The return of the prodigal voter?

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The left got into trouble when it lost its ethical moorings, said Tony Blair. Influenced by the Christian socialism of John Macmurray, Blair saw New Labour as heir to the communitarian traditions of ethical socialism and New Liberalism. That was in 1996 and after the harsh economic liberalism of Margaret Thatcher, it seemed to be just the message British voters were waiting for.

Today Clive Hamilton is searching for a a new progressive politics — something beyond the familiar politics of unions, welfare and the environment:

…despite the suspicion of many progressives, the churches could be the answer. Traditionally, the churches have attended to and represented the deeper aspects of life, those that transcend the individualism, materialism and selfishness that so characterise modern affluent societies. It is in this transcendent concern that I believe we can find the roots of a new progressive politics—not in the institutions of the churches themselves but by rediscovering those aspects of life that, at their best, the churches articulate and cultivate.

In the United States, Democrats are reaching out to Christian voters. Recent polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that, among white voters, mainline Protestants and Catholics are swinging away from the Republicans. Of all the Christian groupings, only evangelicals remain loyal to the GOP.

The Bush administration’s bloody war in Iraq, it’s disregard for the plight of the poor, and it’s deafness to warnings about climate change, have lost it the support of many values-based voters. Left leaning Christians like Jim Wallis are itching to fight Bush on these issues. The editor of Sojourners magazine, and the author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, Wallis spoke to Mother Jones last year :

The Right is comfortable with the language of religion, values, God talk. So much so that they sometimes claim to own that territory. Or own God. But then they narrow everything down to one or two issues: abortion and gay marriage.

I am an evangelical Christian, and I can’t ignore thousands of verses in the Bible on [another] subject, which is poverty. I say at every stop, “Fighting poverty’s a moral value, too.” There’s a whole generation of young Christians who care about the environment. That’s their big issue. Protecting God’s creation, they would say, is a moral value, too. And, for a growing number of Christians, the ethics of war—how and when we go to war, whether we tell the truth about going to war—is a religious and moral issue as well.

I think the Right has made a serious mistake in adopting a moral-values strategy, because they’re winning in the short run. [But] in the long run, they’re going to lose this debate because they won’t be able to restrict it to two issues. Once you open that door to a values conversation, it’s going to undercut a right-wing economic agenda, which values wealth over work and favors the rich over the poor, or resorts to war as the first resort and not the last. To quote the White House, when it comes to moral values in this discussion, I say, “Bring it on!” Let’s have the conversation, because the Right’s going to lose this debate in the end. But not if the Left doesn’t even get in the conversation.

One Democrat who’s eager to take on moral issues from a Christian perspective is Senator Barack Obama. In a speech earlier this year, Obama called for "a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy." He argued that:

…when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome – others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

In other words, if we don’t reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical – if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.

Some pundits think Obama ought to run for President in 2008. And there’s no doubt that some Australian politicians will be following his progress closely.

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Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
15 years ago

On the comment about the harsh neoliberalism of Margaret Thatcher, how many of her economic policies were really harsh, rather than sensibly correcting destructive abuses of power by the trade union movement?

And how many of the alleged harsh economic policies have been usefully reversed by the caring Blair government?

And don’t bring up the furphy about ‘no such thing as society’ unless you want to demonstrate that you are completely out of touch with the facts of the matter.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Oh oh… it’s the adjective police!

How about "Margaret Thatcher’s compassionate and much needed reforms"?

And since you insist, maybe we should bring up the ‘no such thing as society‘ comment.

skepticlawyer
15 years ago

As Jason pointed out over at Catallaxy, that’s a nice bit of photoshopping Don.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Frankly I prefer the Christian Right to the Christian Left. Both have got that metaphysical bulldust going on but at least the Christian Right actually care about the world they live in and making a success out of that as well. The Christian Left adds to this God rubbish this semi-Buddhistic lazy decadence.

fatfingers
fatfingers
15 years ago

“at least the Christian Right actually care about the world they live in”

I think you go too far here, Mr Soon. Feeling a bit narky this morning?

