisation of sex. But many will split with him when he argues for building more coal-fired power stations. Here, he remains the National Party candidate he once was. It might be unfair to think he could change that. Yet the inclusion of a chapter advocating coal raises the inevitability that any Christian operating in the political world will encounter issues where they have their own sincerely held position, but maybe one where a majority (?) of Christians won’t be with them.

“I thought we could win the people’s vote …” -Lyle Shelton

Shelton’s predecessor at the ACL, Brigadier Jim Wallace, was always going to be a difficult act to follow. In the mind of this reader, Wallace held back the advent of same-sex marriage by ten years. All the way through the Rudd–Gillard–Rudd years.

“Rudd’s reversal on marriage was not a vote winner,” Shelton writes about the 2013 election. “Tony Abbott won a resounding victory and I thought marriage was going to be safe. We could breathe a sigh of relief and free up resources for other things … I did not expect marriage to fall on the watch of a Coalition government.”

When Abbott promised a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, Shelton writes that he thought it was winnable for his side. “I thought we could win the people’s vote once average people were allowed to hear the counter arguments and get beyond trite slogans like ‘love is love.’ Surely people knew that the Australian Human Right’s commissionaire and aspiring Liberal MP Tim Wilson had released a report arguing for commercial surrogacy, so gay married men could rent women’s wombs and buy babies, [and] the Australian public would recoil in horror at the thought of legalising same sex marriage.”

Shelton goes on to blame a “relentless rainbow push within the Liberal Party” and media as “barrackers not reporters”, and “a lack of public voices on our side of the debate.”

But as Malcolm Turnbull – described in ‘I Kid You Not’ as the “rainbow Left’s” man in the Lodge – took power, Shelton reveals he intervened with the Nationals to make sure that holding a plebiscite was part of the renegotiated Coalition agreement. He records that he was still sure a “well-informed public” would reject same-sex marriage.

“It felt like America had finally entered the war,” Shelton writes of the Sydney Anglicans and Sydney Catholics joining ACL and others in what became the Coalition for Marriage. But their message, as Shelton recalls, was drowned out by the ‘Love is Love’ message from Equality Australia.

The ‘No’ case rallied their base, Christians, but it was not enough.

During this time a prominent Christian leader, a conservative, confided in me at an ACL event that he did not think arguments against same-sex marriage outside of Scripture would be easy to mount.

In a final chapter – which also includes criticism of Eternity for publishing Morling College’s Michael Frost debating with Shelton on the tactics of the “No case” – ‘I Kid You Not’ turns to The Benedict Option. Rod Dreher’s book advocates a strategy for Christians in a culturally hostile world, of building resilience and, yes, of continuing to champion Christian values in the political sphere.

Shelton sees growing up in Toowoomba as a sort of a Benedict option – and other readers might have similar stories

Shelton stands against quietism, the idea that Christians in humility should leave the political world to others. (Oddly enough, Frost would agree.) After all, the Christian heroes which Wallace lists in his introduction to this book – Wilberforce, Shaftsbury, and Martin Luther King jr – left the world a much better place. And whether you agree with every battle Shelton took on, and he ruefully admits losing a lot, if he had won more of them the world would be a better place.

‘I Kid You Not’: Notes From 20 Years in the Trenches of the Culture Wars by Lyle Shelton (Connor Court Publishing). Available at Koorong