Ep 126: Should religion have a say on election day?
With an an election looming there is often disappointment and cynicism towards our political leaders and the place of religion in political life is controversial and contested. Can we have better conversations about government and the role of religion in politics? A thoughtful conversation which changes the way we talk about divisive topics.
We want to affirm that Bigger Questions does not endorse any particular political party or candidate. This forum is one to stimulate discussion about the big questions relating the relationship between religion and politics.
Helen Bell worked as a policy advisor for Commonwealth Treasury on indirect taxation. She has worked with the university Christian group at La Trobe University for many years and now works with university students at Melbourne university.
Adam Ch’ng was born and raised in Melbourne, studied Arts/Law at Monash University and worked as a lawyer and then ministerial adviser to the Abbott Government. He is now pastor of Cross and Crown, a new church in Melbourne’s East.
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Bigger Questions asked in the conversation
Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoons once said, There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people, religion, politics and The Great Pumpkin.
We’re talking about at least two of these today, but Helen, why do you think people are reluctant to talk about religion and politics?
Adam, can we have better conversations on these things?
I thought we’d test you on how much you know about political elections.
Big questions: What is government? What is society?
Bernard Baruch once said, Vote for the man who promises least. He'll be the least disappointing. Why is there such low expectations with government? Why the cynicism?
What is the role of government?
Modern society celebrates the triumph of the individual, self-actualising, do whatever you can to achieve your dreams and what makes you happy? Isn’t that a vision?
Big questions: role of church and state
But what then of the place of religion in the political process? There have been many times when this relationship between religion and politics has been done badly?
The separation of church and state is a key issue. American comedian George Carlin once said,
I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.
So what does the separation of church and state actually mean?
Does this separation mean something different in Australia compared with the USA?
Who is this there to protect?
But isn’t the issue with religion in politics that it advocates for values that aren’t shared - particularly for example by atheists or those of 'no religion’. Surely we can only propose values in the public space and in the political process which unite us and are common, not specifically religious values?
The Bible’s answer - love all
We’re asking Helen Bell and Adam Ch’ng today’s big question of whether religion should have a say on election day?
Perhaps a vision of the Christian way of engaging the political process is found in the New Testament book of 1 Peter. Peter writes in Chapter 2 verse 13-17,
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.
Is this suggesting something about the role of government?
Peter doesn’t seem to to be saying that the government is there to promote the specific interests of Christians - what do you make of that?
How to live with Government
Peter goes on to speak about how Christian believers should live in this space:
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.
What is the posture described here?
What does it mean to honour the emperor?
So could the relationship between religion and politics be done well?
Could the Christian faith propose a vision for the common good?
The Big Question
So Helen and Adam, should religion have a say on election day?