Christian Right? Wrong ...

Saturday 20 January 2007 12:51 AM

The current rather sensationalist charges through the Age (and other outlets) of fundamentalist Christian political influence, are disappointing and certainly unhelpful to social harmony. It's also ironic that references to alleged villification of Muslims by Ps Danny Nalliah and Catch the Fire Ministries, are themselves misleading or innacurate at best, or defammatory at worst. Readers of the Age should note the following:

* Misha Schubert (19/1) reports that "Catch the Fire Ministries advocates the destruction of mosques, casinos and bottle shops." I can only guess that this extraordinary charge is based on a quote from Ps Nalliah later in the same article, urging Christians to identify such venues and pray "to pull these strongholds down". The latter is a metaphor, typically used by some Christians to refer to one form of prayer; it is about spiritual activity, not physical. Ps Nalliah owns a Bible, not a bulldozer. With respect, this is very sloppy journalism with potentially explosive consequences. A prominent apology might be in order.

* Schubert also baldly reports that Nalliah "faces a fresh legal hearing on a charges of racial vilification against Muslims." Some clarification, please. The hearing does not refer to a fresh set of charges or a new controversy. It is a re-hearing of the same charges by a different judge without further evidence, after a recent unanimous Court of Appeal finding that Judge Higgins substantially erred in the original VCAT judgement.

I'm no lawyer, but I would have thought that this again entitles Pastors Nalliah and Scott to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The original finding made every headline. It's a pity the appeal finding did not.

* It is widely reported that the Prime Minister has issued a DVD partisanly endorsing a Catch the Fire gathering. References to the DVD are accompanied by reminders that the Federal Treasurer addressed such a gathering in 2004. It is true that Ps Nalliah is the chief initiator of the approaching Australia Day prayer gathering, as he has been of the National Day of Thanksgiving at which Mr Costello and others have spoken. However these events are consistently attended, co-led and endorsed by leaders and people of all mainstream Christian churches, representing a wide range of views on Catch the Fire itself. The events focus on Christian unity and national well-being, not on interfaith controversy.

More generally, in the interests of good sense and harmony, we could all do without phrases like "the Christian Right" applied to modern Australia, as if this were America. A handful of Liberal and National frontbenchers professing Christian faith, while in most cases leaving it at home, is a very far cry from the power and influence of conservative Christianity on US public life from its earliest foundations. Australia has never known such a phenomenon, and will surely remain a long way from it.

Enough of the straw man of feral Christian fundamentalism.