I spent some time recently talking to far right Christian political candidates about the environment. Some acknowledged environmental issues as important but their visceral dislike of the Greens and of environmentalists in general was palpable. For that reason I was pleased to be interviewed for this timely and scholarly assessment of where the Greens stand visa viz Christianity - and the Judeo Christian ethic more generally. I was also pleased to get an honourable mention.
You will find the article at the link below, and I have reproduced it here. What it reveals (in my view) is an increasing schism in Western Christianity between industrial and post industrial values. This is something I explore in more detail in my book.
The 'Godless Greens': Pernicious myth or political reality?
Marion Maddox ABC Religion and Ethics
27 Aug 2013
Church and political leaders have portrayed the Australian Greens as anti-Christian, pagan or atheist. But this doesn't fit with the religious convictions of their candidates or the party's history. Credit: www.shutterstock.com
"We don't think automatically of the Greens as a party that embraces religious communities," ABC broadcaster Andrew West remarked when introducing a profile on the religious background of Australian Greens leader Christine Milne. He was reflecting a widespread view, with critics repeatedly labelling the Greens "anti-Christian," "atheistic" or "anti-religious."
In the lead-up to the 2010 federal election and the 2011 New South Wales election, these claims escalated, being propounded by Members of Parliament, church leaders and representatives of think tanks. Any effect of this characterisation on the vote is tricky to quantify. Concretely, at least one Greens campaigner was prevented from distributing how-to-vote materials or displaying party advertising at a polling place because the polling place was a Catholic church whose priest objected to a Greens presence on church property. Two Greens candidates reported losing campaign workers because, as Catholics, the workers felt they could no longer volunteer for a movement their parish priest had denounced as anti-Christian.
This portrayal of the Greens was part of a general denunciation which, in 2011, saw Prime Minister Julia Gillard declare that "The Greens will never embrace Labor's delight at sharing the values of everyday Australians ... who day after day do the right thing, leading purposeful and dignified lives, driven by love of family and nation," and in 2013 Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announce preference deals in which "everywhere, everywhere, no exceptions, the Greens are behind the Labor Party because they [Greens] are economic fringe dwellers."
Christianity and environmental concern
This is not the place for a comprehensive survey of ecotheology, but theological traditions of environmental ethics are well-established across the denominational spectrum. Nearly half of all churchgoers, and nearly one-quarter of all Australians, identify as Catholic, which has a long tradition of ecospirituality - associated with, for example St. Francis of Assisi, modern Catholic theologians such as Thomas Berry, Rosemary Radford Ruether and, in Australia, Denis Edwards, and prominent in church documents such as the 2011 statement on climate change by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which called on "all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems," and in exhortations such as Pope Francis's homily at his installation, in which he urged Catholics to "be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment."
The next largest cohort of Australian Christians is Protestants (such as Anglicans, Uniting Church, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterian, Churches of Christ and so on). Ecotheologians in this tradition include Jurgen Moltmann, Sallie McFague and, in
Norman Habel. Calls for climate action have come from international bodies such
as the World Council of Churches, whose statements on environmental
responsibility date back to its Geneva Consultation on Technology and the
Future of Man and Society in 1970 and the Lausanne Movement, whose 2010 Capetown
Covenant declared: Australia
"The earth is created, sustained and redeemed by Christ. We cannot claim to love God while abusing what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance ... Creation care is a thus a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ. Such love for God's creation demands that we repent of our part in the destruction, waste and pollution of the earth's resources and our collusion in the toxic idolatry of consumerism. Instead, we commit ourselves to urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility."
The Eastern Orthodox make up 2-3% of the population, and their churches have a long engagement with ecological issues, including a series of statements by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople urging "respect for creation."
Pentecostals make up only 1% of Australians, but represent around 10% of churchgoers. Pentecostals have traditionally looked for the experience of the Holy Spirit in lived experience rather than in theological argument, and Pentecostal environmentalists include Tasmanian Erik Peacock. Although relatively new in Pentecostal circles, interest in ecotheology is rapidly emerging. In 2006, Pentecostal scholar Kylie Sheppard noted "virtually no explicit discussion of Creation in Pentecostal literature," instead finding "an anthropocentric understanding of Creation" coupled in some quarters with a tendency to "reject this world in anticipation of enjoying the future world." She conducted a close analysis of sermons and practice at
Citipointe megachurch, one of Brisbane 's
largest Pentecostal churches which is also the home-base of the Christian
Outreach Centre. She found that neither the senior pastor's sermons nor the
church's practical decisions (for example, design of its building extensions)
showed much awareness of or interest in environmental concerns. However, she
also found "elements of the ... practices and beliefs" of both
Citipointe and the wider Pentecostal movement which "suggest a potential
for Pentecostalism to engage with sustainability." Australia
Her prediction proved correct. Pentecostal contributions to ecotheology to have emerged since her assessment include work by Aaron Swoboda and Amos Yong. Citipointe, where Shepperd conducted her analysis, has an affiliated college, Christian Heritage College (CHC). In 2009, a faculty member, historian Richard Leo, published an article in The Christian Teachers Journal, aimed at teachers in Christian schools, arguing that "in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis and when refugees are again knocking on our borders perhaps we would be wise to consider how God commands us to live in peace and harmony with his creation." Leo explained that, although his position was "not a mainstream one" among his colleagues, with some "among the older generation of Pentecostals" given to "routinely question climate science," he had observed that "students and the younger generation are used to talking in terms of sustainability." The article had resulted in an invitation to lead the staff retreat on "Sustainability 101" at a Christian school, which, according to Leo, had been "very well received." Another CHC faculty member, geographer Richard Wallace, is currently conducting a study on education for sustainability in Christian schools, explaining in an interview that "the motivation for my research is to bring awareness of environmental issues to Christian teachers, show that sustainability is a Christian issue," and "the response is really positive, I've encountered almost nothing negative." A self-described Greens voter, he felt that one difference between Pentecostals and the wider environmental movement was that many Pentecostals do not accept the theory of evolution; but that this was far from being a bar to environmental activism, since - as a fellow surfer had put it to him during a beach encounter - "Christianity and the environment, never heard of that before, but it kind of makes sense, doesn't it, if you believe God made everything?"
