A look at the contemporary political situation in our islands will, at some point or other, surely lead the average thinker to ask this question: what happened to the Christian-right in Malta? Maltese politics has become bereft of such an ideology.
Malta – once considered a Catholic country and even called Cattolicissima by the likes of Pope Pius XI – has lost its ‘Christian-right’. However, it must be said that the erosion process of the Catholic ethos started long ago. What follows is a mere attempt at a general observation of the present situation, which will, hopefully, try to tackle the issue being discussed.
A beginner in the area of social and political studies might ask what is the reason behind the term ‘the Christian-right’. Why does the ‘right’ represent an ancient Christian position when it comes to politics?
The answer lies in the Bible itself. In the Book of Psalms we find the following: “The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!” (Psalm 118: 16).
The ancient patriarchs usually blessed their children and grandchildren with their right hand as with the case of Jacob, whose name was later changed by God to Israel: “Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands” (Gen 48:14).
Christian democracy is a political ideology and a form of moderate religious conservatism that emerged under the influence of Catholic social teaching. It was conceived as a combination of modern democratic ideas and traditional Christian values, embracing social teaching of various Christian traditions in various parts of the world.
After World War II, the Protestant and Catholic movements played a role in shaping Christian democracy. A quick search on Google will reveal that ‘‘in practice, Christian democracy is often considered centre-right on cultural, social and moral issues’’.
Historically, Fortunato Mizzi’s Partito Anti-Riformista embraced some of the ideals of the Christian right; nationalism and love for the Church were part of Mizzi’s agenda. The coining of Religio et Patria found ample support in his party and was at the fore of the political manifesto when his son, Enrico Mizzi, became head of the party and eventually prime minister in the 1950s.
Due to the colonial experience, the beliefs of the party became also bywords for a national sentiment that, later on, brought about independence. It was only under George Borg Olivier’s leadership and his friendship with Christian Democrats, such as Aldo Moro and Giulio Andreotti, that the Nationalist Party strengthened the democratic Christian values pertaining to ‘the Christian right’.
During the last decade, the Christian aspect within the Nationalist Party has touched crisis point; there is hardly anything manifestly Christian about it. It has moved on and distanced itself from the orbit of authentic Demochristianità. Presently, I get the impression that, in our islands, there is no political party that reflects and promotes the values of such a movement.
In Britain, where the Church of England is the established Church and its role is quite similar to that of the Catholic Church in Malta, a similar situation prevails although on a different plain altogether.
In a liberal country such as the UK, even the established Church is trying ‘to move on with the times’, alienating Anglicans and becoming a political entity with its embrace of political correctness. It is in this light, that I come across the situation where a close adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury has quit over a ‘liberal’ Church of England “agenda of revisionism” that fails to “articulate the Gospel message”.
My terrible feeling is that abortion and, perhaps, even euthanasia are just around the corner on the agenda of our political stage
Lorna Ashworth, who opposes gay marriage, resigned saying the Church’s “core message” is “no longer believed”. The Daily Mail commented that “The 47-year-old former adviser to Justin Welby quit the Archbishops’ Council and General Synod, saying ‘unity’ has ‘trumped the saving gospel message of Jesus Christ”.
Facts continue to show how difficult it is for Christians to play a role in politics while remaining faithful to their Christian faith. Former UK education secretary Ruth Kelly struggled to keep her faith while serving her country in politics.
It was she who addressed the issue of faith schools and said that opponents of faith schools have three arguments: that they are socially divisive and create inequality; that they undermine community cohesion; and that they are potentially dangerous giving rise to extremism.
She commented: “Far from promoting social division, the evidence suggests that Catholic schools are a force for social inclusion, a force for community cohesion.”
Lately, Helen Alvare, a professor of family law, spoke during a conference entitled Promoters of Humanity in a Transforming World. Archbishop Paul Gallagher said at that conference: “Even before the Vatican Council [II], the conviction of the Church was that lay involvement in certain spheres of life, particularly political and social, was absolutely indispensable.’’
While the Pope has set “a wonderful tone” on these issues, she believes that “one of the signs of the times is that it cannot come from top down in the Church.” This shows how important is the role of the laity in the political sphere.
Alvare’s message can serve as a beacon of light for the prevailing political situation in the Maltese islands. It was she who said that: “No matter how lovely a tone Pope Francis sets on empowering women and the poor, when the subject matter turns to sex, marriage and parenting, the powers that be don’t want to hear from him or the Church in any level.”
She stressed that the argument needs to come from those who have supposedly been empowered by the sexual revolution – laity and, especially, lay women.
“When the Church hierarchy joins forces with laity and religious on the ground, they can have a powerful effect,” Alvare said, “and this includes reaching the people taken in by the agenda of the sexual revolution”.
Christian-right politicians have an important role here and this role is not being played due to the weakening of the centre-right. Malta needs a centre-right political partythat is strong, coherent and inspiring. A political party with such an engaging history such as the Nationalist Party has to find a healthy way how to remain faithful to its raison d’être while, at the same time, embracing modern ideas and finding the balance.
Holding to Pope Francis’s social agenda and coming down from one’s cosy pedestal together with addressing consequential issues that make a difference can be the way forward for a party that wants to retain a Demochristianità and be appealing to the modern world at the same time.
Remaining true to one’s conscience and to one’s faith is of paramount importance. With Pope Francis at the helm of the Church, Christian politicians can see a way forward; the conscience should not be put at stake. It was he who said: “We expect you to assert the rights of your conscience and that of your more vulnerable colleagues” adding that the role of conscience for those working in the medical field right now “is absolutely fundamental”.
My terrible feeling is that abortion and, perhaps, even euthanasia are just around the corner on the agenda of our political stage because we are finding it difficult to have the Christian mindset.
If a country with such a Christian tradition like Malta cannot hold the Christian-right, then either our Christianity is crippled or otherwise its depth is being put into question.
Now is the time for reflection.
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