Demonising the Greens


The Green AgendaCurrently the churches and the Greens have a mostly dysfunctional relationship. It is comparable with that which exists between many parents and their adult offspring. The parents instilled strong values into their children, but the children have taken those values in directions the parents had hoped they wouldn't.

More than a few Greens owe their passion for social justice to a strong Christian upbringing. It is understandable how this could develop into support for policies that threaten the institutional church, such as backing government schools at the expense of religious schools because government schools don't charge fees and therefore offer a better deal for the poor. 

The days and weeks before Saturday's NSW state election witnessed a sometimes unseemly stand off between the churches and the Greens. While the Greens failed to live up to expectations in in the NSW counting, the air is unlikely to clear quickly because the Greens will shortly hold the balance of power in the Senate, in Federal Parliament.

On Friday, the Clarence Valley Daily Examiner quoted Lismore Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Jarratt's assertion that the Greens 'policies on euthanasia, abortion, same-sex marriage and school funding show them on the dark side'. He was echoing a message issued earlier in the election campaign by all but two of his fellow NSW bishops.

The local Greens candidate Janet Cavenaugh hit back, claiming that her own strong Christian upbringing gives her authority to interpret Christ's words in a way that may differ from the bishop.

Bishop Jarrett should examine his own position in keeping silent on many of the major moral challenges of our time, including mandatory detention of refugees, our involvement in the illegal war in Iraq, and the over-representation of the mentally ill and Aboriginal people in our jails.

Cavenaugh stresses that her 'reasons for joining The Greens included the fact that Greens' policies agreed with [her] sense of social justice — a result of [her] strong Christian upbringing'. 

While there are many other Greens who attribute their social justice values to a religious background, it's probably true to say the majority no longer publicly identify as Christians. Notable exceptions include Lin Hatfield-Dodds and Christine Milne. 

Hatfield-Dodds argues in an article for ABC Religion and Ethics titled 'Being a Christian, and Being Green' that Christian leaders and lobbyists who have no time for the Greens 'do speak for some who are part of the Christian faith tradition in Australia, but not for all'.

Frank Brennan spelled out areas of agreement between mainstream Christian values and Greens policyies in his article 'Why a conscientious Christian could vote for the Greens', published in Eureka Street last year. He is more cautious, listing incompatibilities and stressing that acknowledging common ground does not mean denying differences.

Elsewhere he praises the NSW bishops for entering into the debate but suggests they should also subject the policies of other parties to the same 'detailed scrutiny' they have applied to the Greens. His message is: don't demonise the Greens, but scrutinise policies of all the major parties.

If churches worked with, rather than against, the Greens while they hold the balance of power in the Senate, we could discover that the legislation enacted turns out to me more 'Christian' than Labor or Coalition legislation; rooted more in values than in political pragmatism. Those Greens policies Christians regard as odious could be sidelined as Greens see political value in Christian support.

David Hutt, NSW Director for the Australian Christian Lobby, wrote last week in an article critical of the Greens: 'This is the most important NSW election in a generation. NSW needs a Parliament that will work to deliver a more moral, just and compassionate society.' Taken out of context, it underlines common ground that exists between Christians and Greens, and could almost have been written by a Greens lobbyist.

Acknowledging that Christians and Greens have similar goals could help each group to see value in the other's way of approaching these goals. Greens could come to understand the value of religious schools that give priority to the teaching of values. More Christians might support carbon reduction.

Hatfield-Dodds says: 'As citizens of a social democracy, we must engage respectfully with each other. And as we listen to each other's views and respect each other's experiences, we will build a better world together.'

