What to make of Kevin Rudd's sin

Kevin Rudd - leader of the ALP and potentially Australia's next Prime Minister - has admitted to getting drunk and visiting a strip club in New York four years ago.

As I have made clear over at Craig's blog, I personally don't think this behaviour is somehow more immoral than John Howard's decision to join America in invading Iraq - an action that has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Having said that I certainly don't want to be understood as accepting Rudd's behaviour. The reason why I hesitate is because part of Rudd's public persona has been his Christian faith. This is unusual in many ways because Christians tend to move on the more conservative side of the political spectrum while Rudd is on the left. Moreover, Rudd has been making an effort over the years to communicate with Australian Christians and has had his thoughts discussed at many Christian forums as a result.

If Rudd is calling himself a Christian then his actions in getting drunk and visiting a night club are concerning. If Rudd was just another Bob Hawke - an alcoholic atheist - his behaviour would probably be more understandable, mainly because at least with atheism there is a certain level of moral ambiguity that can be accepted. Once a public figure aligns himself with a certain moral and/or spiritual belief, any action that he or she does which contradicts it is up for scrutiny. It is therefore far more concerning - and far more newsworthy - for a "Christian" to be guilty of the sins that a non-Christian commits.

To his credit, Rudd has never positioned himself as a social conservative - his political platform is not based upon personal Christian morality. Unlike many American Republicans, Rudd has not railed against sexual sins and aligned himself with the conservative movement. Politically, therefore, Rudd has little to lose - in the eyes of the world his actions, while questionable, are not contemptible.

But what are we as Christians to make of this - especially when Rudd has spoken of his Christian faith?

First and most obviously, it is not for us to cast the first stone. Rudd's sins have been exposed while our own have not. Yes, let us be critical but be balanced. There are Christians out there who have done far worse than what Rudd has done.

Secondly, we need to question whether Rudd's overtures to Australian Christians are now worthwhile. It is hard to not separate politics from politicians - but if Rudd has made overtures to Australian Christians and has identified himself as one, then we are to call into question his motives now that this sin has been revealed. Having not read much of Rudd's Christian comments, I would like to know if he has spoken of his own personal shortcomings. Has he, in his dealings with Australian Christians, presented himself as a model of ethical behaviour or has he admitted (in a broad sense) his own shortcomings and sins? If he has done the former then his overtures to Australian Christians must be severely questioned. But if he has admitted his own shortcomings to Australians, then this current news story should not affect Christians' view of Rudd.

Thirdly, we need to realise that, while God desires godly leadership, we cannot demand or expect godly behaviour from politicians. Church leaders, on the other hand, should be closely examined - but political leaders should not. That Kevin Rudd has been exposed as a sinful human being should startle no one. Note: I am not saying that Christians should ignore the sins of politicians, but I am saying that we should be more willing to tolerate sin in unbelievers than in Christians and Christian leaders. I'd like to explain this further but it would dominate the article.

Fourthly - we need to see how Rudd handles this revelation. Publicly Rudd has expressed remorse for his action and admits that it was the wrong thing to do. Moreover, Rudd has also made it clear that his wife was aware of his indiscretions. It was even reported on radio this morning that Australian journalists have been aware of Rudd's night-club event for some years. The important thing about this revelation is that Rudd has not attempted to hide it - at least from those who are closer to him that the general public. Even Rudd's political opponents have not chosen to use it (until now presumably) and even now are tight-lipped about it.

I personally like Kevin Rudd. I won't be voting for him but, so far, nothing about his beliefs or actions makes me question his suitability to be Prime Minister. I felt the same about John Howard up until about 1999 or 2000 - which means, of course, that I may change my mind about Rudd one day.

If Rudd becomes PM one day - and I hope he does - he will eventually disappoint me. The political system that Australia has creates politicians who are cynical and bloody-minded and I am certain that Rudd will one day fall into that trap. Until then, I like what I see.

Update: The BBC has a good article on this.

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