Given these strong strands of Christian ecotheology, it is not surprising that practicing Christians from across the denominational spectrum have campaigned through environmental organisations such as Greenpeace and the Australian Conservation Foundation, through the major political parties, and some have represented the Greens in
State and federal parliaments. The first Green to sit in federal parliament was
Josephine ("Jo") Vallentine, a teacher and member of the Religious
Society of Friends (Quakers), elected to the Senate on the ticket of Greens
(WA) in 1990. Vallentine retired from the Senate in 1992, before the expiry of
her term; the Greens (WA) Senate position was filled by Christabel Chamarette,
a psychologist and Anglican. The first Greens Member of the House of
Representatives was Michael Organ, a university archivist and Catholic, elected
for the NSW seat of Cunningham in a by-election in 2002. He held the seat until
Like other Australians, Christians hold a range of positions on the environment, as on other political issues. Theological arguments can be (and are) invoked on both sides of many questions, including those which are often perceived as "religious" - such as abortion, marriage equality and private schooling. The branding of the Greens as "anti-Christian" turns out to have been a successful mischaracterisation on the part of opposed interests in the churches and wider community.
Who's afraid of the "Godless Greens"
In August 2010, two weeks before the federal election that delivered the hung parliament,
most senior Catholic and an outspoken climate change sceptic, Cardinal
George Pell, warned Catholic voters that the Australian Greens was
"thoroughly anti-Christian" and "sweet camouflaged poison."
According to the 2010
annual report of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL): Australia
"Although ACL is non-party partisan, it is committed to exposing un-Christ like agendas and has found it necessary to criticise the Greens who have driven a dramatic up-surge in anti-Christian, anti-life and anti-family legislation in 2010."
In the same report, Managing Director Jim Wallace wrote:
"The political environment shifted in 2010 with the rise of the Greens to unprecedented influence. The danger in the emergence of the Greens is that if the major parties pursue their dysfunctional and often aberrant policies in areas such as marriage, family, drugs, immigration, pornography and the economy, it threatens to pull the whole of politics into their agenda for social deconstruction. It is a shame that we do not have an environmental party with Christian values."
The 2011 NSW election campaign saw a similar pattern. Nine NSW Catholic bishops, led by Cardinal Pell (but not the bishops of Botany or Bathurst), signed a pastoral letter distributed in Catholic churches and through Catholic schools warning of "The Green Agenda," which caused "grave concerns" in the areas of religious freedom, school funding, drug use, marriage, abortion and euthanasia. The Bishops' statement was distributed particularly assiduously in NSW's Northern Rivers region. Local newspaper, the Northern Star, reported a few days later that the letter "already appears to be having an impact on the election, with reports of Catholic Greens supporters saying they will change their votes over it," while a volunteer announced her resignation from a Greens candidate's campaign "because of the letter."
Like many churches, the Catholic church of
Laboure in the parish of Gymea was hired by the Australian Electoral Commission
(for $550) for use as a polling place. A Greens campaign volunteer, Colin Ryan,
was told by Monsignor Brian Rayner that, unlike other party representatives, he
could not hang posters or distribute party material on church property, but
would have to stay on the footpath outside. Ryan explained in the parish newsletter
that he had sought advice from the Electoral Commission, which had advised that
he could remove placards from the church and school fence.
'This action by me was taken because the Greens party is opposed to aid to Catholic Schools, promotes gay marriage, euthanasia, abortion, etc. The Greens are often seen as a party which protects the environment. This is commendable. However, it is this often hidden platform and policies of which Catholics are unaware."
Rayner said he would have taken a similar action with respect to a Sex Party candidate, had one stood in his electorate. An Electoral Commission spokesperson said that the dispute was "between the parties concerned." The reasoning behind this is not especially clear, since Section 327 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 states that "a person must not hinder or interfere with the free exercise or performance, by any other person, of any political right or duty that is relevant to an election under the act," with a penalty of $1000 fine or six months imprisonment or both.
In August 2011, NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith told the Panel of Experts of the International Religious Liberty Association, meeting in Sydney, that the Australian Greens had "a strong atheistic and anti-religious tendency" and that it "would be fair to say that if the Greens had their way, people with any religious beliefs, particularly Christian ones, would not have any role or say in public life." When I asked from the floor how that tallied with the many Christians who had taken their beliefs into public life as Greens MPs and candidates, he replied that he was aware of some who "claimed" to be Christian, but that they needed to consider the denunciations of their party by "bishops and archbishops."
Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Community Services Kevin Andrews wrote in Quadrant in 2011 that Green politics relied on "a new pagan belief system, concerned not with the relationship between humans and a creator, but based on a deification of the environment," and that:
"What is at stake in the Greens' 'revolution' is the heart and soul of Western civilisation, built on the Judeo-Christian/Enlightenment synthesis that upholds the individual - with obligations and responsibilities to others, but ultimately judged on his or her own conscience and actions - as the possessor of an inherent dignity and inalienable rights."
22 February 2012, Stephen
O'Doherty, former Liberal Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly (1992-2002)
and then CEO of Christian Schools Australia, told ABC
radio that the Greens "seem to be very anti-religious." In an online
video interview with The Australian newspaper on Easter weekend
2012, Cardinal Pell reiterated that the Greens are "quite explicit about
their opposition to Christianity."
The Australian Christian Lobby posted a media release on its website on 22 July 2012 under the headline "Labor win in Melbourne bodes well for removal of Greens at Federal poll," in which ACL chief of staff Lyle Shelton worried that "mistakenly associating with" the Greens was "causing Labor to damage its brand with mainstream voters." Despite repeatedly claiming on its website to be "non-party partisan," the ACL enthused, "There is a real opportunity now for Labor and the Coalition to combine to see Mr Bandt removed from the Parliament." The ACL continued this theme during the 2013 election campaign, issuing a media release on
14 August 2013:
"ACL's Managing Director Lyle Shelton welcomed Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's announcement to preference Greens candidates last in the lower house and urged Labor to do likewise - particularly in the Senate.
Labor has a choice to woo back the Christian constituency which helped elect Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2007 or choose the Greens which have significantly damaged Labor's primary vote and brand ... Labor has many Senate candidates who are attractive to Christian voters but a preference deal with the Greens would be a turn-off."
ACL's view that the Greens should be "removed from Parliament" was not unique to those opposing the party on theological grounds. The Australian declared on
9 September 2010
that "Greens leader Bob Brown ... and his Green colleagues are hypocrites;
... they are bad for the nation; and ... should be destroyed at the ballot
box." The newspaper's coverage amounted, according to political scientist Robert
Manne, to "a kind of jihad against the Greens, a party supported by
1.5 million of the nation's citizens" in a manner which "in itself,
undermines any claim to fairness or to balance."
Characterisations of the Greens as "pagan," "atheist" or "thoroughly anti-Christian" are difficult to reconcile either with the party's history or with the range of people who have committed their time and other resources to its electoral success.
The Australian Greens is a confederation of eight State- and territory-based political parties. The first Green party in
- indeed, the world - was the United Tasmania Group, formed in 1972, which
evolved into the Tasmanian Greens. The first two Greens in the Senate, and the
first Green elected to the House of Representatives, all identified as
Christians. In August 2013, the Australian Greens' federal representation was
nine Senators and one Member of the House of Representatives. In addition, the
party had 21 representatives in State and Territory parliaments, and over 100
local councillors. In all, 61 Greens have been elected to federal, State and
Territory parliaments. In the 2010 federal election, 1.45 million House of
Representatives votes were cast for the Greens, and 1.66 million Senate votes. Australia
Western Australian Senator Jo Vallentine was initially elected to represent the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the 1984 federal election, but left the party in 1985 and sat first as an Independent, then for the "Vallentine Peace Group" and finally, from 1990, for the Greens (WA). In her James Backhouse Memorial Lecture, Quakers in Politics: Pragmatism or Principle, delivered to the annual meeting of the Society of Friends in the year that she became a Greens representative, she recounted how she was mentored into politics by an older generation of Quaker activists, and decided to run for office after prayer for "leading" (the Quaker term for divine guidance). Perhaps appropriately, then, her election to the Senate was announced while she was attending a Quaker Peace Camp. While a Senator, she ran her office according to Quaker principles:
"We attempt to operate a non-hierarchical model, using consensus decision-making. For example, everyone is paid the same daily rate, with my contribution to that equaliser being the handing over of my entire electorate allowance ($17,000 pa) to the team, to be spent as the group decides."
She also endeavoured, in the midst of the Parliamentary routine and demands of a trans-continental commute, to maintain her Quaker spirituality:
"The start of my daily routine is fresh air and exercise, coupled with meditation, supplication and affirmation all combined ... Of course, I value meeting for worship enormously, but because of so many weekend commitments, my attendance is irregular. But it's always renewing ... When things go badly, I know it's because I haven't been paying enough attention to the spiritual dimension."
At least one aspect of Quaker tradition created potential problems for her role as a Senator. Elected on a platform of environmental protection and opposition to the nuclear weapons industry, Vallentine felt she needed to maintain the Quaker commitment "to act as we believe, to ensure a correspondence between our outward, visible lives and our inward, spiritual concerns," including through civil disobedience which, as she noted, "has landed Quakers in gaol ever since 1660." She ascertained that "as long as I didn't do anything dreadful enough to attract a gaol sentence of one year, I could not be thrown out of the Senate." Vallentine was arrested three times during her parliamentary career - at an American nuclear test site in
on Mother's Day 1987, at the Nevada
spy base in Pine Gap, south-west of United States Alice Springs in the
, later in
1987, and attempting to handcuff herself to a British nuclear ship in Fremantle
harbour during the bicentennial celebrations in 1988. Northern Territory
After eight years, the marathon commute from
to Perth took its toll on her
health and she resigned in 1992, creating a casual vacancy. Her replacement was
Canberra psychologist Christabel Chamarette.