It's like parents agreeing to disagree with their recalcitrant adult offspring, and listening to their contrary views rather than cutting them off. Both parties are often pleasantly surprised to discover that what unites them is stronger and more life-giving than what divides them, and that the real enemy lies elsewhere.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Greens, Christians, bishops, Catholic, ACL, Lin Hatfield Dodds, Frank Brennan



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Existing comments

The Greens are pro euthanasia, pro abortion, pro gay marriage. Their education policy denies the parental right of primary educator which is a more fundamental factor than funding although dependent on one's appreciation of it. For The Prime Minister to accuse Abbot of consorting with extremists when she is in coalition with Bob Brown is laughable at best and downright ignorant of how radical some of his policies are. This mob appear to be the craziest , bunch of leftist loonies our politics have ever produced. People must vote according to their judgment but how a Christian could even think of supporting this party is beyond my comprehension. Full credit to the Bishops for their recent comments and they have not been silent.

grebo | 28 March 2011  

I know what reaction I would have received from the Bishops had I, when I was National Executive Officer of the ACSJC, published a critique of the policies of one party but not of other significant parties in the context of an election campaign. Very disappointing.

Sandie Cornish | 28 March 2011  

Another thoughtful article from Michael. I was brought up in the Methodist Church, social justice was strongly emphasised at church and at home, and although i no longer attend church, those values have stuck and I'm now an active Green member.Some values of church (all churches) and Greens are indeed common values, and I am thankful every day that i now have an environment where i can publicly, happily and safely express those values learned in childhood. Thank you for the article Michael.

rosemary bedford | 28 March 2011  

An excellent article. As Mullins wrote, many Christians see the Greens as the only political party showing compassion for their fellow human beings. I am concerned about their euthanasia policy. At the same time the dying, whether mentally competent or not, should always be relieved of their suffering and distress. I prefer Frank Brennan's suggestion for same sex unions. From my perspective to have dialogue between Christians and Greens is essential. In the meantime, weighing up the pragmatism of Labor and Liberal and the morality of the Greens, the Greens have my vote.

Maureen Strazzari | 28 March 2011  

Thank you Michael, well written. It is disappointing that our bishops (including our local bishop) have such a narrow view of ethics. Yes, by all means call the Greens to account on matters such as euthanasia, but how about calling the major parties to answer for their close (financial it seems) relationship with the liquor industry (at a time when some of our young people are wiping themselves out every weekend and risking long-term health problems) and with the gambling industry (at a time when many people are losing their money to the pokies)? How about asking parties how they intend to reduce violence in our community? And I notice that the Liberals, in the health policy, made no mention of mental health services. I agree with Janet Cavenaugh that our jails have become institutions for housing the mentally ill and also disproportiante numbers of Aboriginal people. What have the parties to say about these issues?

Janet | 28 March 2011  

It may be a good idea for people actually to read the policies of the “Bob Brown Greens”. In my opinion the policies of the Bob Brown Greens are to the environment, economy and well being of Australia what “Mein Kampf “ was to race relations in Germany.

Beat Odermatt | 28 March 2011  

1. Greens Cavenaugh speaks of "[her] strong Christian upbringing".

But not everyone who cries out "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven.

How can we say that the Greens share with Christians the goal of building a more "just and compassionate society" when they vigorously support the killing off of the most vulnerable and voiceless?

2. If a party existed which advocated free market, minimal government solutions to environmental issues, education and social justice, would it get an equally big tick from the Eureka Street clique?

HH | 28 March 2011  

Alas "Demonising the Greens" brings back memories of how demonising the Reds in the 1950s was used to undermine the ALP as a democratic socialist party. If a plank in the ALP platform was similar to that in the Communist Party of Australia's it was condemned as atheistic, immoral, or pro-communist. End of argument. The Archbishop had spoken.

PM Menzies bought the catholic vote and DLP support by dangling the carrot of federal funding for independent schools.
If the Bishops of Australia are going to guide their flock in political matters with a good conscience they should of course pray to the Holy Spirit but they should also strive to interpret what is actually happening in Australian society and to read the signs of the times. This requires prudence. And prudence suggests seeking the advice of competent people.

The good Bishops might benefit from doing a course on the nature of democratic politics in contemporary Australia by someone like Prof John Warhurst or Dr John Eddy SJ.

