Green or Extreme?

Nathan Campbell | Jun 25th, 2009

Before Kevin Rudd brought the words of Bonhoeffer to the nation and was spotted gracing the pews of his suburban Brisbane church, former National Party leader John Anderson was perhaps Australia's most recognisable Christian in politics. This same Mr Anderson once described the Greens as a watermelon - green on the outside, but with a dark red underbelly. While there was no doubt an element of political hyperbole in this statement - claiming a sinister hidden agenda - it raises an interesting question: can Christians truly and meaningfully engage with the Greens? Is engaging with the Greens the only way to have any environmentally significant "political" input?

The point John Anderson was trying to make is prescient - the Greens are no single issue party - scratch the green surface off and you're left with positions the conservative Christian orthodoxy, reportedly represented by Family First, would consider "extreme". They score badly on all the conservative touchstones - they're pro abortion, pro gay marriage, soft on drugs, soft on censorship, and they want the Lord's Prayer removed from the parliamentary schedule. By many

accounts they're a product of a secular humanist ideology driven by a frustration with our Judeo-Christian-based society and its rigid oppression of minorities.

Christian objections to the Greens are often based on a mix of personal political convictions and a disquiet regarding some of their policies from a biblical standpoint. But there is much in their policy platform to celebrate - an Australian Christian Lobby media release issued prior to the 2008 election praised the Greens for their strong stance on climate change, refugees, overseas aid, work life balance and poverty. These are important issues - and should be serious concerns for biblical Christians.

So then, on the one hand the Greens arguably present the best social justice platform - and yet on the other they hold positions seemingly in direct opposition to Christianity.

The criteria that determine an individual's political preference will come down to personal convictions - that's the fundamental freedom offered by a liberal democracy. So voters need to decide for themselves whether caring for the poor should be the government's concern or the church's? Or whether we should impose a Christian ethical framework on non-believers? Can we vote for a party that purposefully pursues an easing of restrictions in the circumstances surrounding the termination of the lives of unborn children? Just how much of a concern is the environment?

While there are a number of obvious hot-bed moral issues to resolve even for a voter - it's possible to be both a Christian and a Greens candidate, at least according to Townsville Greens candidate Jenny Stirling, who has easily reconciled her Christian faith with her political ideology. Jenny has been the Greens party candidate at local, state and federal government elections in the last four years. Prior to this, she worked in full time ministry with the Anglican Church of Queensland and as a chaplain for a community service organisation.

Ms Stirling is adamant that her faith dictates her politics, she said she would not be a member of the Greens if she felt it was incompatible with her beliefs. "I am a Green because of my Christian spiritual values including a strong belief in social justice; respect for God's creation and the certain knowledge that all creation groans from our misuse of what is essentially a custodial role; the grass roots nature of our organisation which is respectful of difference and mindful of marginalised discourses; and last but not least because it talks about peace and non-violence," Ms Stirling said.

Like Prime Minister Kevin Rudd she cites Bonhoeffer as a political and spiritual inspiration. "I employ what I understand to be the Jesus model of working with people, that is; compassion; giving respect; opposing oppression; speaking truth to power; standing along side people who need support; listening; acting out of God's strength and not my own and being mindful that it is better to be the 'salt than to have power' – this quote comes from Bonhoeffer's Seize The Day which is a daily reflection on the Bible from his cell in a Nazi concentration camp. I try to read it most days."

But for many Christian voters there's a single issue that will determine the direction they go in the privacy of the ballot box. The abortion debate has been cast as the great moral issue of our time - and on this issue the Greens are the party most vocally against the natural biblical position. It's an issue that obviously causes Ms Stirling personal grief as she traverses the fine line between voting with her conscience or acting as potential representative of the electorate appointing her. Ms Stirling says, "As for abortion, I am against it personally. That said I cannot justify putting my values over someone else's. There will always be women who are abused, raped and abandoned in pregnancy. I cannot force them to have a child they do not want or leave them to backyard abortionists. I do not see abortion as an acceptable form of contraception and would vote against that and late term terminations.”

As Christians we have great freedom - particularly living in a liberal democracy - to vote for whomever we choose. No party has a monopoly on God - though many claim it. This is something Jenny Stirling celebrates while choosing a party with an agenda best suited to her personal convictions. "I also love the idea that there are different parties in our political system because I don't think there is any party that has a monopoly on being right. There is only one absolute source of truth and that is God."