Interviewed in 2000, Senator Chamarette explained that she had become involved
in politics as a result of her work on the Social Responsibilities Committee of
the Anglican Diocese of Perth. A psychologist with experience in the prison and
mental health systems, after leaving Parliament in 1996, she served on the
Anglican Church of Australia's Professional Standards Committee for Perth . Western
The first Greens MP in the House of Representatives, Michael Organ, elected Member for the NSW seat of Cunningham in a federal by-election in 2002 was described in a 2004 party media release as "one of a number of practising Christians" among the Greens NSW candidates for that year's federal election. He was raised a Catholic and sent his children to the same Catholic school he had attended as a child, where the lessons of "compassion, peace and love" made "an easy fit" with the values he found in the Greens.
During the 2011 NSW election campaign, two Greens candidates from the Northern Rivers region, Sue Stock and Janet Cavanaugh, expressed disappointment with the Catholic bishops' pastoral letter, telling local newspapers that their own Christian commitments had been part of their reasons for joining the Greens. A third candidate, Simon Richardson, described Greens policies as "a very comfortable fit" with the values he had learned in his Catholic schooling, because "the Jesus I studied was concerned with compassion, equality, non-judgment and love" and "would look to the suppression of women, minority groups and the environment by current-day Pharisees with dismay."
added, "I'll leave the bishops stuck in the 1950s to explain themselves to
Him when they meet." Richardson
Christine Milne was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly in 1989 and to the Senate in 2004. She succeeded Senator Bob Brown as Leader of the Greens in federal Parliament in April 2012. She was raised a Catholic and attended Catholic schools from the age of ten, followed by residence in a Catholic university college. As a member of the Catholic Earthcare Advisory Committee, she delivered the second "Common Wealth for the Common Good" address in 2003, entitled "Reclaiming the Common Wealth for the Common Good: The Moral Challenges of Shaping a Sustainable Earth Community." The event commemorated the Australian Catholic Bishops' statement of 1992, Common Wealth for the Common Good, which Milne quoted:
"the Earth is God's creation intended for the use and enjoyment of all who inhabit it. Human beings have been entrusted with its stewardship. If this principle is accepted ... it is completely unacceptable for some inhabitants of the Earth to possess far more than they need while others lack the most basic necessities."
Interviews with Green candidates
To supplement these previously-recorded instances which seemed to challenge the "Godless Greens" characterisation, I interviewed Greens party members who have stood as endorsed candidates for local, state or federal government (often more than one) and who identify as Christian or who had publically discussed the relationship between religious faith and environmentalism. I contacted some by referral from Green party co-ordinators; others contacted me after an ABC radio broadcast mentioned the research. I conducted a total of thirteen interviews with Greens MPs or endorsed candidates. Here I concentrate on interviews with seven Greens candidates who identified as Christians.
The inclusion criterion with respect to party involvement for this part of the study was having been an elected representative or endorsed candidate for the Greens (including related groups such as Greens WA). The inclusion criterion with respect to religion was being a practising Christian at the time of the interviewee's being involved in the Greens. Not all the interviewees were the highest-profile Greens candidates: they were selected because of their willingness to articulate the connection between their political and theological commitments, and in party terms they are representative of the many people who do much of the heavy lifting in all political parties, without necessarily achieving national recognition. The selection criteria did not involve any minimum level of church involvement beyond being willing to articulate a connection between their Christian and Green commitment; but those who volunteered for this part of the study all turned out to have high levels of church involvement, beyond just attending services.
David Collis is a Masters of Theology graduate and former church social justice worker who stood for the federal seat of Bruce in 2001, the State seat of Pascoe Vale in 2006 and the federal seat of Willis in 2007 and for Deputy Lord Mayor of
in 2012. Lin
Hatfield-Dodds stepped aside as National Director of the Melbourne 's national social welfare
arm, UnitingCare, in order to lead the Greens ACT Senate ticket in 2010. Rob
Humphreys is an ordained minister of the Uniting
Church in Uniting
and stood for local and state government in Victoria ,
and is on the Victorian Senate ticket in 2013. Lisa Owen is a Catholic laywoman
who has run several social justice activities in her local parish and stood for
the Victorian federal seat of Wannon in 2007 and 2010. Jim Reiher is a former
theological college lecturer and author of three books on theology who, at the
time of the interview, was working in full-time urban mission for the Churches
of Christ denomination. His Greens involvement included standing for the
division of Holt in the Victorian State election in 2005, on the Victorian
Senate ticket in 2007 and for the federal seat of La Trobe in 2010, and being
spokesperson for the Victorian Greens youth policy. Andrew Robjohns is a Victoria member who, when we spoke,
was chair of his church council and Deputy Mayor of Uniting
Church North Sydney,
and also stood as the Greens candidate for North Sydney
in the 2010 federal election. Tim Senior is a elder and lay preacher who
stood as a Greens candidate for Wollondilly Shire Council, south-west of Uniting
in 2008. Sydney
Why they joined the Greens
It goes without saying that environmental issues are central to Greens recruits' concerns. Most interviewees, however, stressed the confluence of environmental, human rights, and social justice concerns. Dismay at the major parties' actions towards refugees had been a significant trigger for several. Lisa Owen told me that she had always been environmentally conscious, and had tried to persuade her parish priest to lead the church community in initiatives such as composting, a vegetable patch and tree planting. She said, "I think that you cannot be Christian without being an environmentalist, because the earth is God's creation, and we've been given stewardship over it." To her, the fact that "we have this incredible soil, and people are about to ruin it all by mining for oil and coal seam gas, and yet we're not allowed to put up windfarms" was "sinful." As a Catholic, "My being a Green is a response to the changes of Vatican II, a holistic way of living - my faith can't be separated from [my politics]."