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Not really, fatfingers. Michael Novak is very good on this. This is the sort of Christianity whose ethical values I admire though I don’t share their metaphysical assumptions

http://www.acton.org/publicat/m_and_m/1999_spr/younkins.html

On the other hand this limp wristed kumbaya-singing new Christian Left sounds to me like just a middle class doctors’ wives’ version of Liberation Theology

All this snarking against the Hillsong Church simply because they appreciate these things illustrate my points exactly.

The values of the Christian Right once you take away their weird obsessions wth sex are fundamentally quite compatible with modernity – they’re all about delayed gratification, mastery over nature, self-control, continous improvement, individual achievement, distrust of inherited status and yes, even gender and racial equality.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

of course we care more about the world. Since we read the bible we understnd we are stewards for the planet and therefore have a duty.

Actually there have been plenty of articles about said subject in Christianity Today

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

On Obama
Does anyone else find his being talked up really annoying? Is there really any doubt that the only reason he’s had the publicity he’s had is because he’s a photogenic black. I mean, I have absolutely no clue what the guy actually stands for aside from some vague soft left verities. By contrast Alan Keyes who is probably a hell of a lot more intelligent than the majority of US politicians was ignored presumably because he was a black Republican (although he was also a bit nutty). Lots of great black intellectuals in the US – Thomas Sowell is another one, but they don’t get 1% of the press of this vague fellow named Obama

Zoe
Zoe
15 years ago

Tell me more about the Christian right’s compatibility with ideas of gender equality, Jason.

No really, do. Bonus points for illustrations.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Aside from abortion which technically all Christians should oppose and perhaps not being able to be a priest (who the heck wants to be a priest anyway?) what views of the Christian right are really against gender equality, Zoe?

Zoe
Zoe
15 years ago

It’s your assertion that there is a fundamental compatibility – I don’t see why I should be the one to put up the argument.

This is without even going near the “all Christians should ‘technically’ oppose abortion”.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

Probably because he has the chance of being the first black American President.
I agree on Sowell but he ain’t a politician nor running for office.

Zoe,

what do you mean by gender equality?

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Because you’re making an extraordinary claim, Zoe.

And my claim was that the Christian Right was ‘fundamentally quite compatible with *modernity*’ and then I went and listed all those traits with gender equality as one of them. Which more than you have done.

So now tell me, does anyone in the Christian Right oppose women participating in the workforce? Does anyone in the Christian Right oppose women participating in politics? Two prominent leaders of the Christian Right in the US have been Bay Buchanan (Pat’s sister) and Phylis Schafly, both women.

Now even in the case of Hillsong Church, Bobbie Houston is the senior pastor and a woman in her own right. Her husband doesn’t have her chained to the kitchen sink. She is the archeypical Christian right professional woman. Steve Fielding doesn’t have his wife chained to the kitchen sink either.

As far as I can tell, the Christian Right doesn’t have a problem with women making their own living and having their own lives even when married and stuff like that. Presumably they’re serious about marital vows but so are a lot of non-Christian couples.

So you are making an extraordinary claim. If all you’ve got is that abortions are frowned on and they can’t be ordained as Anglican priests, then you’ve got zip.

Zoe
Zoe
15 years ago

This is one of those situations where I don’t think we’ll see eye to eye. And perhaps I’m thinking of the “Christian right” as extending to the US, where you might be confining it to Australians.

As for Hillsong, it’s Bobbie’s marriage to Brian that is the source of her status within the church: “Our roles are that Brian is, you know, senior pastor, and because I’m married to him and connected in heart and soul with him, that I am seen and respected as senior pastor with him also. And I also oversee our women’s ministry at the church as well.” (emphasis mine)

Authority and power flows from maleness. Denying every woman the ability to ever hold a formal leadership role in ordination on the basis of her gender is patriarchy. I don’t object to people choosing that life, but I don’t think that the fundamental patriarchial elements of the system can be pretended away.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Zoe, firstly two of my examples were from the US.

