“I believe human life begins at conception,” the Liberal Senator said quietly.
Zed Seselja’s response was the last in a line of ACT Federal election candidate answers to the question, “When is an unborn baby a human being?”
It was posed during the Australian Christian Lobby’s Meet the Candidates forum at the Eternity Church in Kambah on Tuesday night.
Senator Seselja’s one-sentence answer to the when life begins question inspired spontaneous applause from the 200 or so attendees. This wasn’t quite rock star fandom in action, but verging on it.
Earlier responses to the same question, from the likes of the Sex Party’s Steven Bailey and Labor’s Katy Gallagher, had expressed the opinion that the question of when human life begins was complex and that decisions in relation to such matters were best left to medical experts and assessed on a case by case basis.
Their take left most attendees on Tuesday night muttering to themselves and shaking their heads.
But are the members of this particular community “a fringe group of bigots and extremists” as Greens Senate candidate Christina Hobbs described them this week?
Or by boycotting the event and calling them names, was Ms Hobbs something of a hypocrite, perhaps even a bigot herself? One definition of a bigot is “a person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions”.
Wikipedia has a more detailed definition for the word:
“The English noun bigot is a term of abuse aimed at a prejudiced or closed-minded person, especially one who is intolerant or hostile towards different social groups (especially, and originally, other religious groups), and especially one whose own beliefs are perceived as unreasonable or excessively narrow-minded, superstitious, or hypocritical.”
Are the seemingly mild-mannered, ordinary looking Canberrans of the ACL bigots? Are they a fringe group? I guess it all depends of your point of view.
Whether they are or not, surely engaging with them is a better way of gaining an understanding of what has led them to believe what they do than censuring them.
Whether you like it or not, they have influence. They and other Australians with similar views have forced the hand of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on important policies such as the same sex marriage issue and Safe Schools program.
If the Coalition retains government next week, the Christian Lobby and others like them will campaign actively against marriage equality leading up the Turnbull’s plebiscite, causing distress to LGBTIQ people and their supporters in the process.
Refusing to engage with them sends a message of solidarity to those who are hurt by their views, true. It offers a political candidate short term benefits in terms of publicity and leads to pats on the back from like-minded colleagues too.
The trouble is, it also perpetuates an “us and them” mentality.
Why not engage with the ACL, debate the issues and in the process perhaps change some hearts and minds?
Steven Bailey and Katy Gallagher chose to, and one attendee said afterwards that he would now vote for the Sex Party based on Mr Bailey’s responses during the evening.
Perhaps given the deeply held religious beliefs of many supporters of the ACL, the number of hearts and minds that will be changed is small. But surely within each of us is the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
To imagine being a 16-year-old girl who was raped and has struggled for weeks with the decision to have an abortion, then becomes a victim again as protesters stare her down at her as she walks into a clinic for the procedure.
To ponder being a middle-aged woman praying outside the same clinic, having been raised and educated in a deeply religious community to believe in her heart that every life is sacred, and that by being there she may save a child and help a woman become the mother she is destined to be.
To consider the young gay couple who have committed to each other for life and want the right to celebrate their union in the same way their straight friends do.
Or to view marriage through the prism that our Liberal Senator probably does, whereby the idea of two men or two women marrying each other somehow diminishes the sanctity of his own marriage.
It’s hard, I know. I’m struggling to understand two of those four viewpoints myself, but it was very clear to me on Tuesday night that they are very real views, not held out of spite, and not going away anytime soon. I’ll keep trying to understand them in the hope that at least some members of the Christian Lobby will reciprocate.
Will Senator Seselja’s views of same-sex marriage and abortion impact on your vote next Saturday? Did Greens candidate Christina Hobbs’ decision to snub the ACL forum influence your thinking? Have you decided how you’ll vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate?
Pictured are Greens candidate Christina Hobbs, the Eternity Church in Kambah and Zed Seselja in a paid advertisement on the cover of City News this week.