The immediate stimulus sending her into the Greens was the "Tampa episode" in August 2001, when Prime Minister John Howard refused permission for a Norwegian freighter, the MV Tampa, to enter Australian waters with the 438 refugees the Tampa's crew had rescued from their stranded 20m wooden fishing boat. Owen explained, "They call us [people who joined in reaction to the affair] the '
Greens'. I've always cared about the environment, but for me the forefront
issue was human rights." Her parish's social justice group called a public
meeting in response to the Tampa
crisis and were surprised when, in their country town, over 400 people
attended. The meeting formed working groups to take on different tasks, such as
lobbying and detention centre visiting. After the meeting, "I joined the
Greens, because the nuns, who were at the heart of [the group], said 'We're all
Greens', so I joined up, and at the third or fourth meeting [the group] asked
me to be the convenor." The nuns were the same order as the ones who had
taught Owen at school, and "I was just floored when they held up the
Greens as the model to follow." Tampa
Similar motivations drove David Collis. After studying four years of theoretical physics and applied maths followed by four years of politics and psychology, Collis undertook a graduate diploma and then Masters in biblical studies. He explained:
"My first encounter with [practical] politics was when I'd just finished my politics degree, and I was working for the Jubilee 2000 and Water Matters campaigns, living in
I thought, 'Which party actually cares about the poorest of the poor?' The
Greens and the Democrats actually supported debt cancellation (which was the
theme of Jubilee 2000). The Greens were grassroots. When the Collins
Street Baptist Church
happened, the only person talking about asylum seekers in a humane way was Bob
Collis was also impressed by hearing Brown speak next to a unionist at a rally to save a heritage building:
"The unionist was saying that buildings are part of human creativity; and Bob Brown said, 'Yes, and buildings are part of the substance of the earth, so it's appropriate for an environmentalist to stand with a unionist.'"
Tim Senior is a doctor who moved to
from the Australia to
work in Indigenous health. His family was traditionally Methodist "going
back generations on both sides ... My mum said Jesus would have been a
socialist. For mum, her faith always came first. As the [British] Labour party
moved to the right, she stayed in, but her faith meant more." For Senior: UK
made it easier to break the bonds with Labour. The Greens was the only party I
consistently agreed with. They were the only ones making sensible statements
about the environment, human rights, refugees, Aboriginal issues." Australia
Andrew Robjohns joined the Liberal Party on his sixteenth birthday, and then formed a branch "because there wasn't one for me to join." He left the Liberal Party when John Howard returned to the leadership because "I couldn't stand the nastiness," specifying race relations and human rights as particular concerns. To him, the Greens and the church both encompass "Jesus' vision of living with other people, especially people who were previously enemies."
Like Robjohns, Rev. Rob Humphreys described himself as a "lifelong Liberal voter" until he found he could no longer support the Liberals after 1998 because he felt that the party was too close to Pauline Hanson, and "I could see where all that was going." He voted Democrat for a few elections, before joining the Greens. He felt quite at home in the party, whose consensus decision-making process was very similar to that used by the
Churches of Christ theologian Jim Reiher had resigned from the Greens by the time of our interview. He described the break as neither final nor ideological, but for the sake of concentrating on other things, including writing a book. When I contacted him to check facts for this paper, he said that, although he had not rejoined the party, he expected to be helping his Green friends on polling booths in September 2013. He described his path into the Greens as closely related to his theological journey.
Reiher came from a Labor family: his father, an ALP member and bread carter, had favourite sayings, including "God put our hearts a little left of centre." The household was not particularly religious to begin with. Reiher converted to Christianity as a teenager, followed first by his sister and then his parents. His early religious experiences saw him moving between Anglicans, Assemblies of God and Baptists. After lecturing at the Assemblies of God's
he moved at the beginning of 2000 to Harvest
Bible College , a multi-denominational Bible
college which describes itself as "Bible-based, evangelical and
charismatic," where "students are not expected to agree with
everything taught" and "no attempt will be made by the College to
impose doctrines on students." The atmosphere seems to have come as a
relief to Reiher, who described "an important turning point" in 2000:
he "gave up trying to be a fundamentalist" and in 2002 decided to
join the Greens. Tabor College
"I was always politically left of centre. I tried hard to be theologically conservative because I was told by Christians from when I was aged 16 onwards that that's how it had to be. 12 years ago, I made a conscious decision that I couldn't be."
Lin Hatfield-Dodds stepped down from her position as National Director of the
's social justice arm,
UnitingCare, in order lead the Greens' ACT Senate ticket in 2010. Her attempted
move from into politics was prompted by: Uniting
"A genuine sense of 'call'. It didn't come as letters of fire on the wall, but it was a definite call. In my family of origin and in the
tradition I am a part of, you never see a problem without trying to be part of
the solution. I spent years bemoaning the shallowing of public policy and the
professionalization of politics. I've been lucky enough to be loved all my
life, to have had a tertiary education, and at some point you have to think,
'I've got to be available for public service, rather than just throwing up my
hands'." Uniting Church
Theology and politics
The participants represented a wide theological spectrum, including Catholic and Protestant, theologically liberal and evangelical. All emphasised a connection between their theology and politics. Andrew Robjohns had been involved in the church as a child, but left at the age of nine: "I was interested in the theology, but not in the paper cut-out Jesus." He resumed a church involvement in his thirties, after he had joined the Greens, and as a result of contacting churches to organise a local demonstration against the invasion of
He explained: Iraq
"My political and also theological position comes from Jesus: when you work out how to live with the enemy ... Jesus's kingdom has been 2000 years coming, and I think it is achievable in our lifetime, but so many people seem waiting for someone else to make it happen."
