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One life to live: voting for the disadvantaged.

When a journalist asked former US President Jimmy Carter what drove him, he replied, `I feel I have one life to live. I feel God wants me to do the best I can with it.'

The journalist then asked Carter how he knew God's will and Carter answered that he prayed frequently. `When I have a sense of peace and just self-assurance--I don't know where it comes from--that what I'm doing is the right thing, I assume, maybe in an unwarranted way, that that's doing God's will.'

People who cultivate an inner life will sooner or later want to translate their beliefs into moral action. But how do they discern what this means?

While for some the directions may be as clear as crystal, others will tell you how difficult it can be to find the way between several good choices.

On these pages, For A Change talks to people from a wide range of spiritual backgrounds about their search to discover what God wants them to do.

In Australia's general elections in October, the voters gave the small Democrats Party the balance of power in the Senate, and thereby the responsibility of passing or rejecting legislation.

Senator John Woodley, the Democrats' spokesman on rural and Aboriginal issues, takes his party's position extremely seriously. He sees it as meaning that disadvantaged Australians will get more of a fair go.

For 30 years Woodley was a Uniting Church minister in the sunscorched farming communities of Western Queensland. `I became closely involved with Aboriginal and rural people and that has shaped the rest of my life,' he says. `I very much believe, as set out in the Bible, that God is on the side of those who are pushed to the edge of life. That conviction led me to a series of jobs in Queensland and when I was approached to stand for the Democrats in 1990, I felt that as a Senator I could speak for these people. I feel politics is about giving a voice to those who haven't got one. That's where Christian ethics and politics coalesce.'

Woodley has three basic guiding principles for making decisions:

`1. Social justice, i.e. to stand up for people who are disadvantaged.

2. Ensure that people are included in the decisions that concern them.

3. To care for the Earth.

`I will always go out of my way to consult with the people who are affected by legislation. And if there's a choice between two groups, I will take special account of the group that is more powerless.'

He believes in prayer when thinking through legislation. `First I pray about it. Then I take action to try and clarify and test the issues. Often that means going out to see the people concerned. Sometimes it means participating in a protest on their behalf. Then more prayer and more reflection.'

For example, he says, some months ago the conservative coalition government put forward amendments to the Native Title Act, making it much more difficult for Aboriginals to lay claim to land with which they had a longstanding relationship. `The people most affected were the Aboriginals on Cape York in Northern Queensland. There was no time to go up there, but I had visited and seen their situation before, so as a party we invited and paid for a number of Aboriginals to come to Canberra and talk with us. We voted against the amendments because we felt they would further disempower the Aboriginals.'

At that point the Democrats did not hold the balance of power, and to their disappointment, the bill was passed. `However,' says Woodley, `in politics nothing is permanent.'
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Author:Uhrenholdt, Ann-Lone
Publication:For A Change
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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