Australians are taking a page from American politics, judging by the way the nation’s two political parties are courting religious voters. The Australian Christian quarterly Zadok Perspectives (Spring) reports that as the Federal election approaches, John Howard of the Liberal Party and politicians from the opposing Labor Party have made pitches for the conservative Christian vote, making special appearances at Hillsong, a prominent megachurch outside of Sydney.
The more liberal Labor party has surprised political observers in its attempt to catch up with the Liberals in “connecting with that they see as a significant voting block in contemporary Australian society where many of the old loyalties have changed including religious and political sentiments and alliances.“ The old political/religious patterns that grouped Catholics under the Labor right, the Uniting Church and the Australian Council of Churches (ACC) with the Labor left, and the rank and file Anglicans and others spread somewhere between Labor and Liberal, have faded away.
Today, Catholics don‘t vote as a bloc, and the declining Uniting Church and ACC have lost their political clout to large and growing churches with their own networks. The new players are the conservative Protestants, who have started such organizations as Family First, Saltshakers and the Christian Lobby. The latter group has gained 6000 members since 2000, an impressive number considering that the established parties have just 20,000 members.
While some of the evangelicals are involved in liberal causes such as Aboriginal rights, the rise of conservative think tanks, such as the Lyon Forum and the Tasman Institute, are pulling conservative Christians rightward in support of John Howard. Writer Peter Corney acknowledges that the outspoken evangelical Christianity of George Bush is having an impact among Australian Christians, but also cites culture wars and a concern over moral values that are native to Australia.
(Zadok Perspectives, P.O. Box 2182, Fitzroy 3065, NSW, Australia;www.zadok.org.au)