Jim Reiher mused:
"I can't see how people can read the scriptures and not come out on the left. It grieves me that people can read the scriptures and don't make the step of applying it to their lives. Everything about the Liberal Party is about accumulating wealth. Tony Abbott made a joke about 'the Good Samaritan wasn't a public servant' - but what was he really saying?"
Several interviewees particularly valued the fact that going to church compelled them into close community with people with whom they did not necessarily have much else in common and with whom they did not necessarily agree about very much. Tim Senior reflected:
"Church is the only place I go where I meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds, where we care for and support each other and devote our attention to thinking about other people and direct our attention to them in prayer. There's no other place where that happens. It's that combination of intellectual and emotional engagement."
To Rob Humphreys, the
minister, "What the Greens stand for is totally consistent with what the
church is on about. The Greens are what the church stands for minus the
God-talk." Others were at pains to stress that their fellow church members
come to different political views. For Lin Hatfield-Dodds: Uniting Church
"If you drew a Venn diagram with the values, ways of acting and so on, the Greens and the
overlap a lot for me. For
plenty of Uniting
people they wouldn't, for plenty of Greens they wouldn't, so it's very
personal." Uniting Church
Tim Senior reflected:
"It seems obvious to me that we should value every individual. I don't know whether I have that from my faith and then apply it outwards, or whether I'd have it even if Christianity didn't hold that. I'm very happy for other people to be nonreligious, atheist, Muslim, or other views. Christianity gives me a vocabulary for saying how we should value other people, and one that engages the emotions. It's not enough just to know that we should be nice to other people, you have to feel it as well. When you see someone in need, that's your God looking back at you."
David Collis no longer identified as a Christian by the time of our interview, explaining he had "gradually drifted away from theism, towards a similar value system." Nevertheless, he had no regrets about doing his Masters of Theology, with a thesis on Isaiah 44 - "a beautiful passage, I still love it." The Greens and traditional religion shared "a value system which is in touch with ... streams of deep historical and cultural value."
Faith and policy
As one might expect for endorsed candidates, all the interviewees supported not just the environmental and human rights aspects of Greens policy, but also the aspects, such as marriage equality and assisted voluntary euthanasia, most stringently attacked by conservative Christian critics. The Christian candidates in my sample did not merely take these policies on sufferance, or as a matter of compromise: they insisted that they comprised essential parts of an integrated theological and political vision.
Jim Reiher explained, "I am pro-choice. I'd love to see no abortions, but banning it doesn't work. There are better ways to reduce the abortion rate." He also said, "I support gay marriage," and in 2013 his website carries an article entitled "Why Some Christians Support Gay Marriage in the Wider Community." Lisa Owen found it hard to imagine how a Christian could not support marriage equality, a view that she traced back to her theological studies under George Pell thirty-five years earlier.
"Same-sex attracted teenagers are eight times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual teenagers. Just in that figure there - if you can't get married, you're an outsider ...
Christ said nothing against homosexuality, not one word ... Christ was a rebel. Christ came to redeem humanity and involve everyone in God's saving grace. Marriage is a malleable institution, it's been constantly changing, we've had polygamy, slavery, it's all been a part of marriage - so how can we say that marriage is just this one, narrow thing?
As far as the sacrament is concerned, it happens between the couple; they don't even have to go to church. Something evolves between the couple, and therein lies the physical presence of God on earth. So how does that exclude same sex couples? We have developed rites of passage, and they have become very important in our society. They are about property as far as the state is concerned, but also it's about community, communities come together and share in the life of that couple, and share in the love of that couple. And if you belong to a group that's shut out of that, then you're shut out of community.
And marriage is the beginning point of family - well, for some - and family is the starting point of community, and community is vital to Christianity, to how we get together and fix the world. So if you're a same-sex attracted teen, of course you're going to feel more depressed, anxious, shut out of community."
The interviewees knew that their political views were not shared by everyone in their church circles. They also believed that their Christian faith was also a minority position within the Greens; but few had experienced hostility from either side. Lisa Owen described her Greens colleagues' reaction to her faith as "more bewildered than anti." Andrew Robjohns commented that most people in his congregation "are pretty conservative - they probably mostly still vote Liberal because they liked Bob Menzies! - but they are generally supportive of having a Greens councillor in church."
Over successive State and federal elections, the ACL, along with some other church and parachurch organisations, distributed "Christian Values Voter Guides," scoring the parties' policies against "Christian values." ACL's guides have consistently scored the Greens last, as the party whose policies correlate least with "Christian values." During the 2006
election, Reiher, Collis and Humphreys became frustrated by the ACL's
distribution of voter guides portraying the Greens as failing to uphold
Christian values, and so produced their own unofficial election flyer. On one
side it read, "The Greens and Christian Values Go Hand In Hand," with
six dot points drawing comparisons between Green policy and Christian principles
(care for creation, justice for all, freedom from oppression, being
peacemakers, fair distribution of resources and respect for human diversity).
