A spurious ‘investigation’ and an Opposition leader terrified of the media that launched it equals the latest lesson from Victoria: don’t let those nasty Christians have any role – or say – in politics
Many who are concerned at the increasingly anti-religious (and especially anti-Christian) sentiments of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews have been hoping that this week’s state election would see an upset victory for the Opposition.
After all, anything would have to be better than the stifling of religious freedom that has occurred under the current Victorian Labor government.
As we go to print, the election result is not yet known, but events this past week have demonstrated that people of faith are unlikely to have an ally in the alternate Premier, Matthew Guy.
Renee Heath, a Liberal Party candidate for the Upper House who is near-guaranteed to succeed in her bid to become an MP, has found herself in the middle of a pre-election controversy.
Ms Heath is an active member of a Christian church that holds to Biblical teachings on life and marriage, gender and sexuality. There are also allegations of so-called “gay conversion therapy” that involve prayers of exorcism. The church was founded and is still run by her father.
Her links were revealed in a “joint investigation” by Fairfax Media outlets 60 Minutes, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Apart from Heath’s estranged sister and brother-in-law, it is not clear that any of the people interviewed had ever met Heath.”
In the introduction to the 60 Minutes report, the church was described as “more cult than church, denouncing abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and transgenderism.” The report also revealed that church leaders had “railed against Australian laws on abortion and same-sex marriage.”
Ms Heath declined to answer questions Fairfax put to her about her views on abortion or homosexuality and, despite her close connections to the church, no one has been able to find anything Ms Heath has previously said on these issues, nor has she been implicated in any conversion or other controversial practices.
The Age interviewed four former members of the church who made a number of allegations (none of them criminal).
Apart from Heath’s estranged sister and brother-in-law, it is not clear that any of the people interviewed had ever met Heath. Indeed, two of the four people interviewed had left the church more than 20 years ago, when Heath was still in high school.
The other part of the exposé was the revelation that Brian Heath, the Church’s founder and Renee’s father, explicitly encouraged members of his congregation to become members of their local, Liberal Party branch and even stand for preselection so that good, Christian candidates might have a chance at being elected and steering the party back to its conservative roots.
The reporters then took their allegations to Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy.
One would think that an Opposition Leader of a supposedly conservative party with liberal values who was looking to differentiate himself from an anti-religious Premier would back his candidate.
“He told media that if she is elected, Heath will not sit in the Liberal party room and instead be treated as a ‘Liberal independent’.”
“The overwhelming majority of Australians are people of faith,” he might say, “and so a party that wants to represent the people it serves should have a good number of people of faith at every level of involvement.”
He could even go further and call out those who would seek to exclude someone from political office because of their religious beliefs as discriminatory and un-Australian.
That’s not what happened.
Instead, just a week out from the election, Guy distanced himself from his own candidate. He told media that if she is elected, Heath will not sit in the Liberal party room and instead be treated as a “Liberal independent.”
The party told media that this was because she had “withheld information about the extent of her dealings with the church network.”
Essentially, the party is saying it was denied the opportunity to investigate her religious beliefs before confirming her preselection but would now do all it could to cast her out.
It sounds a lot like what happened to Andrew Thorburn, doesn’t it? Whatever the outcome of the Victorian election, it unfortunately looks like Christians who aspire to professional or civic leadership won’t have a friend in the Premier.