Politics: Some Recent Articles

In the lead-up to the recent Australian Federal election I had a few short pieces published how to work out how to vote on Christian principles—and how to cope with it! They won’t be directly relevant for another three years or so now, but I thought I’d put the links up here anyway.

‘How to Vote When No Party is Perfect’ at the Bible Society—Thinking about how to weigh up (apparently) competing concerns as we decide how to vote.

‘Voting: An Exercise in Faith, Love, and Hope’ at Common Grace—Coming to terms with our disquiet about voting for people we don’t like all that much, with reference to the great Oliver O’Donovan and 1 Corinthians 13.13.

Assessing the Importance of a Plebiscite

Christian leaders across the country have called upon their congregations to make a  plebiscite on the definition of marriage a key issue as they decide how to vote on Saturday. These leaders have narrowed the concern from a general opposition to same sex marriage to the specific issue of a plebiscite. But is this concern really so key for Christians?I don’t think so. There are several reasons, but here’s just one to consider.

The claim has been made that not having a plebiscite means not allowing those opposed to same sex marriage the opportunity to have their voice heard. It has been implied that to deny the public a plebiscite on his issue is undemocratic. The next step, usually implicit—though barely—is to note that only one major party has committed to allowing us this democratic freedom.

This line of argument exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of the particular system of democracy we have implemented in Australia. In short: plebiscites are unusual. The government can out a plebiscite to the public on any issue that does not involve changes to the Constitution. Changes to the Constitution can only be made by means of a referendum, the results of which are binding. The results of a plebiscite are not binding. A plebiscite is not defined in the Australian Constitution, the Electoral Act, or the Referendum Act.

Throughout Australian history there have been a total of three plebiscites at a federal level. Two of these related to conscription to military service (1916, 1917). The third, non-compulsory plebiscite related to which national song should be played on non-royal occasions. States and Territories have also held plebiscites on various issues, including hotel closing hours, prohibition, and daylight savings. (See Antony Green’s blog for a fuller discussion of State and Territory plebiscites).

The reason for this history lesson is simple: plebiscites are an unusual tool in Australian politics, and especially in federal politics. They are, in effect, like a nation-wide opinion poll. Governments are not required to implement the revealed will of the people, and, if they do, it requires them to pass an Act of Parliament. A plebiscite is not the usual nor a major means of having the public’s voice heard in our form of democracy. The claim that refusing to hold a plebiscite undermines our democratic rights is simply absurd. To reverse the logic, if refusing a plebiscite were an undermining of democratic rights, then we should also be campaigning loudly for plebiscites on a whole range of other issues: for example, renewable energy, or immigration detention.

Rather, the way for the voice of same-sex marriage opponents to be heard on this issue is the same as on any other: to engage in public debate and the media, to lobby and write to our political representatives. This is a right we have already been afforded. The kind of “direct democracy” expressed in a plebiscite is not the foundation of our form of democracy. Rather, we elect representatives to make decisions on our behalf. If those representatives, and the public to whom they are answerable, aren’t persuaded, well, they aren’t persuaded. Welcome to representative democracy.

Christians are right to be worried about same sex marriage. But insisting on a plebiscite is the wrong way to go about it. Christians should instead revel in the opportunity to persuade. It is this “right” we should insist upon: not a plebiscite specifically, but a more general right to continue to be heard—as a minority within a secular (not secularist) pluralistic democracy. We should, remembering Jesus’ call to treat others as we would have them treat us, insist upon this right even for our opponents. We have the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, a free gift of grace, a compelling offer which we hold out with hopeful prayer that many will respond and be saved, and that the common good will be served. We seek to persuade.


‘God on Campus’: Podcast on ABC Radio National’s ‘Earshot’

Late last year I was privileged to be part of a conversation about studying theology in a secular culture. We talked about questions such as ‘What contribution does theology make to the common good in a secular age?’ and ‘Should secular governments fund education in private religious colleges?’

The program is brilliant. In addition to myself, a number of other theology students, and religious studies students, the podcast features theologians like James K. A. Smith and Sydney’s Michael Jensen, as well as religious studies professor Christopher Hartney from the University of Sydney. Producer Allison Chan has done a terrific job.

You can download/listen online here. If you have a listen, let me know what you thought in the comments below.

SOCIETAS 2014: Into All The World

Societas 2014 Cover ThumbnailMoore Theological College, where I’ve started studying this year, has an annual student publication named Societas. It’s an opportunity for students to do some writing, as well as acting as a prayer resource for the College’s supporters.

I have an article in this year’s edition, investigating the scriptural shape of Christian political witness: ‘Justice Spoken, Prayed, Embodied’. You can read it online here (my article begins on page 41). There are a bunch of other excellent articles inside, as well as profiles of my fellow first-year students (and the other years, too).

A Theological Reflection on the Legacy of Gough Whitlam

GoughThe Bible Society of Australia have kindly published a short piece I wrote on Gough Whitlam’s legacy and the Christian doctrine of common grace. Apart from the fact that he’s one of my favourite Australian Prime Ministers, the death of any political leader presents an opportunity not only to assess their political legacy, but to reflect on how God works for the good of his creation through the secular authorities he has ordained.

You can read it here.

Economics & Theology: A Conversation with Wayne Grudem

Unbelievable?Recently I had the privilege of taking part in a an episode of the UK podcast ‘Unbelievable?’, hosted by Justin Brierley, in which I discussed theologian Wayne Grudem’s new book on solutions to global poverty with Wayne Grudem himself. (Thanks to Justin for having me on the show). The podcast is now online, here. A special welcome to anyone visiting my blog for the first time, having heard the podcast – be aware that my blogging is both sporadic and diverse, but I hope you find something worthwhile!

The conversation with Professor Grudem gave me an opportunity to explore the intersection of theology and economics – a particular interest of mine – in a way that I haven’t for a while, and so I thought some follow-up blog posts might be in order. In my review of Professor Grudem’s book for the Bible Society I was only able to scratch the surface of these issues; in addition, some of Professor Grudem’s responses to my criticisms on the podcast were, I think, insufficient.

Continue reading “Economics & Theology: A Conversation with Wayne Grudem”

Simple Love, Refugees, and the Good Samaritan, Or, How to Be A Neighbour

An edited version of a talk delivered at an information day for Simple Love, a group of Christians serving refugees in Australian communities by providing food parcels to welfare organizations specializing in meeting the needs of refugees. A shorter version of this article was first published by the Bible Society at http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/refugees-good-samaritan-neighbour.



Our country is deeply confused and conflicted about the situation of refugees. The situation gets constant airplay, and with a media devoted to snappy sound bites and a twenty-four hour, fast-paced news cycle, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction and work out what’s really going on.

Continue reading “Simple Love, Refugees, and the Good Samaritan, Or, How to Be A Neighbour”