Secondly, your quibble with my gender equality comment does reduce to the fact that women can’t be ordained as priests.

Come on, what percentage of women want to be priests? What percentage of wmen want to have a life outside of marriage and an independent economic life, something that almost all women within a conservative Christian background have access to?

This is a purely symbolic issue which makes little or no difference to wellbeing or the freedom of the majority of women.

Zoe
Zoe
15 years ago

No, Jason, it doesn’t reduce to ordination, it reduces to patriarchy. Given we can’t agree on that, I think there is little chance of moving forward, particularly if, as you say in your post at Catallaxy, your comments are made in a spirit of provocation. (NTTAWWT – but I’m at work, and responding to provocateurs at any greater length is for sport/home.)

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Provocation doesn’t mean I don’t believe it, Zoe. But you are essentially conceding this is a symbolic issue. If it doesn’t arise anywhere but in ordination who cares?

Amused
Amused
15 years ago

You’d care jason, if you were part of the group for whom it was only ‘symbolic’ whether they were able to exercise power or not. Save me from both Clive hamilton and idiotc libertarians.

Zoe
Zoe
15 years ago

Fair enough on heartfelt provocation. However, I think that gender restrictions on ordination are the logical result of a system that is otherwise restrictive on the basis of gender, ie it is a symbolic manifestation of the deeper gender inequality, not “symbolic” in the sense of an irrelevancy, which your comments implies.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

I’d care if I want to be a priest, Amused. That’s a pretty perverse, minority preference. Most people just want to be able to make a living for themselves and enjoy a night out, women and men.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

There are some very legitimate points about the naturally ‘left’ sentiments of many christians, and in the Australian context in particular it is something worth discussing. But my overall impression of Don’s post is: geez where did you pull all that from?!?
re Thatcher, I recall another thread not so long ago when someone actually enlighted the troppo left as to what that quote was about. it might help if I give you the long form:

are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours

Basically, that there was no ultimate recourse beyond ourselves and each other, and that everything done by a government is ultimately done, or at least paid for, by us.
re Obama, he’s basically positioning himself as a republican democrat – hardly a ringing endorsement of nascent left-wing christianity – look, religious lefties can get righty votes, and if they are clever, not alienate the atheists in the base!
Finally, the first two-thirds of your posts reeks to high heaven of that ‘What’s wrong with Kansas?‘-type nonsense which associates ‘right-wing’ economics with poverty, despite the almost-perfect correlation between ‘left-wing’ economics and poverty.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Oh and Amused, stop being a hypocrite. I believe Zoe is arguing in good faith. But I know your type – you’ll always make apologies for any non-Christians because they happen to be ‘oppressed’ browns even if their strictures are a hundred times harsher (some of these Muslims do actually disapprove of women being out with anyone but their husbands or male relatives) but an Anglican that doesn’t want to ordain women? Oh gosh, end of the world.

David Rubie
David Rubie
15 years ago

Jason Soon,

It’s hilarious trying to defend Hillsong on the basis of their prosperity theology, when the Houston’s are so effectively sponging gifts off their congregation and paying little or no tax. Keep boosting for them! I’ll bet they never read out the passage about the money changers and the temple over there.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Relevance, David? Other churches don’t have tax exempt status? Other churches don’t raise money from their parishioners?

Fred Argy
Fred Argy
15 years ago

Jason, the Christian Right violate all the most basic principles of freedom that you fervently believe in. They are moral authoritarians: you cannot have a rational debate with them on issues like euthanasia or gay rights or abortion. They used to burn infidels at the stake for these crimes.

At least one can argue with the Christian Left – e.g. show them that, beyond a point, too much redistribution can be counter-productive for the poor and for some kinds of freedom. I wouldn’t know how to even start debating the other mob.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

just for that Fred I am going to burn you at the stake.

