'Bookish Christian' Rudd wins Australian general election

By staff writers
November 25, 2007

Kevin Rudd, a man who has been described by the media as "a bookish, intellectual Christian" and "a self-confessed nerd" has triumphed in the Australian general election against long term right-wing incumbent John Howard.

Mr Rudd's Labor party looks set to take a clear majority of the 150 House seats. The victory will presage significant policy changes including more action on the environment and global warming, the likely withdrawal of Australian personnel from Iraq and a more compassionate approach to migration, say analysts.

The new PM has been open about his primarily progressive Christian faith, but has argued that the role of faith is not to dominate the political arena but to contribute to it.

He declared last year in journal The Monthly: "A Christian perspective on contemporary policy debates may not prevail. It must nonetheless be argued. And once heard, it must be weighed, together with other arguments from different philosophical traditions, in a fully contestable secular polity."

Rudd added: "A Christian perspective, informed by a social gospel or Christian socialist tradition, should not be rejected contemptuously by secular politicians as if these views are an unwelcome intrusion into the political sphere. If the churches are barred from participating in the great debates about the values that ultimately underpin our society, our economy and our polity, then we have reached a very strange place indeed."

However Mr Rudd was accused by conservative opponents during the election campaign of using social justice language to mask "naked partisan politics", something he rigorously denied.

He also caused a surprising controversy over a public lecture on the German theologian and intellectual Dietrich Bonheffer, who was killed by the Nazis in the last days of the Secnd World War.

Mr Rudd's staid image and conservative sexual politics (he opposes gay marriage) was also shattered on a visit to New York for a United Nations meeting when, under the influence of alcohol he ended up in Scores, an erotic night club, where he was accused of rowdy behaviour.

Ironically the incident, for which Mr Rudd publicly apologised, may have gained him support among voters who otherwise found him rather remote.

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald last October, Kevin Rudd wrote: "Sixty years after his execution, Bonhoeffer's gospel of social justice still speaks to us. Regrettably, much of this social justice tradition of Christianity has been drowned out by a new brand of political Christianity which is being systematically exploited in Republican America and John Howard's Australia."

He continued: "It is a brand of Christianity that celebrates private morality and personal prosperity alone - to the virtual exclusion of equity, solidarity and compassion. It is also a brand of Christianity that carries with it the below-the-radar message that the Liberal Party is the natural party of God."

Liberal politicians and some conservative Catholics accused Mr Rudd of "dogwhistling for Christian votes", but psephologists say that religion has not been an overt or significant issue in the election as a whole.

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