“There’s so much I like about Labor’s policies, but they don’t seem to care about Christians.”
I’ve heard versions of this sentiment many times. Each time it is a faithful, passionate Christian telling me that they resonated with Labor’s economic and welfare agenda. They wanted to vote for Labor, possibly even join the party and have a voice. But Christians and Labor don’t mix.
In December, St John’s Anglican Cathedral Parramatta are hosting an event on the topic of Christians and Labor. Senior Labor members, who are also committed Christians, will be talking about their experience in the party, and will be answering the tough questions about what has been happening and the future of Christians and the ALP. It will be live-streamed, details are here.
As some would tell the story, Labor has swung so far down the “progressive” path that Christian values are simply not welcome in the party. As others tell it, Christians – particularly theologically conservative ones – have become increasingly politically conservative, and would never have supported Labor anyway.
There is no doubt that a wedge has been struck on issues such as sexuality, marriage, abortion and euthanasia. But the gap is not caused by policy alone. In many cases, the Liberal Party’s policies on these issues are almost exactly the same as Labor’s (indeed, recently some Liberals and Nationals have been more extreme than Labor).
The problem isn’t policy, as much as attitude; certain prominent Labor voices have been dismissive, if not out-right hostile, towards Christians who disagreed with them. In response, certain Christian voices and organisations have become much more vocal about their criticism of Labor, and seem to actively promote other parties.
It seems like we are in a vicious cycle – each attack sparks the next one; constantly widening the gap. Why would Christians vote for a party that hates them? If Christians would never vote for Labor, why would the party listen to our concerns? Is there any future for Christians and Labor?
Why would Christians vote for a party that hates them? If Christians would never vote for Labor, why would the party listen to our concerns? Is there any future for Christians and Labor?
I was asking that question when I joined the NSW Labor Party about 5 years ago. I joined my local branch, expecting to be the only Christian, and immediately discovered that both State and Federal candidates were committed Catholics. I have since met many Christians – serious, faithful Christians – in the party. Some of them are in the highest positions: State and Federal MPs, Shadow Ministers, Party Leaders, Councillors, and senior officials. There has always been a strong Catholic and Orthodox influence, but I also know Presbyterians, Pentecostals and even Sydney Anglicans holding significant party positions. Everyone I meet in the party knows that I am a Christian and that I work in evangelical Anglican ministry, and I have never met any criticism or rejection.
So why does the gap seem so great? One reason is that the only voices the public hear are the ones loud enough to make it into the press. In the crucible of debate about the cultural issue of the day, the most strident, least thought-through, comments are the ones that are reported by commentators from both sides. Equally, some political commentators and lobbyists exaggerate the divide. Some in Labor would love to see faith removed from the Party, while some on the right see an opportunity to lock the Christian voter into conservative politics, like in the US.
There is no doubt that some prominent Labor voices have said ignorant, intolerant, things about Christians. But that does not reflect the whole party, or even the majority.
So how can we have a positive future for Christians and Labor? The answer is the same as for every other political party: Christians need to get involved again.
Like all the major parties in Australia, Labor started with deep Christian roots and strong Christian membership. But as the busy-ness of life grew, Christians chose church activities over political ones, and we vacated the space. The reality is that the political parties didn’t leave us – we left them.
Today, membership of all major parties is spectacularly low, yet it is those members who drive policy development. Decisions are made by those who show up, and even one Christian in a branch can make a huge positive difference. If Christians joined political parties, lived as salt and light, spoke about what mattered to us, and genuinely loved our neighbour, we could truly make a difference for our nation.
It’s not hard to join a party. I was not asked my position on any issues, or required to agree with any policies. I attend a branch meeting every two months, and I take part in policy conversations. I help my local candidate, hand out how to vote cards with her, and we have great conversations about important issues.
It does help a lot to connect with other Christians in the party. That’s why there are networks like Christians for Labor. They exist to connect, support and resource Christians who want to engage with Labor, or join the party. They run events to inform and connect our members, and look to connect younger members with more experienced ones to support and mentor them, raising up a new generation of leaders.
The key to a strong democracy is party membership. It doesn’t matter which political party you join. Find the party that you most resonate with and join it. Find other Christians in that party and support and pray for each other. If you are interested in Labor, come and talk to Christians for Labor. I’m sure there are equivalent networks for other parties.
Historically, Australia has been greatly blessed by having strong Christian participation in all its political parties. It is well past time for us to see those relationships thrive again.
“Is there a Future for Christians in Labor” will be held at St John’s Anglican Cathedral Parramatta on 10 December, both in person and live stream. For free tickets and live stream details go to https://stjohnscathedral.org.au/labor/