Last week, independent Adelaide news site InDaily ran a scare story entitled The Divine Right: Pentecostal recruitment drive divides SA Libs. Its apparent aim was to spook secular Australians about the increasing involvement of Christians in electoral politics.
“Senior Liberals are actively recruiting Pentecostals,” the article warned. “Adelaide Pentecostal parishioners have been told it is their ‘mission’ to join political parties so they can shape policy and preselections,” read another paragraph.
In its juiciest scoop, the piece paraphrased a state Liberal MP as encouraging Christians to ignore the “separation of church and state” and become more active in the political sphere. According to InDaily, “several MPs have raised concerns about the influx of Pentecostal branch members in recent months.”
At the centre of the story was Rob Norman, the Senior Pastor at Southland Church in Adelaide’s southern suburbs — and Liberal MP David Speirs, who is also South Australia’s Minister for Environment and Water.
At a recent Southland Church service which was livestreamed on Facebook, Pastor Rob gave a message entitled Christians and Politics. He also invited David Speirs, one of four Liberal MPs present that day, to share briefly about the stance he took against the Termination of Pregnancy Bill passed in South Australia earlier this year, and the importance of Christians having a voice on issues like the right to life.
Speirs was very upset with SA’s Upper House in particular. “They just wave legislation through,” Speirs told the congregation. “They’re not interested in undertaking deep analysis or challenging legislation that is presented to it… It’s such a laissez-faire, Left-leaning place — it’s extremely concerning.”
Pastor Rob offered his solution. “It’s really simple — if Christians joined political parties, many of these Bills would not even make it into parliament.” He explained that party membership gives people the right to vote at meetings and to have a say in the preselection of candidates.
Should secular Australians be concerned about Christians becoming more involved in politics? Or should Christians be ashamed of joining a political party?
The answer to both questions is of course a resounding no. Australia is a participatory democracy — the very point of which is to give everyday people a say in how the law that governs them is shaped, regardless of what they believe.
At the event in question, David Speirs was quoted as saying, “this idea of the separation of church and state — forget it”. But in context, he was not arguing for some kind of theocracy. Immediately after these words, as InDaily noted, Speirs went on to say,
If you’re going to use that as an excuse — and many churches do — not to get involved, and not to influence your members of parliament, we are on a sad and slippery slope to a very dangerous place.
In Australia, the separation of church and state was never about preventing religious people from expressing their political will. Quite the opposite: its purpose was to prevent the government from impinging on religious freedom.
Section 116 of Australia’s Constitution explains that “the Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion.” Australia’s founders wanted to ensure that the government didn’t favour one denomination over another: Australia was to be a country that Protestants and Catholics alike could call home.
Australia has become increasingly secular since its founding. But as always, Christians are not only permitted but encouraged to make their voices heard through their representatives — or to even become representatives themselves.
As Pastor Rob points out, in South Australia — a state with a population of 1.5 million people — the two major parties only have around 5,000 members each.
This provides an enormous opportunity for Christians to be involved in tangible ways that can ultimately steer the direction of our nation. Followers of Jesus should not allow a secular media to shame them out of exercising their democratic freedoms and obeying Jesus’ command to be salt and light in the surrounding culture.
Now more than ever, Australia’s political parties need Christian voices. Joining a party generally costs less than $100, but it is a powerful way to stand for truth and righteousness, for the benefit of all Australians.
Don’t be intimidated. On the contrary, let articles like InDaily’s inspire you to be more active than ever before.