I would summise Fred you have yet to meet the other ‘mob’.

oops I am indulging in argybargy

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
15 years ago

Yep I think you’ll find Hillsong is of the socialist variety when it comes to government handouts, it was only six months ago the Hillsong Church was forced to payback millions in government grants after it became apparent even to Blind Freddy that they weren’t spending that much of the government money on the local Aboriginal population as was intended. As such I think you’ll find Hillsong are more the local Babbitts than libertarian, they wouldn’t know their Friedman from their Cathy Freeman.

Come to think of it wasn’t it a member of this church who was

David Rubie
David Rubie
15 years ago

Jason Soon said:
Relevance, David? Other churches don’t have tax exempt status? Other churches don’t raise money from their parishioners?

It’s very relevent Jason, you associated them with those good ol’ libertarian values of hard work and delayed gratification. I’m sure the congregation share some of those values, but the founders of that “church” are just a pair of hypocritical spongers whose hardest work consists of counting the money they are given after handing around a hat. If that’s libertarian, you can have it.

The major political parties can court these fools as much as they like, and the more they do, the less likely it is I’ll vote for them.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

Well, Jason has certainly succeeded in derailing this thread!!!

Amused
Amused
15 years ago

Jason,
For your information I am uninterested in the theology of christians and nor do I care about arguments as to whether they are ‘right or left’ for want of better, less childish epithets.

My only position on religion is the right of the religious to practice their religion peacefully, and not to interfere in the lawful activities of others. As for your jibe about my alleged preference for ‘brown non christians’ (over white christians presumably), you betray the essentially trivial and frivolous nature of your general approach. There are millions of non white christians, and hundreds of thousands of ‘white’ muslims.

I care as little for the theology of the brown ones, of any faith, as I do for the theology of the white ones, of whatever faith. I do however, care about public discourse that relies on a capacity to reason with reference to actual social experience, rather than appeals to authority based on revelation or the text of some tome. This means that people of any or no faith at all not only have a right, but in fact often do make valuable contributions to the democratic debate about political and social options avaiable in a polity. It doesn’t follow that a mature politics includes ‘reading’ a politcal position direct from some theological orientation or profession. To do so it seems to me, does intellectual violence to both the theology and more importantly as far as I am concerned, to the general tone and accessability of the argument in a secular polity. If we are going to proceed now, based on rancorous assessments of the theology of various religious positions, we are in peculiar times indeed.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

In particular, I can’t help thinking there’s a whole range of issues raised by Don’s post, arising from Labor (or social democrats more generally) seeking to appeal to Christian voters. Very few of them have much to do with Hillsong which, despite its efficient PR machine and excellent connections with the Tories (and even some on the Labor side like Bob Carr), is only a miniscule part of the range of Christian churches and viewpoints.

Leaving aside the odd egregious philosophical error in Kevin Rudd’s recent exposition, I would have thought it makes sense for Labor to remind Christians that its policies are anything but incompatible with Christ’s teachings. In fact, as Troppo’s Danielle McCredden observes (in a post about Hillsong last year at her own blog):

In fact, Peter [Costello] has revealed in his statement exactly what it is that separates a church like Hillsong in emphasis from a broad slice of other Australian Christians. He is impressed by young people who aren’t taking drugs, who are involved in music and who accept an emphasis on individual reasponsibility, on taking responsibility “for your own life”

David Rubie
David Rubie
15 years ago

Jason Soon said:

And my claim was that the Christian Right was ‘fundamentally quite compatible with *modernity*’ and then I went and listed all those traits with gender equality as one of them. Which more than you have done.

So now tell me, does anyone in the Christian Right oppose women participating in the workforce? Does anyone in the Christian Right oppose women participating in politics? Two prominent leaders of the Christian Right in the US have been Bay Buchanan (Pat’s sister) and Phylis Schafly, both women.

Jason, these statements are so obviously wrong I don’t even know where to start. Try googling “christian women work outside home” just for starters. Some of the Christian Right are positively medievel in their attitudes to women.