Church and State: Australia’s Imaginary Wall (Ch 4)

Tom Frame; University of New South Wales, 2006. 

The following is the product of research being conducted for a paper regarding the Christian role in politics. 

Tom Frame is the Anglican Bishop for the Australian Defence Force. The following is part of a book that looks at the working relationship and tensions between Church and State in Australia. This book is a part of a series that explore, social, political and cultural issues in association with Australian Policy Online.

A Particular Cluster of Beliefs
Frame argues that those who want a closer relationship between church and state feel:
1) Believes Australia was and is a Christian nation, and thus its values need be delf-preserved.
2) Assumes that interactions between church and the state are never neutral or benign and presumes a clash of ideologies.
3) Christians are afraid that they might find themselves resident in a country that acknowledges other religions and might, in time, be dominated by a religion that is not reticent about creating a theocratic state.
4) They want to uphold God’s will in public policy; they want Australia to be a safe place for the church in which its security, privilege domination and hegemony can be preserved. Others dislike the influence of secularism on their children, community life and popular culture, and want the authority and aerates of the state to promote Christian values and curb the influence of secularism and its alleged attendant evils. p68-69.

Quoting Stanley Hauerwas:
Rejects Constantinianism because it “attempted through force of the stat to make the world into the kingdom God, which attempted to make the worship of God unavoidable, which attempted to make to make Christian convictions available to all without conversion or transformation.
The loss of political influence is as a necessary precondition for the recovery of authentic Christian social and political life: “I am not asking the church to withdraw, but rather to give up the presumption of Constantinianism power, particularly when those take the for of liberal universalism. p 72-73.

State of the Australian Church
In many places the emphasis has been on the quantity of believers rather than the quality of their belief.

Since the 1970’s, Frame argues, the situation has changed in two ways:
1) As church-going declined, pronouncements of religious leaders no longer received the close attention they once did. Australia was a more diverse and cosmopolitan society with many ore voices vying for an audience in the public square. It was not that church leaders were ignored; it was simply harder for them to be heard.
thus the rise of the Christian political party o those trying to gain more volume in the public square.
Family First party – based on Christina teaching but expressed in secular language. The rise of Christian political parties is a concern within the church excuse they cannot reasonably claim to represent all Christians. In my view they face a number of serious theological and ecclesiological objections… How should they respond to allegations that they have compromised core religious convictions when they agree to drop opposition to one aspect of public policy that might often Christian sensibilities in order to secure the party’s objectives in another?

Christian political parties also weaken the church’s capacity to act as a distinct and exemplary community, and turn the church in a political ghetto ignored by parties unable to secure the so-called “Christian” vote.

[Christian political parties whether overt or covert] are both misguided attempts at regaining political influence and do not ultimately serve the purpose for which they were created.

2) Less problematic approach has been embraced by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). The ACL seeks to influence the policy platfroms of major political parties and to maximise the potency of the “Christian vote.” It encourages supporters to join a political party and to help support Christian values in that forum.” –> ACL’s executive are precluded from holding party political membership. p 73-75.

General conclusions on Party approach
In my judgement there are obvious list to what political programs can achieve in any domain of human activity and it is doubtful whether they have much influence on changing the focus of the human heart and the orientation of human will that is at the core of religious life. In any event, does the state have a capacity for moral conduct? 

Supporters of the first perspective believe that the state has a moral capacity and expect it to act in a morally responsible manner… Unlike individuals, states are not accountable to an external authority (other than perhaps God), although it may be said they are accountable to…the people. … States are expected to be moral but their behaviour confirms to a different moral code. … The moral demands imposed on the state are different from the placed on an individual. p 76-77.

The responsibility of a political leader is to the well-being of his people, not to purity of his own soul, and the two do not always necessarily coincide. p 78.

They are also constrained by law, politics and budget. From my observations. churches are overly optimistic about what politicians and public administration can achieve and unrealistic about hat the state does accomplish through public programmes. For most people, in most instances, the purpose of their life is discerned within the family. Meaning is found within the home.. It is this domestic discourse that churches and concerned Christians ought to influence rather than adopting postures in debates encouraged by the media or hosted by parliamentary committees. p 78.

Quoting Michael Hogan:
They want their own religious rights and privileges protected but they oppose laws which will extend similar rights and privileges to others. They wish to prevent anyone discriminating against them or their institutions, yet they ant to be free to discriminate against others… Fundamentally, the Church wants the state to enforce Christian morality … or at least not to undermine it by giving legitimacy to alternative moralities.

[Christians] should not resort to law to either propagate their beliefs or enforce their customs… Hogan is, however, correct to highlight the church’s general preoccupation with its rights and freedoms ahead of acknowledging its obligations and responsibilities. p 80.

Quoting  Dr Andrew Cameron:
A final separation between Christians and the political process can only occur if Christians are rooted out, their literature destroyed and they are killed or expelled… Doctrinaire secularism is either naive or tyrannical. My advice to [doctrinaire secularists] is to stop wasting emotioanl energy over the fact [of Christian political involvement]… we will keep stating our account of what brings peace, and if we can’t do it publicly, we will do it subversively. p 87.



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