Christian Advocacy is Growing: Is That a Good Thing?

17 June 2021

4.9 MINS

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is clearly a growing movement. But not all Christians are pleased that it is growing.

A common criticism is that Christian advocacy groups like the ACL or the Canberra Declaration have too narrow a focus on political issues to the neglect of spiritual issues. It is also often said that such groups offer a false hope that they can stem the tide of secularisation by political mechanisms. Another objection is that, by focussing on the issues they do — such as the right to life and religious freedom — these groups rally their base but alienate others.

What are we to make of these objections? Let’s examine them one at a time.

Too Narrow a Focus on Political Issues?

If by narrow we mean “not all-encompassing”, then this criticism could be levelled at any Christian group. Which Christian organisation is truly all-encompassing? Couldn’t we deride the Christian organisation Common Grace as narrow when its priorities don’t include being pro-life or pro-religious freedom, or critiquing transgenderism and other forms of critical theory or postmodernism infiltrating our culture and institutions?

Why are groups like the ACL derided as narrow, whereas Common Grace, the Salvos, Uniting Care, or any number of Christian lobby and advocacy groups not accused of this? Many of these other organisations are not overtly pro-family, pro-Christian education, or pro-religious freedom. Does this make them narrow?

Some reverse this question and ask why a group like the ACL doesn’t focus on issues such as Indigenous rights, domestic violence, refugees, or the alleviation of poverty. The answer to this is quite simple: those causes have myriad vocal and well-funded lobby groups, not to mention massive support in parts of the mainstream media.

What about the charge that groups like the ACL or the Canberra Declaration are too focused on political issues and not enough on spiritual issues? The same accusation could be levelled against organisations that seek to ameliorate injustice and suffering as their operational priority. Should groups like the Salvos, Common Grace and Anglicare set aside their social action agendae to the peripheries, and focus instead on evangelism?

If we take the stance that only spiritual issues matter, this makes much of the history of evangelicalism deeply flawed. It would also result in all groups today essentially doing the same thing — namely, evangelising, and being pretty ineffective in everything else. Why can’t we see all Christian organisations as corporate members of a larger body? Perhaps each group is called to focus on different things, but all in their own way working towards the dual goals of the evangelist and love for neighbour?

In truth, the view that the ACL is not a gospel or evangelistic organisation is easy to exaggerate. Consider that over the past year the most widely heard declarations of the gospel in Australia have come from Martyn Iles on mainstream television. I also happen to know for a fact that people have been converted — and very new converts emboldened and edified in their faith — in part through their participation in ACL events.

A False Hope of Stopping Secularisation?

Do Christian advocacy groups like the ACL or the Canberra Declaration offer a false hope that the tide of secularisation can be stemmed through political means? This rather vague objection amounts to little more than a straw man. Nowhere have such organisations argued that providing good laws is the way to make people Christians, or that people’s hearts can be changed directly via politics.

Certainly, such groups made the case that changing the marriage legislation would further erode respect for marriage, healthy approaches to parenting, and religious freedom. In this sense, they did suggest that by opposing the change to the Marriage Act then that slippery slope may be slowed down. But even if that was an unrealistic view, I hardly think it’s a position that’s so misguided that it should call the legitimacy of the whole project into question.

The message taught by these Christian advocacy organisations is that if Christians live faithfully to the principles taught by Christ, and the principles taught in the Bible, then their personal, family and institutional lives will be beacons of light and hope in an ever-darkening world — and that therefore, they will be attractive to many who seek hope and purity. Is that so controversial a view? Is that not in part what happened in ancient Rome? Are we abandoning the idea that a Christian life well-lived has no attractive power?

My own view is that Christianity can make a resurgency. We have seen this many times in history. Of course, for this we need God’s special intervention: revival. But this very well may come as increasing cultural darkness by contrast makes brighter the lives, families, and institutions that are faithful to the Bible. There is no guarantee that this will lead to mass conversion. But over time, it very well may cause many to look deeper into the lives and families that they so admire and inquire into the person of Jesus.

The basic approach of a group like ACL is that much legislation regarding marriage, the family, gender, and sexuality over the past 50 years has been detrimental to society precisely because it deviates from a biblically informed understanding of human nature. By critiquing laws and policy that are unjust and socially immiserating in the long run, yes — hopefully will cause many people to see how society has strayed, and search for a better way. Call this an attempt to stem the tide of so-called secularisation, if you will!

Rallying the Base While Alienating Others?

Finally, let’s look at the accusation that Christian advocacy groups tend to rally their base while alienating others.

We should hardly be surprised that when an organisation critiques the world from biblical premises that it’s going to alienate people from it. This is intrinsic to the proclamation of the Gospel itself, as Jesus repeatedly promised.

But there is more to this. The ACL’s membership has in fact grown enormously over the past five years, which means that people have gone from being outside of its base to being part of its base. In other words, for all else that could be said about it, the ACL has proven quite attractive to those outside of its base.

Yes, many Christians are deeply critical of the ACL, and even hate it. But the same goes for almost any organisation or church denomination. Most Christian groups will inevitably attracts fierce critique and even hatred among the ranks of other Christians or the media. No doubt, we should all be scrutinising ourselves humbly — but being polarising is hardly strong evidence that an organisation is on the wrong track.

In the short term or even over a longer period, some may be alienated by the message of Christian advocacy groups. But we can hold out hope that in the long run, there will be many who find the message of a group like the ACL deeply attractive as they fall victim to the dangers of this post-Christian, neo-pagan age. I don’t think it’s holding out false hope to believe this.

In summary, I think that common critiques of groups like the ACL or the Canberra Declaration tend to be vague, uninformed, and ultimately specious. This is certainly not to say that such groups are perfect. No organisation is. But there’s a big difference between saying that an organisation is imperfect and saying that it is positively detrimental to the callings placed upon Christians.

Christian advocacy is growing. This is a good thing, and a trend that Christians can be pleased about.

[Photo: March for Life 2021, Cherish Life Queensland]


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  1. Michael Graham 18 June 2021 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Well said

  2. Warwick Marsh 18 June 2021 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    Dear Stephen you have been very kind to the Canberra Declaration to include us in such venerable company. Compared with the Australian Christian Lobby we are a minnow. Thank you for your advocacy for the truth and for righteousness. We need more of Jesus!!!!

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