One of the interesting questions arising from Julia Gillard’s public statement that she does not believe in God is whether or not this will or should make any difference to the Christian vote. I suspect that it will make a difference but am of the opinion that it should not. Let me explain myself.
Religious values operate in a different sphere to economic and political values. My religious values tell me that Jesus is my saviour, that the triune God loves the whole world, and that i am called to love God and neighbour. There is no doubt that these values influence my economic and political priorities. They remind me that all people are equal (including non-Australians), that God cares for the poor, oppressed and the outcast, that the earth and her creatures are important etc. None of this, however, means that i would make a good political leader or economic manager. Indeed, the historic failures of Chrisendom prove the point. The problems are many, but i will just name two:
- we cannot presume that a Christian – just because they claim the label Christian – will act in a loving and unselfish manner, any more then we could presume that a non-believer is not altruistic and concerned for neighbor.
- We cannot presume that a Christian – just because they are Christian – will know which economic policy (or mix of policies) will be best served to help the poor, just as we cannot presume that an athiest is incapable of implementing laws that facilitate justice
Some have argued that we should vote for Christian leaders, not because they will make better economic or political decisions but, rather, because they will make better ‘moral’ choices – better decisions about issues of abortion or gay marriage etc. This, however, is to forget that economic and political policies are vital to national morality, since these go to the heart of what it means to live in grace and justice. More significantly, many of the things we label ‘moral’ are not in fact what government is about. This, indeed, was the problem of Chrisendom – the effort to legislate morality ends up in legalism and oppression. Personal morality, including the choice of who we have sex with, is not the responsibility of government, and we miss the point of the gospel when we think it is. Of course issues such as abortion are not merely personal, but speak to justice for the unborn. But in Australia, at least, laws on abortion are largely settled, and neither political party is likely to change them.
All of this to say that, while i certainly appreciated the fact that Kevin Rudd was Christian, my decision about who to vote for will not be swayed by Julia’s atheism – a position that at least she was honest enough to own up to. The real issues upon which we should determine our vote are those of economic management and political justice, especially for the poor and the refugee. Sadly, on these issues, it seems that Australian politics is in a race to the bottom (but that discussion for another time).