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Australian Christian Lobby
Jim Wallace believes that the greatest lie that Christians ever believed is that they should not be involved in politics. That is part of the reason that he is Executive Chairman of Australia’s largest and most respected Christian political lobby group, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).
After 32 years in the Australian Army, including commanding the elite SAS Regiment, Jim Wallace retired to take leadership of the ACL. At that stage the Lobby was quite small, having moved from Brisbane to Canberra in order to expand its influence.
“Its quite simple,” explains Mr Wallace, “The Bible teaches us that righteousness exalts a nation. We are also called to be salt and light in this world. The political system is merely a method of organising society. I believe Christians should be active in politics as a source of love, truth, justice and righteousness.”
But in the rough world of politics, how does that happen?
The Australian Christian Lobby basically has three main functions. The first of these involves support for politicians who uphold Christian values.
Through the presence of lobbyists in Canberra and almost every state and territory, ACL is in constant contact with those politicians who are not afraid to support Christian principles. ACL acts as a source of support, as a coordinating organisation and as a clearing house for research on prominent issues. And this all happens regardless of party.
“Maintaining our political integrity is extremely important for ACL,” says Mr Wallace. “We work across party lines, supporting the person, not the party. At times it gets difficult, but at the end of the day we strive for impartiality. If there is a person within a party promoting Christian values, we will support that person.”
The second function that ACL performs is that of lobbying.
When an issue of relevance arises, ACL goes to speak to those people who make the decisions and influence them. “We don’t go in there quoting Scriptures,” says Jim, “but we do go in with what we believe is a Biblical approach, backed up by commonsense and good research. Also important, instead of just complaining about an issue, we try to offer solutions that are based on sound Christian values.”
When liaising with government, ACL does not pretend to speak as the representative of the Church in Australia, however it does represent what it believes is a Biblical position. Often, ACL is in a position to inform the Church in a timely way of issues on which it might need to be activated.
This was the situation that occurred around the time of the National Marriage Forum. Early in 2004, a same-sex couple that had been ‘married’ in Canada applied to have their marriage recognised in Australia. There was a real risk that marriage could have been defined by the courts, not parliament. The Government had announced its intention to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, however the legislation was meeting problems in the Senate.
In response, ACL was one of the three organisations behind the National Marriage Coalition, which organised the National Marriage Forum. This Forum in the Great Hall of Parliament House saw over 1000 people come and express their belief that marriage should be defined in law as between a man and a woman. Critical to this event was a Joint Statement, signed by representatives from a wide range of denominations. Representatives from the Coptic Orthodox, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Presbyterians, AOG and many others met Shadow Attorney General Nicola Roxon to express their views. And she listened. The legislation passed two weeks later.
“That was really a high point,” recalls Jim. “I think the best part was that so many denominations were represented, declaring to the politicians in unison their position on this issue. It was great to be able to help in coordinating that significant occasion.”
Of course, the Forum could not have been the success it was without the huge number of people that attended. They came from every state and territory in Australia, most deciding to come with little more than three weeks’ notice. This is where ACL performs its third and perhaps most vital function: informing, educating and activating Christians.
“Committed supporters is what really makes the difference in this arena,” says Jim. “In many ways, politics is about numbers. In this sense we have a real advantage because 68% of Australians declared themselves Christians in the last census, and 2 million people regularly attend church. Christians are the single largest ‘interest group’ in this country.”
Through a huge network of individual supporters and partner churches Australia-wide, ACL is able to inform Christians of issues that should be of concern to them. The Lobby can then present to them suggestions of what a Christian approach to the issue may be. From there, supporters are activated, whether it is calling their local member, writing into the local newspaper, emailing a committee inquiry or signing petitions.
Committed Christians made the difference in the Senate examination of the marriage issue. Over 16,000 submissions were received, a record for any committee of any sort, 99% of which were in favour of marriage remaining as it is. That involvement by the average person was crucial in securing bi-partisan support for the legislation.
“At the end of the day, that is what ACL strives for,” claims Mr Wallace. “We want Christians to be involved in the political process, to believe that they can make a difference and to understand how simple it is. ACL facilitates all of that.”
Educating and informing Christians was also a vital in the recently passed Federal election. ACL produced a short DVD that explained to Christians how they could maximise their votes by using the preference system. Also important were the Voters Guide that covered almost every electorate in Australia. Candidates in each electorate were asked ten simple questions on a range of topics. These responses were then compiled in the Voters Guide, allowing Christians to see which values a candidates supported.
Perhaps the signature item for ACL during the election campaign was the Meet Your Candidate Forum (MYCF). These Forums drew together all the candidates of key electorates around Australia to a public venue where Christians could meet them and ask questions about their policies and their beliefs. ACL is recognised among political circles for running the largest and most successful Forums, with most of the 35 forums run before the election having several hundred people in attendance.
So where to for the future? ACL has a national office and executives in ACT, NT, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and WA, with an executive on the way shortly for NSW. The organisation also seeks to mirror the political system, so branches are beginning to spring up around Australia based on Federal electorate boundaries.
“Our supporters are the future. All that Christians need to realise is that they have a right to speak up and that it is easy to do so,” explains Jim.
So what should people do? “Give us money!” laughs Jim. “No, seriously, while that is good and well, Christians should get involved, believe they can make a difference and pray fervently for righteousness in our nation. These are the most important things that a Christian can do.”
**For more information on the Australian Christian
Lobby, or to become a supporter, head to www.acl.org.au or call (02)
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