Surf's up for believers in office

Tony Abbott wipes out in front of Mike Baird

With the arrival of Tony Abbott and Mike Baird in power, the two most important political offices in the nation are now occupied by former trainee priests. This follows on from recent church-going Labor leaders. John Warhurst examines the subject.

There is a new ingredient in the perennial debate about religion and politics in Australia and that is Mike Baird, the new Premier of NSW. He once studied theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, with a view to becoming an Anglican minister.

Move over Tony Abbott. The new NSW Coalition government, led by Baird and the Nationals’ Andrew Stoner, has even been described as 'shaping as the most devout in living memory.' Baird has drawn headlines such as 'Onward Christian soldier.'

Both Baird and Abbott trained and aspired to be clergymen, Baird Anglican and Abbott Catholic. They are each opposed to same-sex marriage and hold conservative positions on other moral issues.

They are also surrounded by others of religious faith. In Baird’s case his chief of staff, Bay Warburton, and Stoner, who participates in the evangelical C3 Church.

In Abbott’s case there are the many other devout Catholic ministers, including Kevin Andrews, as well as several ministers who are Protestant, including Scott Morrison.

The differences between the two men are that Baird’s faith is much more likely to be considered at the personal, individual level, while Abbott’s position is usually discussed in relation to his connections with the Catholic Church, with all its international historical baggage, contemporary political strength and its large organisational presence in education, health and welfare services.

Put bluntly, Catholics have traditionally been seen as a greater threat to the separation of church and state than Anglicans. The Vatican connection is part of this presumption but so is the supposed intensity of Catholic beliefs.

My calculation is that the community is divided roughly into thirds between churchgoing believers, cultural or census Christians, Muslims and Jews, and secular non-believers in equal measure.

Baird and Abbott can be placed in a smaller group, perhaps 5 or 10 per cent at most, who take their religious beliefs particularly seriously.

In very recent times serious religious believers have clearly been doing very well in achieving senior political leadership. 

In NSW, Kristina Keneally was a religiously literate, churchgoing Catholic with post-graduate credentials in theology. At the federal level, Kevin Rudd was a seriously churchgoing Anglican who introduced religion into party and public debate and called himself a Christian Socialist.

In both jurisdictions, then, serious Christians have been well over-represented compared to others in recent times.

Read full article: Faith and church loom large for Baird and Abbott (The Canberra Times)


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