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I have not known any previous Federal Election campaign to curry the level of involvement of churches and other religious organisations as this one.

The amount of electioneering material that has crossed my desk on this occasion is staggering – all encouraging me to use my influence as a church leader to raise awareness of how certain party policies compare. They urge me to make the “Christian” vote count (according to the discernment of the particular flyer). Encouraged by renewed government/ecclesiastical dialogue and partnerships, some religious groups seem to be relishing the promise of fresh relevance in the eyes of the community.

My response has been to simply to warn my congregation in apocalyptic terms to “watch, pay attention, and remain focussed.” As if there is such a thing as a “Christian” vote!!!

Is my response reactionary? Ironically, I’m as political as the next person and, fired by my faith in Christ, support a number of political causes.

Perhaps my concerns are best outlined in an article in Ekklesia – “Why does government want to court the churches.” It is written to the UK scene, where many new partnerships between church and state are under negotiation. It has some points of relevance to Australia, however.

I particularly appreciate Jonathan Bartley’s concluding comments:

What is it that makes the church distinctive under the new deal? Part of the new deal between church and state is to show more effectively that faith ‘works’. Questions need to be asked as to the basis of this kind of political witness, however.

First, there has been a move toward managerialism, ideas of efficiency and pragmatism within the political system. Rather than the church witnessing to government, suggesting more human and social values and practices in line with its incarnational message, the reverse may be the case under the new deal. The church may itself move toward governing, ruling ideologies rather than pioneering a distinctive approach in the delivery of social welfare based on participation and equality.

The push of the new deal is toward delivery (measured in targets and statistics), motivational capacity and professonalism. The question that the churches need to ask themselves, is whether they want their contribution to civic life to be based upon such things – rather than for example upon a radical stand for justice. Taking state funding runs the risk of buying into the state’s policy goals and targets rather than a vision of a different kind of social order. It runs the risk of blunting the church’s prophetic calling to question power. Politicians are quite happy to accept Christians and those of other faiths who serve their local communities diligently. They are less happy with a church that challenges the status quo.