The other side read "Let Your Faith in God be Seen: Vote Green," with
supporting quotations from the Old Testament book of Micah, the New Testament
Gospel of Matthew, and "Jim Reiher, Theology Lecturer." Victorian State
The origins of the myth
The portrayal of environmentalists as "anti-Christian" or "anti-religious" is not unique to
Internationally, it has been promoted by a group called the Cornwall Alliance,
whose backers are closely aligned with fossil fuel interests. In Australia ,
such claims emerged with particular force in the lead up to the 2010 federal
election. However, they had at least a 25-year history in Australian political
debate, originating with neither church nor political leaders, but with mining
executives whose theological pronouncements earned them the nickname "the
fundamentalists" from colleagues in rival companies, and their
spokesperson the moniker "Hugh the Baptist." Australia
In May 1984, Hugh Morgan, Executive Director of Western Mining Corporation and immediate past president of the Australian Mining Industry Council, addressed the Council's annual Mining Outlook Seminar, held in Canberra and attended by the federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Clyde Holding and Federal Home Affairs and Environment Minister Barry Cohen. It was to them, rather than to the mining executives, that Morgan particularly addressed his remarks. The speech, which takes up over 11 pages in the published proceedings, was almost entirely about theology. Mining companies, he argued, were following the New Testament's instructions. "Our task, our obligation ... in terms of St. Paul's exhortation, first to the Corinthians 1900 years ago [1 Corinthians 7:20] and ever since as a continuing demand is to be good miners, successful miners, profitable miners." So clashes between mining companies and their critics - environmentalists and supporters of Indigenous land rights - were nothing less than:
"[a] clash between the Christian orthodoxy of those who work, including the miners, who as St. Paul told us, are abiding in the same calling wherein we are called, and must perforce find the best orebodies wherever they may be; and the Manichean style commitments of those who regard rivers, or trees, or rocks, or aboriginal sites as belonging to the spiritual world; who regard such sites as incommensurable, and seek to legislate such incommensurability into the statute books."
The speech gained such traction that news and current affairs reports were still referring to it more than a year after its delivery. Morgan, who described himself as an Anglican but "only an occasional churchgoer," continued to establish the themes of "Godless Greens" that would prove so powerful decades later. In 1991, he framed the debate between mining companies and environmentalists as a "battle against the antinomians of environmentalism," warning of "the threats posed by the green antinomians, to the mining industry and to
The Hawke government's decision to ban mining at Coronation Hill in order to protect a sacred site of the Jawoyn people was evidence, he said, that the Prime Minister had "quite simply, become what is best described as a neo-pagan, and [Hawke's] defence of paganism has become more emotional as the Coronation Hill debate progressed." Christianity had to be defended because "some religions" - of which Christianity was one - "are more conducive to economic success than others."
In 1992, in the wake of the Rio Earth Summit, Morgan described the environmental movement as "a religious movement of the most primitive kind, nature worship, coupled with extreme distaste for the human race, which in a short space of time has established a dominant position among a powerful and influential group in Western society." Morgan characterised environmentalism as "chattering-class religion" promising "economic decline," while the Rio Earth Summit had produced a "commitment to global warming as an act of faith" which "represents a retreat into superstition."
Morgan's mission included restoring Christianity to theological orthodoxy. He explained in a speech to the H.R. Nicholls Society (a conservative ginger group co-founded by another Western Mining executive, Ray Evans) that he had realised in 1982, after criticism of the mining industry from the Uniting and Catholic churches' respective social justice bodies, that churches were central to what he termed "the Culture Wars." Morgan explained that the need to engage in "the Culture Wars" had been brought home to him by a comic book, produced by the social justice arms of the Uniting and Catholic churches in NSW, which criticised the mining industry's environmental and Indigenous rights record. Morgan threatened the churches with defamation and had the book's "tens of thousands of undistributed copies" pulped. Nevertheless, he "had not the background" for "engagement in the Culture Wars," so his theological crusades were "due so much to the encouragement of Ray in our very close working relationship at WMC." The "Ray" referred to here was Ray Evans, former Deputy Dean of Engineering at Deakin University, who joined Western Mining in May 1982. Evans's several think tank connections besides the H.R. Nicholls Society included the Lavoisier Group, founded in March 2000 with Morgan as President, devoted to challenging the science of climate change.
In 1994, the Galatians Group was founded by
minister Rev. Dr Max
Champion. Taking its name from St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians (3:28) -
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you
are all one in Christ Jesus" - the group followed the same model as the think
tanks started by Morgan, Evans and their associates: holding conferences with
eminent speakers and publishing proceedings. The group held four conferences,
at which Evans spoke at two (on "Justice and Millenarianism" and
"Gnosticism and the High Court") and another Western Mining employee
addressed a third. Other speakers addressed topics like "The Political
Seduction of the Church" and "The Green Utopians." Uniting
Evans is also acknowledged as the inspiration for a book published in 1995 by Bendigo academic Roger Sworder, entitled Mining, Metallurgy and the Meaning of Life: A Book of Stories Showing the Hidden Roots of the Great Debate over Mining and the Environment. The book argues that "of all the crafts and professions other than the priesthood, none has been more closely connected with the religious traditions of western peoples than mining and metallurgy" and that mining's modern critics are engaged in "an active rejection of the spirit."
