Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Politics of Faith II: A Vision for Australia

In a previous post, we turned back to Kevin Rudd's 2006 article on Bonhoeffer and the rule of the church in politics. In brief, Rudd understands this to be:
'The function of the church in all these areas of social, economic and security policy is to speak directly to the state: to give power to the powerless, voice to those who have none, and to point to the great silences in our national discourse...'
Rudd continues by giving voice to what Australian politics might look like if Bonhoeffer's principles were followed:

'A Christian perspective on contemporary policy debates may not prevail. It must nonetheless be argued. And once heard, it must be weighed, together with other arguments from different philosophical traditions, in a fully contestable secular polity. A Christian perspective, informed by a social gospel or Christian socialist tradition, should not be rejected contemptuously by secular politicians as if these views are an unwelcome intrusion into the political sphere. If the churches are barred from participating in the great debates about the values that ultimately underpin our
society, our economy and our polity, then we have reached a very strange place indeed.

Some have argued that Bonhoeffer provides a guide for Christian action “in extremis”, but not for the workaday problems of “normal” political life. Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University, argues, though, that this fails to comprehend Bonhoeffer’s broader teaching on the importance of truth in politics. In fact, it accepts the “assumption that truth and politics, particularly in democratic regimes in which compromise is the primary end of the political process, do not mix”.'
Rudd has the former Howard Government clearly in his sights. In describing the churches voice on issues such as Australian values, climate change, industrial relations and global poverty, Rudd not only describes Bonhoeffer as the archetypal Christian Socialist, he uses Bonhoeffer's thesis of speaking truth to government to strongly criticize the then administration:
'Mr Howard’s politics are in the main about concealing the substantive truth of his policy program because when fully exposed to the light of public debate, their essential truth is revealed: a redistribution of power from the weak to the strong.'
Rudd concludes that the pragmatic goal of the Howard policies was to:
'...retain his incumbency at all costs, distracting the body politic from the reality of his faltering program for government. The substance of that program now makes for a less robust political message as he moves into his second decade in oμce: rising interest rates, declining housing affordability, slowing productivity growth, an Americanised industrial-relations system, a regressive consumption tax,
the skyrocketing costs of university education and the steady undermining of universal health insurance. Add to these the escalating failure of the Iraq war and the deteriorating security in our immediate region, complicated by our distraction in Iraq – all compounded by a failure to tell the public the truth on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi prisoner abuse and the $300-million wheat-for-weapons scandal.'
One may wonder how often the Rudd Government has distracting the body politic from the reality of his faltering program for government. Rudd's vision is for an Australia that is a 'light on a hill' (attributed to Chifley), which is to be a global leader on climate change, the Millennium Goals, and international law:
'The time has well and truly come for a vision for Australia not limited by the narrowest of definitions of our national self-interest. Instead, we need to be guided by a new principle that encompasses not only what Australia can do for itself, but also what Australia can do for the world.'
And Rudd concludes that the church must not climb into bed with the conservative political establishment. Instead, it must take up the challenge of Bonhoeffer, robustly speaking the truth to the state.
The role of the church is not to agree that deceptions of this magnitude [War on Iraq, AWA, Children Overboard, etc.] are normal. If Christians conclude that such deceptions are the stock-in-trade of the Kingdom of the State in Luther’s Two Kingdoms doctrine (and hence of no relevance to the Kingdom of the Gospel), then we will end up with a polity entirely estranged from truth. When the prime minister states that migrants should have a better grasp of the English language, while at the same time removing major funding from the program that enables them to learn English, this represents a significant prostitution of the truth. Therefore, if the church is concerned about the truth – not the politics – of social inclusion, then in Bonhoeffer’s tradition of fearlessly speaking the truth to the state, it should say so.


byron smith said...

One may wonder how often the Rudd Government has distracting the body politic from the reality of his faltering program for government.
Do you have examples?

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Nothing specific - just being realistic I suppose and recognise that if previous Governments have done it in he past, than the present Government will more than likely be tempted to do it now.