Surely 'the least of these' should be our focus?

Right to Life has suggested Jacinda Ardern's marital status is a threat to what it labels the "natural family".
DAVID WALKER/STUFF

Right to Life has suggested Jacinda Ardern's marital status is a threat to what it labels the "natural family".

Fair warning, I'm going to quote the Bible to you somewhere in this column.

Which is always a dangerous thing in political discourse, so let me assure you it has a legitimate point, which does not involve forcing any belief on you.

Because religion has a way of somehow becoming entangled in the elections of our supposedly secular country, the separation of church and state notwithstanding.

Who can forget the Exclusive Brethren's attempts to inject itself into the 2005 general election, when a Don Brash-led National Party tried to unseat Helen Clark? The group has been sighted in election campaigns since, though not as prominently.

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Thankfully, we're not the United States, where political expediency masquerading as religious conversion played a major role in getting Donald Trump elected. Millions of hard right-wing evangelical 'Christians' were quite happy to have the tacit permission of the Church to vote for a misogynist who conveniently reversed his position on abortion as the election neared.

Prominent Christian figures like Dr James Dobson telling them, on the most spurious of evidence, that Trump was one of their number helped them overlook the outrages, to vote him in over the woman – "but her emails!" - and start the purging of the painful memories of a black man in the White House.

Thank God we don't face that sort of carry-on here. Can I get an Amen?

But we still do face attempts to influence our voting according to so-called "traditional Christian values", and as someone who grew up surrounded by them, I'm forced to ask now, as I really should have asked far more stridently back then, where, in all these politico-religious prognostications, are the four words I've been waiting to hear throughout this campaign, "the least of these"?

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That's a reference, for those who've not read it, to Christ's words to his disciples in Matthew 25: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

There's not space to quote the whole passage here - feel free to look it up - but it's about the Day of Judgment, and the "whatever you did" refers, in a nutshell, to the actions of those who took care of those in need.

To me, the words in their broad context say that's what was at the heart of Christ's message, and it's what I've been listening out for when "Christian values" have come up during the course of this campaign. Thus far I personally, haven't heard what seems to me to be a core one, the "love your neighbour as you love yourself" scenario.

And yet, I think it's the most important issue out there in terms of getting us as a society back on track. In my view the only person who has truly come out and said no issue in this election mattered more than need, than eradicating the poverty and homelessness that have become deeply rooted in our society, was Metiria Turei.

And whatever has been said about the naivety of how she did it, how she shot herself in the foot and had to go, I feel it was the placing of this vital issue right in the centre of the spotlight that was ultimately her undoing. I think she got the emphasis pretty much spot-on.

Many of the accounts published under the #WeAreBeneficiaries hashtag on Twitter since then are instructive.

Some may argue references to "the least of these" are demeaning, but my take is that it means those regarded as such by society. "... I was hungry and you gave me something to eat … I was in prison and you came to visit me." It's about reaching out to those considered not worth the bother by others, in short.

Church-aligned organisations, promoting "traditional Christian values", are certainly trying to influence this election.

Christchurch-based Right To Life, for instance, which exists mainly to oppose abortion, has already opined that "the election of Jacinda Ardern as our Prime Minister would constitute a threat to the natural family of exclusively one woman and one man" on the basis that she's in a de facto relationship.

It has distributed, unsolicited, an opinion piece pointing out New Zealand has not had an unmarried prime minister since Michael Joseph Savage, and claiming: "History records that all of our prime ministers believed that the state was at the service of the natural family which consisted exclusively of one man and one woman."

Is that so? That would explain John Key voting in favour of marriage equality then, and Bill English saying he'd vote for it now.

It further ludicrously suggests: "We have a crisis in New Zealand with 50 per cent of our children being born out of wedlock resulting in unacceptable child poverty." Astounding – so New Zealand's levels of child poverty are a result of children born outside traditional marriages. Whatever next?

It's an outrageous line extrapolating one known figure into a claim with no evidential basis to serve the purposes of a predetermined narrative, acknowledging a major problem but dismissing its real causes with a cheap line devoid of compassion.

This week I glanced through a voting guide set up by Family First, an organisation which places an "emphasis on the Judeo-Christian values which have benefited New Zealand for generations".

The guide, which purports to help people judge their voting decisions against the various parties' values, is interesting, because, as the person whose social media post alerted me to it confirmed, there's no obvious reference to homelessness or poverty.

We owe it to ourselves to critically examine the claims, and underlying reasoning, of those who seek to influence our vote, as well as their broad stance.

To me, any election-related talk of "traditional Christian values" that doesn't major on genuinely doing far better by society's neediest simply doesn't measure up.

 - Stuff

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