I wouldn't like to be among the disadvantaged of Australian society (or seeking asylum here) if the Coalition won a federal election as easily as it did in NSW.

Uncle Pat | 28 March 2011  

"...what unites them (the Greens and the rest of us poor old Wets) is stronger and more life-giving than what divides them...". Might such differences include the more than 5,000 late-term abortions of perfectly viable foetuses in our country last year? I believe that the bishops' courageous message "The Green Agenda", discouraging voting for the Greens,has had the desired effect on Catholic voters in NSW last Saturday.

Claude Rigney | 28 March 2011  

As a cultural Catholic and signed up Greens member I see Greens values as a moral stance compared to the current demoralised position of the Catholic church. Green philosophy attempts to connect humanity and the greater universe recognising the unique reliance of humanity on the environment without which it can not survive. The dispirited Church I belive faces schisim with the conservative elements siding with Rome and the developing world and perhaps a rump made up of what remains of the faithful in the West. In Australia the Church only holds on to some relevance through its control of schools and hospitals which is also under attack from Greens school funding policy and the push for non discriminatory employment legislation.

latte sipper | 28 March 2011  

I too was brought up as a Catholic, by parents whose religion was one of social justice and the ethical obligation to speak out in support of social justice, and by extension for me, environmental sustainability.

The Greens, for me, is an extension of that commitment.

Helen Bergen | 28 March 2011  

I agree with Latte Sipper. I started voting Green before there was a Green Party because I was already voting for Senator Jo Vallentine before she became the first WA Green MP. I didn't agree with all her policies but voted for her because she was the most honest and principled person in the Parliament. She is, I believe, a Quaker, a group that has always had the respect of progressive thinkers.

Russell | 28 March 2011  

The Greens are the only party that takes environmental issues seriously.

Given that pursuit of the policies of people such as, say, Cardinal Pell ensures widespread destruction of the ONLY life-support system available to humanity, then I cannot see how anyone purportedly adhering to the humanitarian values espoused by Jesus Christ can possibly support anyone other than the Greens.

David Arthur | 28 March 2011  

While we're on the topic of sharing common goals with the demonised, why not celebrate the fact that Christians and Pauline Hanson share common goals? Given her possible Lazarus-like revival in NSW state parliament, it's not just a moot point.

When she began her political career, Hanson advocated a stable Australia free of racial divisions and strife now decimating Europe and the UK. Of course, she was conveniently demonised as a racist back then, but recent statements from aboriginal leaders such as Noel Pearson about the perils of welfarism in aboriginal communities resonate strongly with the central points Hanson was making. Moreover, many writers and their cheer squads at this blog would also endorse Hanson's distrust of economic rationalism - a suspicion she shares with the Greens (but not with me).

Consistency, anyone? Maybe even, God forbid, an apology?

HH | 29 March 2011  

This piece should be followed by one by Irfan Yusuf explaining that, although Australian Muslims may share a number of values in common with Fred Nile's Christian Democrats, they're certainly never going to vote for a party whose most prominent leaders seem to have it in for them and to make laws targeting them.

Rod Blaine | 30 March 2011  

You identify a few professing Christians in the Greens. What about the dominance of evil people like unrepentant Stalinist Lee Rhiannon and bigotedly anti-Catholic Kerry Nettle.

The communist and anti-catholic elements are dominant in the party, especially in NSW.

The policies of the party are in many cases obviously evil, and show a complete lack of respect for human life, or for the value of humanity generally, as opposed to animals or the environment.

The only Christians who seem to support them are members of minor "progressive" sects or Catholics by baptism who feel no need to accept any of the Church's teaching on moral issues.

The Bishops were right to condemn the Greens. They should have done so more forcefully.

Bob | 01 April 2011  

No thanks! We would at least have an ETS by now but thanks to those who voted Green at the last Federal election we don't.