In 1996, Morgan was appointed to the board of the Reserve Bank of
After a series of expensive corporate misadventures, Morgan retired from
Western Mining in 2003, sooner than planned, after efforts to "clip his
wings" and "curb his inflammatory tongue" on the part of the
company going back to the mid-1990s. Morgan's campaign to reclaim Christianity
for the mining industry was part of the wider "Culture Wars" which,
by the end of the 1990s, had had a considerable degree of success, repositioning
Christianity (or at least its public representation) to the right. Australia
Much of the crusade against "anti-Christian" Greens was taken up by the Australian Christian Lobby. Formed in 1995 as the Australian Christian Coalition, the group adopted its current name in 2001. Its website states that it "operates in the Federal Parliament, and in all the state and territory parliaments," although it does not appear on the register of parliamentary lobbyists. Its objections to the Greens derive significantly from the party's stance on marriage equality, opposition to which features so consistently in ACL campaigns that some observers have argued that ACL has become close to a single-issue organisation. Its website states that it is not "party partisan," making it worthwhile to examine further its consistent opposition to one party, which has extended to calling for the Greens' "removal" from federal Parliament. ACL's proximity to the mineral and resources sector should be considered as one source of such hostility to the Greens.
ACL's structure is corporate rather than democratic, with the Managing Director, state directors and the rest of its 20-member staff answering to a seven-member Board. The Board is chaired by Tony McLellan, a company chairman of not-for-profits and mining companies and director of the Liberal Party's think tank, the Menzies Research Centre. McLellan, in addition to his directorship of the Menzies Research Centre, has a background in mining, including, through Felix Resources, coal, an industry frequently at odds with both the Labor and Green parties during the 2010-2013 electoral term over the introduction of mining and carbon taxes. McLellan's other board activities have included Bemax Resources (mineral sands and titanium dioxide) and Norton Gold Fields. He is also chairman of ASX-listed Elementos Limited, which has an active exploration program for gold and silver in
ACL is a registered company limited by guarantee. It relies on donations from private individuals and businesses. It does not disclose names of its members or donors. The Power Index cited a membership of 15,000. Although it releases annual reports, these contain no financial records. The Power Index cited a budget of $2 million. Since 2007, Australian electoral law requires disclosure of political donations over a certain amount ($11,900 in 2012). ACL disclosed no donations for the financial years 2009-10 and 2011-12. In the financial year 2007-8, it received $113,239 from Bangarie Pty Ltd, the investment company of MYOB software entrepreneur Craig Winkler, a regular donor to many causes, including the conservative political party Family First. In 2010-11, it received $30,000 from Gloria Jean's Coffees International, $13,636 from superannuation firm Christian Super and $100,000 from an individual called Neil Golding. The post office box address given for Neil Golding on the Australian Electoral Commission disclosure form is the address of CQ Realty real estate business in
that this Neil Golding is the son and long-time business partner of Gladstone
mining and construction magnate Cyril Golding, whose Gladstone-based Golding
Contracting undertook mining, mine construction and mining infrastructure. Queensland
While these donations represent only a small proportion of the budget, they are consistent with the business and conservative party backgrounds of its founders and board members.
Christians, like other Australians, hold different opinions about the appropriate response to environmental problems. Despite occasional references to a supposed "Christian vote," Australian Christians have never voted as a bloc. Nevertheless, some church and political leaders have portrayed one party, the Greens, as "anti-Christian," "pagan," "atheist" or "anti-religious." Prima facie, this claim seems challenged by the numbers of Christians who have represented the Greens as candidates, including the first Greens to sit in each chamber of the federal Parliament. Interviews with Greens candidates who identified as practising Christians, exploring the connections they drew between their theological and political commitments, found that they understood their choice of party as being not in spite of, but as an expression of, their religious beliefs. In addition to environmental concerns, human rights was a paramount motivation, especially
treatment of asylum seekers. Australia
Claims that the Greens are "anti-Christian," "pagan," "atheist" or "anti-religious" are often justified by reference to aspects of the party's social policy, such as marriage equality and support for a right to assisted voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill. These topics are often the subject of heated debate within churches, and public opinion surveys suggest that support for such positions enjoys similar levels of support among Christians as in the general population. The candidates interviewed saw the Greens' position as a valid expression of a Christian ethic.
In addition to reservations about social policy, claims that the Greens are "anti-Christian," "pagan," "atheist" or "anti-religious" have sometimes rested on the idea that concern for the environment is akin to "nature-worship" or to various heretical positions such as Gnosticism, antinomianism or Manichaeism, and that support for the Greens represents a fundamental assault on the philosophical roots of "Western" or "Judaeo-Christian" civilisation. As far as my historical study has been able to ascertain, these ideas were first introduced into Australian political discourse not by theologians but by mining executives. That at least some of those promoting the "Godless Greens" theme in the public arena today, although speaking under the mantle of parachurch organisations, nevertheless share financial interests with those who stand to lose financially from Greens policies (such as a carbon price, mining tax and higher use of renewable energy), should be a further reason to exercise caution about such claims.
Further investigations of how the "Culture Wars" played out in
should include a focus on the switch in public characterisations of Christians
from soft-leftist "bleeding hearts" to opponents of that same
political tendency, especially as strong humanitarian and environmental
concerns become increasingly represented by the Greens. Australia
Professor Marion Maddox has been the Director of
for Research on Social Inclusion, and is currently an ARC Future Fellow
researching religion and politics in Macquarie
University . Australia
Tag Line: ecotheology, Marion Maddox, ecospirituality, the Greens, post modern Christianity, liberation theology, culture wars, Australian Christian Lobby