This is a time when our biblically based Christian worldview helps immensely. We understand all authority belongs to God and, because of this, human government can only ever operate with delegated authority. Furthermore, this delegated authority will only be exercised in ways that are less than God’s standards because humanity is broken and fallen.
Such a worldview helps us to have reduced expectations of what governments are capable of achieving. While we should always call them to govern well, we also have a healthy scepticism. We are not be surprised when a government is disappoints, for such is their nature. As Winston Churchill wisely said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.”
Our Christian worldview is also important when many in our community assert religion has nothing to do with politics. Citing the “separation of church and state” they demand that matters of state be a religion-free zone. This, however, is a misunderstanding of what the separation of church and state is all about, particularly when it comes to the role of faith in public life.
This is not what was in the mind of the children of those who had fled State-sanctioned religious persecution in Europe. In response they instilled within the constitution of the USA the notion of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.
Over a century later the writers of the Australian constitution had something similar in mind. Two clauses in the Australian constitution reflect this: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion” and “The Commonwealth shall not make any law … for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion”.
Even though similar to the USA, Australia has developed its own unique expression of the separation between Church and State. For instance, Queen Elizabeth remains our head of state even as in England she remains the head of the Church of England. By contrast, her representative in Australia, the Governor General, is head of state in Australia but has no relationship with any church or any religion.
Here the Australian constitution ensures no one denomination or religion can become an official national church. Thus any person, no matter what their religious belief, has the right to participate in public life and cannot be barred from participating because of their religion.
The separation of church and state is about freedom of religion. It is not freedom from religion as many in our community believe. Nor is it endeavouring to keep the church silent in matters of state. It is more than freedom to do what we like on Sundays or in our own home, it is the freedom to express your beliefs within the wider community and to act accordingly. Thankfully, unlike many countries, such an expression of faith in Australia is not yet a matter of life or death. Let’s pray it never is.
Voting often presents us with dilemmas and for many of us, this election is no different. As Christians we are continually confronted with the reality that our world is broken and in need of a saviour. That’s why we eagerly await his return, it will be the end of all such dilemmas.
In the meantime let us continue to pray that God will grant us the wisdom and patience we need to be his witnesses in our broken world.
Stephen L Baxter