The fallout from a controversial conference appears to have widened a schism between conservative and moderate forces in the Christian community, with one church leader warning of a Dominionist movement seeking to impose itself on society and government.
Since the Church & State summit in late February sparked headlines, including in Nine Newspapers, criticisms have been levelled from both directions in Christian media outlets and on other blogs.
Concern is increasing among the moderate and progressive sections of Christian society about the rise of an American-style Christian Right movement which is adopting a Trumpian tone, obsessing about ‘culture war’ politics and scheming to take over political parties.
In one of the latest signs of this development, an Adelaide-based Christian minister has accused groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby of pursuing an agenda “straight out of the Dominionist theology playbook” to increase their influence over society and government.
Reverend Craig de Vos (pictured), of the North Adelaide Baptist Church, told his congregation on 14 March that the desire of the Christian Right to impose their conservative beliefs, values and morality had “shades of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale” about it.
“It would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic or potentially so dangerous,” said Reverend De Vos.
Here is part of his sermon, for which the audio is available on the church’s website:
“The Religious Right in this country want to take over the government either by stealthy insurrection or – ‘just kidding’ – by more aggressive means because they feel slighted, even persecuted, because all of us godless heathens don’t share their anti-science and conspiracy-laden ideas, their selective Biblical literalism, their Taliban-like morality and their prehistoric values.
“And they want the power to impose those beliefs, values and morality on the rest of us. But, of course, they’re only doing it for our own good! After all, they’re just being faithful Christians! They’re simply following the Bible!”
John Sandeman, the editor of Christian media outlet Eternity News, has noted an intensification in the divide between the Christian ‘Left’ and ‘Right’.
Since the Church & State summit, his publication has been a focal point for debate and has attracted its own criticism from the Right, including for an opinion piece by a Presbyterian minister who raised concerns about the importation of America-style conservatism.
“I was aware that this had been building and building – perhaps over the last year, perhaps over the last two years – and, sooner or later, it was going to be something Eternity had to deal with,” Sandeman told the Political Animals podcast recently.
The fault line between the Christian Left and Right is running along political issues, with those on the Left concerned primarily with climate change, refugees and Indigenous issues, while those on the Right being concerned with issues such as abortion, national defence and religious freedom.
Rationalist Society of Australia president Meredith Doig points out that most Australians are wary of extremist ideologies.
“Even in America, aggressive Christian nationalist policies are putting people off, leading to a dramatic decline in church membership and a corresponding increase in those identifying as having no religion. Our own research shows the same in Australia: very few religious Australians approve of aggressive religious leaders,” she says.
Despite the current noise, Sandeman believes there is much overlap among Christians on such issues and says recognising this is the key to having a civilised discussion.
“At the end of the day, we all have to work out whether we want to be polarised or be talking across that divide. In fact, I think that divide is actually a little bit of a myth,” he says.
“I would have thought there would be a vast number of Christians in that category. So we’re talking here about the excluded middle.
“If you truly believe that Christians really are over at either one of the poles, I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe that but I am saying that it’s worthy of you poking your head out from time to time and looking around and seeing what other people think.”
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
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