Rod Bower, the progressive Anglican priest from NSW’s central coast – who has made a name for himself by posting provocative signs outside his church – has announced he is going to run for the Senate.
Bower is something of an outlier in the Australian church. He takes the role of a gadfly and most denominations have at least one of them. But he told Eternity all he could do was to be “honest about my views and what informs my views.”
“People are free to make a decision about who they vote for. My understanding of the Christian faith is one of the things – it’s not the only thing – it’s one of the things that informs my worldview.” Bower worldview is on the progressive left.
If he is serious, Bower will be looking at the history of Christian ministers deciding to make a run at politics.
“My understanding of the Christian faith is one of the things – it’s not the only thing – it’s one of the things that informs my worldview.” – Rod Bower
Fred Nile is the most famous, and most successful, Christian minister turned politician. The leader of the Christian Democrats has been in the NSW upper house since 1981, except for a short gap when he ran for the Senate. He narrowly missed out. But with deputies such as Jim Cameron, Elaine Nile and Paul Green, his party has consistently won seats in the NSW upper house. Between Before politics, Nile was a Congregationalist minister and headed up the Christian Endeavour movement, which at its peak trained thousands of young people. He was also an evangelist for Sydney’s Wesley Mission.
Tim Mander, deputy leader of the Queensland LNP, was also a leader of Christian para-church groups and graduate of Brisbane School of Theology (then called Bible College of Queensland). He was CEO of Scripture Union Queensland before his election in 2012, where he oversaw what he calls “massive growth of the nationally acclaimed school chaplaincy program.” But he was actually famous for being a National Rugby League referee in charge of the 2004 and 2005 grand finals before going into full-time Christian work.
Fred Nile was joined in the Legislative Council by Gordon Moyes, head of Wesley mission who deserves his own category of being both a working Christian minister and MP at the same time. Moyes was in parliament from 2000-2011, and stepped down from Wesley in 2005.
The most famous Christian minister to turn down politics, despite being almost guaranteed success, is Tim Costello, who was approached by the Australian Democrats to fill a casual vacancy in the Senate in the 1990s. He was minister of St Kilda Baptist Church, having accepted the toughest job the church could offer after returning home from overseas. An alert reader tells Eternity that Alan Walker, a famous Methodist evangelist was approached by Gough Whitlam to run for the ALP.
“I think it’s about time other people across that spectrum talk about how their faith informs their policy decisions.” – Rod Bower
Bower needs to reckon with the uncomfortable reality that many of the successful crossovers have ended up on the conservative end of politics. However, there are key Labor examples, including Brian Howe, the deputy prime minister to Paul Keating and more recently Gordon Ramsay, the ACT’s attorney-general, who were both former Uniting Church ministers.
Bower says there are a “good number” of Christian politicians on the more progressive side of politics; they’re just not as easily identifiable.
“I don’t think conservativism owns Christianity in the political spectrum,” he said.
“I think it’s about time other people across that spectrum talk about how their faith informs their policy decisions and their worldview.”
Rod Bower may not have the track record of these successful Christian politicians. But he has a way with slogans, which is something Tony Abbott (who did not make it through Seminary to become a Catholic priest) has shown to be a necessary skill especially in opposition. Some of those slogans, displayed on Bower’s church billboard, have been shared around the globe, including, “The Nation that Stops Many Races” and “Hell exists and it’s on Nauru”.