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Thursday, 23 September 2004

The pussycats are growling but no-one is listening

Last Saturday (18 September) Julia Baird wondered “why the religious left are such pussycats when it comes to politics”. While she offered several explanations for why this may be the case, she failed to consider that the premise itself may be wrong.

Those of us who stand for a more progressive Christianity and who might be regarded as ‘religious left’ (or just ‘mainstream’ if the point of reference is the ‘religious right’ Christianity made famous by Jerry Falwell) try hard to little effect – the Uniting Church has made a number of public statements every week of the election campaign only to be ignored by the media.

It is distressing that the most prominent Christianity that figures in public consciousness these days is the reductive faith Julia writes about – faith concerned more about personal morality and judgement than caring for our neighbours. While this brand of Christianity may indeed find expression in party politics, most of the mainstream churches express their politics from within the church—speaking to government as the church—and in the day-to-day non-party political work of making life better for people. Through church agencies such as UnitingJustice we also work to encourage people’s participation as active citizens in our democratic state so that we don’t just have ‘leaders’ speaking out but local congregations and individuals enabled to discuss and raise issues in ways appropriate for them. In his piece ‘Labor blunders in bidding war’ (20 September), Robert Manne remarks on ‘the absence of any vision of the future’. It is not a point he comes back to as he assesses the effectiveness of Labor in the bidding war that is this election campaign. So maybe another reason that the mainstream churches appear absent is that we are calling for visionary leadership and this is obviously not what election campaigns are about.

What we do have in this election is a small-minded battle for the same tiny garden – the choice is between two gardeners working with the same plants but with slightly different methods of watering and feeding. The aim is to convince us to trust one or other of them to deliver more produce from that tiny garden.

The social, political and economic agenda that defines contemporary Australia is an agenda held without question by both major parties. This is why there are so few differences between the major parties and why talk about vision is unnecessary. The Church, however, does question the values and ideological assumptions behind this agenda.

When the potential prime ministers are fighting about who will fight better, who wants to talk of peace? When they are fighting over who can put more money into our pockets each fortnight, who wants to hear about homes for the homeless? Who wants to hear about justice when economic growth is what matters most? The pussycats are growling, Julia, but no-one is listening.

Rev. Elenie Poulos
National Director
UnitingJustice Australia