23 September 2023

‘Inappropriate’ or ‘not necessarily unethical’? Australian Christian Lobby tactic raises eyebrows

The Australian Christian Lobby has chosen a controversial approach to their election response. Image: iStock.

Kirralee Nicolle

28 April 2022

Two prominent Anglican leaders have offered differing views on the recent actions by the Australian Christian Lobby towards federal MPs who sought amendments to the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill.

The Australian Christian Lobby took aim last week at five federal MPs by distributing advertising materials in their electorates criticising their recent actions in Parliament.

The pamphlets and billboards featured graphics depicting the MPs driving wrecking balls into churches and Christian schools.

In their advertising campaign, the ACL labelled the MPs as having engaged in “attacks on Christianity and other faiths”.

Canon Emeritus of St Paul’s Cathedral and Lecturer in Public Theology at Trinity College, Reverend Canon Dr Ray Cleary, called the actions of the ACL towards the MPs “totally wrong and inappropriate”.

A report published on Saturday in the Guardian told how the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission had received complaints regarding the advertising materials, as the charitable status of the ACL precluded them from publicly opposing or supporting political parties and candidates.

The MPs, who are currently campaigning to retain their seats in the May 21 election, are Moderate Liberal Party ministers Trent Zimmerman, Bridget Archer, Fiona Martin and Dave Sharma, as well as Independent MP Rebekha Sharkie.

The MPs are part of a group who in February voted for amendments to the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill which would allow for greater protection of LGBTQI students attending Christian schools.

Dr Cleary said the Christian church should not demonstrate alignment with a particular political group and ought to resist those who assert their stance by targeting others.

Dr Cleary said that a particularly concerning element was the focus by the ACL on individuals.

The ACL has announced their intention to “focus on people, not parties” during the election campaign.

Chair of the Melbourne Anglican Social Responsibilities Committee  Dr Gordon Preece said that the issue lay with the over-emphasis by the ACL on culture and identity politics.

But he said their highlighting candidates’ voting record materials already on the public record was not necessarily unethical in itself, and used also by Independent “Teals” against the liberal moderates not acting against climate change.

Dr Cleary said that he believed the purpose of a Christian charity should be contributing to the common good of society, rather than targeting political candidates.

Dr Cleary said that this does not mean that the church cannot have a voice in politics.

“Jesus challenged the political leaders of the day,” Dr Cleary said.

“He called on them to be committed to the principles of justice [by caring for] the orphaned and widowed and ensuring that the Earth’s resources were available to everyone,” said Dr Cleary.

An Australian Christian Lobby spokesperson said voting against the Religious Discrimination Bill and to repeal section 38 or 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act would have adverse impact on people of religion and religious schools, and it was seeking to visually display that truth.

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