The 2022 Election is over – bar some counting – and not a moment too soon, I say. I don’t think I could have endured another week of watching the candidates duke it out without choosing to opt-out of the media altogether – a tricky thing to negotiate when you’re a journalist.
I don’t necessarily think it’s the candidates’ fault that election campaigns are so painful. Presumably, they have a bus-load of advisors telling them what they should say and focus on. And, after weeks of campaigning, flying in and flying out of marginal seats, giving the same speech, touring endless factories, childcare centres and aged care homes, under the eagle-eye of the press… well, the poor things are probably too exhausted to think for themselves.
Welcome to the most diverse parliament in Australia's history
Was Morrison's ballot-box rejection due to his faith?
The Liberals, the religious right and the ACL, where to now?
Afghan refugee Zaki: 'Thank you, Australians, for choosing humanity over cruelty'
I imagine someone briefs them between appearances and reminds them to target their opponent’s weaknesses – giving them the sound-bytes to do it. Plus, the media wants to goad them into something – anything – they can report that is shocking enough to draw the click of campaign-weary Aussies.
But I think most would agree that election campaigns are far from an edifying time in our nation. I mean, do we really need to see “gotcha” moments on repeat when we are trying to compare complex policies on healthcare, economics and education?
Watching a middle-aged man forget his lines or trip over a kid he is playing sport with is awkward enough the first time – but on repeat? Aghhhh. It’s just awful. We’re trying to decide who is the best person to run the country, for goodness sake.
Anyway, now that all the hullaballoo is over, it is time to move on with being Christians in a pluralistic society – being salt and light and all that.
The issue is, of course, that us Christians can’t agree on what that should look like. We’re pluralism inside pluralism. So let’s not get into all that today.
I have a random idea I want to pitch to you.
What if us Christians took responsibility for holding our politicians to account over the tone of public conversation in Australia?
Now, I’m not suggesting we tone police the whole country. Goodness knows the last thing non-Christian Australians want is to have the Christians tone-policing them. When hurt people are angry, let’s show compassion and allow them to express it.
What if, as an act of service to our fellow Australians, we took on the responsibility of asking our political representatives to be honest, transparent and respectful.
But what if, as an act of service to our fellow Australians, we took on the responsibility of asking our political representatives to be honest, transparent and respectful.
I know, I know, it sounds like a pipe dream. It’s probably not possible. And does it even matter, when it’s the substance of policies that we really want to influence?
It could be a bad idea. I’m open to it.
But I think that language and policy tend to go hand-in-hand when it comes to politics. Our politicians choose words that are designed to influence how we feel about their policies. For example, if the people who come to Australia seeking asylum are “queue jumpers” and “illegals” then, gosh, of course we don’t want them here. But if they are just people who have come to Australia seeking asylum … well, we need more information before we decide.
I think it is in all our interests to be free of language-based manipulation when weighing up important national issues. None of us wants to be manipulated and politicians of all stripes have been getting away with it for a long time.
Imagine if we, as Christians confronted a politician when they name-called and dog-whistled and said, “Please don’t demonise and scapegoat people in trying to convince me that your policy is best for Australia. Let’s try that again, without the spin.”
What if we were the ones who said, “It’s actually inappropriate for a national leader to be calling people names and taking cheap shots. Everyone is a human created by God and deserving of your respect.”
And what if, when ‘our guy’ was caught in a lie, we called it out and said, “That is unacceptable. I cannot vote for you next time if you are not able to be honest. It’s a foundational requirement for national leadership”.
How would we ever do this?
Firstly, we’d have to get our own house in order. We’d have to cut the snipe and derision out of our own conversations. Stop parroting the pollies talking points. Give up the name-calling and vehement declarations that others are heretical.
But then, we could make a stand for truth, transparency and respect in pretty much the same way Australian Christians make their views known now. In our social media comments, in emails to MPs, in Letters to the Editor, and next election, in our vote.
Here is the thing: there are plenty of topics that our fellow countrymen and women don’t appreciate Christians piping up about. And, the whole “salt and light” thing means that, sometimes, we are going to have to pipe up regardless.
But I reckon there would be far less complaining if the thing Aussie Christians were most persistently advocating for was truth, transparency and respect from our politicians. If we were known for our dogged determination to lift the level of political discourse in our country.
And imagine how much better the next election campaign would be if we actually managed it!
A girl can dream, can’t she?