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Call to “Vote 1 for the plebiscite” by some Christian leaders

NEWS  |  John Sandeman

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Christians should vote for parties that support holding a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, according to statements by a number of conservative Christian leaders.

The Federal election is looking like recent US elections, where conservative religious groups have used abortion as a key issue of concern to urge voters to support the Republican party.

In this year’s Federal election, Christian groups that have not previously suggested a vote for a particular party, are suggesting that we vote for the Coalition (or minor parties with a pro-plebiscite policy).

This includes the Australian Christian Lobby, which famously delayed the ALP from adopting same-sex marriage while Julia Gillard was PM. With some reluctance (as ACL’s Lyle Shelton explained in a live video interview with Eternity) ACL has moved from a bipartisan stance.

“Marriage has become a touchstone issue for measuring the suitability of someone’s place in Australian society. Increasingly, Christians are finding themselves on the wrong side of elite opinion,” Shelton writes on the ACL election blog.

“The Coalition Government is promising to hold a plebiscite on the definition of marriage. But Labor is committed to changing the definition of marriage within 100 days if elected. Bill Shorten has explicitly said Labor would provide no protections for the religious freedom of lay people who do not agree with same-sex marriage.

“A marriage plebiscite is therefore the only way that, as Christians, we can secure both the future of marriage, and our freedoms to believe and practise our faith.”

Traces of the ACL’s desire to have a bipartisan stance remain in Shelton’s statement. He points out that both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten have attacked Christians for holding a traditional view of marriage.

ACL’s headline: “There’s more at stake in this election than marriage” places the campaign for same-sex marriage within a wider cultural shift that will mean increased hostility towards Christians.

“For Christians like you and me, there is nothing less than our very place in Australian society riding on the outcome of July’s vote.”

This is reflected in statements by the Freedom for Faith (FFF) group, a legal think tank concerned with religious freedom.

In a leaders’ briefing paper FFF states, “the scope of risk is much wider than how weddings are conducted” and lists “some potential areas of risk”.

FFF lists possible changes to anti-discrimination laws, employment laws, school curriculum, professional accreditation, freedom of speech and freedom of association as areas that may be affected.

“It is important to be neither naïve or alarmist about the direct impacts of same-sex marriage passing. If it does pass then many of the changes listed above will not happen directly and immediately, but will be more likely to come.”

FFF is a newish group, without a track record of election campaigns.

However Australia’s oldest religious group, the Sydney Anglicans, have warned Christians to bear the plebiscite in mind in the polling booth.

“Christians will come to different conclusions about how they should vote. We attach different levels of importance to various issues. One may feel that economic management is extremely important. Another may prioritise the plight of refugees or climate change policy. However there is one issue, unique to this election, which is very important from a biblical point of view. This election may decide whether or not the definition of marriage will be changed to include same sex marriage.”

The statement was issued by the (Sydney Anglican) Archbishop’s Plebiscite taskforce. Traditionally, the bishops have not attempted to influence how their pew-sitters vote. The policy positions of the Greens, Coalition and Labor are summarised on the handout.

Another newish umbrella group of 20 Christian organisations, the Christian Federation, has issued a call for Christians to vote for a plebiscite.

The Christian Federation website gives a detailed “how to vote”, suggesting a vote for the Christian Democrats, Australian Christians or Family First (based, it appears, on which is likely to get the highest number of primary votes in a particular state), voting for the Coalition down the ticket.

Unlike the other groups mentioned above, it is unlikely that the Christian Federation would have been bipartisan in the past; this is a naturally conservative group.

Other Christians offer very different voting advice. Prominent Catholic writer Frank Brennan does not mention the plebiscite in a Eureka Street piece on the struggle of working out who to vote for.

Brennan points out that the Catholic bishops have suggested a vote for the voiceless and commend the plight of refugees first.

“I want any new Australian government to empty the camps on Nauru and Manus Island in a timely and dignified manner. And I know a vote straight down the ticket for Turnbull or Shorten won’t do that,” says Brennan.

Blogger Scott Higgins, contrary to a lot of the advice above, says same-sex marriage is not the issue. In his view same-sex marriage is unlikely to increase the number of LGBTI people living in life-long unions – they are plenty doing that already. And many of those couples already raise children.

“It seems to me the driving force behind opposition to same-sex marriage is the conviction that God prohibits same-sex unions. For some that is sufficient reason in and of itself to oppose same-sex marriage. For others the argument gets taken one step further, that it is in the interests of all people and of our society to live the way God desires. That may very well be the case, but we do not live in a Christian theocracy where priests interpret the divine law to political leaders who then legislate the divine will.”

Watch Eternity‘s live interview with Anglican Bishop Michael Stead talking about the statement issued by Sydney Anglicans on the upcoming election:

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