Hopefully the Greens will implode, like the Democrats, once Bob Brown retires. They are not only a one issue party, but a one person party — just look at their performance at the recent Victorian and New South Wales State elections.

Roger Horton | 01 April 2011  

Hi Fr Mullins, As a Catholic who usually votes for the Greens, I'm delighted by your thoughtful article, and dismayed by Grebo's comments.

Like Grebo, I don't support euthanasia, but I firmly believe that most people who do, are motivated by compassion. The way forward is surely to keep open the lines of communication, rather than point the accusing finger.

The same applies to abortion, except that abortion (of course), affects women far more than it affects men, yet abortion laws are framed by an overwhelming majority of men. In my opinion, this imbalance should be corrected, and abortion laws framed by women (taking account, if they wish, of mens opinions).

Re education, the Greens don't deny 'the parental right of primary educator '. But they do recognise that today's youngsters seldom accept being told what to believe, and that religious 'education' remains little more than indoctrination. Regarding education, may I suggest that Francis of Assisi's advice to 'preach the gospel, using words only if necessary', is worth contemplating.

Grebo states ' . . . how a Christian could even think of supporting this party [the Greens] is beyond my comprehension.'

My response: How could a Christian even think of supporting a party that, when in power:
was responsible for the deaths of 353 asylum seekers in the SIEVX disaster?
was complicit in an illegal war of aggression, condemned by the then Pope, and based on falsehood?
remained silent on the mistreatment of captives in Guantanamo?
remained silent on the 'rendition' of suspects to 'our' Egyptian and other brutal allies to be tortured?
turned its back on Australian citizens captured and tortured over several years, by 'our' US allies?

In November 2009 Tony Abbott refused to support Malcolm Turnbull's emissions trading scheme, and resigned from the front bench 'on principle'.

But he didn't resign from John Howard's front bench, which speaks volumes about Tony Abbott's 'principles'.

Gordon Rowland | 01 April 2011  

Interesting idea but I feel it's my social conscience, not my Christian upbringing, that draws me to The Greens. Did my conscience develop out of my (early) strong faith? Unlikely, because if it had, wouldn't that make the NSW bishops more inclined (than I) to fight climate change and advocate for animal (including human) rights? Instead, the situation seems quite the opposite.

I will always harken to Jesus' advice to 'do unto others as you would have others do to you' - aka 'do no harm'. If only the Church were reconciled with Jesus.

Since some of your readers have probably not read The Greens policies [Victorian policies available here: - Federal policies available here: ] here is an extract addressing my worst fear: death without dignity. The Greens will work to ensure:
• The autonomy of patients suffering incurable or terminal illness is respected;
• Strong safeguards are in place which ensure that physician assisted dying is only
available to patients suffering terminal or incurable illness who freely and
genuinely consent; and
• Protection is provided for those who assist a patient to end his or her life in
accordance with the patient’s wishes in appropriate circumstances.

Nichola | 01 April 2011  

The idea of social justice is not limited to Christians. Christianity has those who give priority to individual salvation and others who give priority to the social gospel. Judaism has no such dichotomy. One cannot attain salvation as an individual who neglects one's social obligations. I am a Jewish Green and find my connection with the Greens expressing my Jewish ethics.

David Fisher | 02 April 2011  

There is no such thing as a "Christian" perspective on political issues. The spectrum extends from the far right based on conservative,orthodox, reactionary fundamentalist positions on one hand and the far left social justice, social democratic, liberal and redistributive, collective perspective on the other. Both have honourable pedigrees.

If politics is to function it has to be guided by a utilitarian philosophical perspective acknowledging the greatest gain for the greatest number at the least possible cost to all. It is variant of utilitarianism. Christians should acknowledge that politics is the art of the possible particularly if one accepts that a democracy is the least worst option. Christians at their best represent the honourable core of all parties. Let them be the mustard seed that changes the flavour of the soup, not the main course.

graham patison | 03 April 2011  

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