US Christian activist warns against religious right in Australia

American Christian peace and justice activist Jim Wallis has told a Melbourne audience that Australia must beware the rise of the religious right in its midst.

Mr Wallis, who is often characterised as a leading representative of the "religious left", but seeks to disavow sectional labels, is best known for his association with the Sojourners magazine.

Ekklesia reports that he told the audience at the launch of the Australian edition of his best-selling book, God's Politics, that religious faith would be an influential force in Australian politics for the next decade.

But he said the country was in danger, like the US, of allowing the religious right to dominate its debates and legislative manoeuvres.

"It is clear from the abortion debate and the rise of Family First that Australia, like many countries, is witnessing a new religious force that could change the political landscape," said Wallis.

"The other danger is the way Australia has so often followed in lock-step with some of America's worst mistakes and policies, defying the world on Iraq or Kyoto or torture," he told The Age.

Mr Wallis continued: "This needs to be challenged, and it's better challenged by friends."

The Christian leader also spoke about tackling poverty in association with Micah Challenge, an evangelical network which has brought many of its constituency into cooperation with Make Poverty History campaign.

"People of faith can change the nation - they've done it in the past," declared Wallis. But he warned that this must be done by persuasion and cooperation, not domination and manipulation.

A spokeswoman for Family First, Senator Steve Fielding, said that the controversial organisation was not intending to become a Christian party.

Ironically, the founder of the Australian Christian Lobby, seen as being on the right, is Brigadier Jim Wallace. On paper he has little in common with his American counterpart, but he said he had read and agreed with the first few chapters of Wallis' book and agreed with everything.

"Where he's coming from is exactly where the Christian Lobby tries to be," claimed the Brigadier.

Although Jim Wallis has been a trenchant critic of what he sees as the imperial designs of the religious right he has tried to keep a dialogue going - particularly about what is meant by "biblical values", and how they can and cannot be applied to wider society.

Jim Wallis warns against religious right in Australia (Ekklesia 11/4/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)

Michael Franti and Jim Wallis (ABC Brisbane 11/4/06)
Losing their religion (The Age 10/4/06)
Christian warns of religious right's rise (The Age 10/4/06)
Christian takes on the Right (The Australian 10/4/06)

12 Apr 2006