‘Undeceptions’ and ‘Church and State’ conferences set two different agendas for Christians

Two sets of Christian conferences have opened in multiple cities within a few weeks, with a different vision, especially around politics. The new Undeceptions conference has run events in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane in its inaugural season. And the Church and State conference has run events in Perth last week, Brisbane this week, and Adelaide to follow in October.

They present two very different approaches.

Here’s how the Church and State website describes its aims. “There is a pressing need for sound teaching on Biblical doctrines of government, church and family (specifically in relation to each other). Church And State is encouraging Christians in every electorate to carefully steward political influence as Jesus would in our place – without blind loyalty to any politician or party.

“Motivated by a sincere love for our 26 million neighbours (Australia) and God’s concern for justice in the land, this ministry is encouraging Christians to use God’s Word to guide their votes & political engagement, instead of the TV, internet or partisan agendas.”

The speaker line-up for these Church and State conferences includes politicians: Nick Gioran, a Liberal member of the WA Upper house and former minister in Perth, Senator Alex AnticSenator Malcolm Roberts (One Nation, Queensland) in Brisbane. Speakers listed at the main Church and State conference held in March included former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Senator Malcolm Roberts, and former coalition politician George Christensen. All of these featured speakers are on the right of the coalition or in the One Nation party (or, in Christiansen’s case, first the coalition, then One Nation.) This would seem to belie the claim to non-partisanship, but also underlines seeking political influence should be a major Christian project. (No Labor MPs are featured on the conference website as major speakers, although there have certainly been Labor attendees who may have spoken, including Margaret Keech, a former minister in the Beattie Labor government who endorses the conference. The Other Cheek is under the impression there have been some Labor speakers in the past – we are simply commenting on who is featured on the website.)

Conference organiser Dave Pellowe was quoted in the Nine Papers urging Christians to flood the Liberal party to select more conservative candidates. Senator Antic has led the “Believe in Blue’ campaign to have Christians join the Liberal Party. (A member of the largely Pentecostal group that has been recruiting members to political parties has told The Other Cheek they’d be keen to have Christians join Labor as well.)

By contrast, Historian and Author John Dickson, the founder of Undeceptions, pointed out during the conference that for the first 500 years, Christians thought they did not need state power to achieve their ends – the tools of prayer and persuasion were enough to win the world. “Yes, there was then a wobble of 1,000 years,” Dickson told the conference.

Another speaker, Megan Powell du Toit, during a discussion of whether Christians can be “woke” with her With All Due Respect podcast partner Michael Jensen, reminded the undeception audience that 24 per cent of churchgoers vote for Labor according to the 2016 NCLS results – and added later that a further 2 per cent vote Green.

One possible way to describe these conferences is that Undeceptions is “post-Constantinian,” it accepts that Christians don’t have access to State power in the way they once did. Church and State on the other hand actively wants to conserve and expand a Christian political footprint.

It would be an exaggeration to place the two conferences at opposite scales of a spectrum. Both exist within a broad evangelical base. Both also are concerned to promote socially conservative causes. Both conferences this year have featured speakers who have left a gay life behind, James Parker at Church and State in Perth and Rebecca McLaughlin and Rachel Gilson at the Undeceptions conference.

Both conferences would want Christians to vote, stand for parliament or campaign. But the two conferences place significantly different amounts of weight on Political campaigning. It is central to Church and State, while Undeceptions is more concerned with explaining who Jesus is and promoting the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith. This is not to say Church and State attendees miss out on intellectual content: noted Christian academic Stephen Chavura is a regular speaker there, and legal academic Professor Augusto Zimmermann, bioethicist Prof Margaret Somerville, and Cardinal Pell have been Church and State speakers.

A striking similarity that unites these conferences is that neither of them is the creature of a larger Christian organisation such as a large church or denomination. John Dickson, founder of Undeceptions, and David Pellowe, founder of Church and State, can be credited with building each conference with the hard work of their teams. Each conference reflects its creator: Undeceptions the exposition of carefully researched apologetic material that Dickson has been about for decades, and similarly, Church and State reflects Pellowe’s well-established network.

It seemed as though to be on the platform as Undeceptions, a PhD was needed. This relates to their mission to reveal the truth by featuring “people who know what they are talking about.” Intellectual cred is their stock in trade. At Church and State, a stint in Parliament was the claim of a majority of the main speakers listed. Each conference has a particular flavour, with Church and State very different from Undeceptions, the new kid of the block for Christian conferencing.

It is important to conclude on the terrain outlined at the start of this piece. These are both Christian conferences – in the sense they are composed of Christians with mostly (at least) Christian speakers. Both would see themselves as being in the big T truth business. Both founders are creedally orthodox.

Many readers here will have a decided preference for one over the other – and it takes time and money to attend them, so choices are made. They don’t define the full spectrum of Christian conferences; a third group might prefer the Hillsong/KingdomCity/Planetshakers gatherings or a missions conference.

The organisers of these two conferences – if they are aware of each other – would see a tension between them, each seeing the task they focus on as being the more important: growing intelligent apologetics linked to academic expertise on the Undeceptions side and maintaining a bridge between Christians and political movements on the Church and State perspective. It is fair to say that each conference invites some speakers the other one would likely decline to invite.

Considered side by side, the two conferences raise the important question of how much Christian energy should be devoted to securing Christian influence politically.

One Comment

  1. Thanks John, very interesting comparison. I agree with you that both conferences would encourage personal Christian political engagement. Christians lobbying en bloc for political influence does not seem to be a priority for Jesus or any other NT author. I’d love someone to correct me on this.

Comments are closed.