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The Maxim Institute: Underneath the Radar?
By Craig Young
14th July 2008 - 02:08 pm

At this point in the declining existence of the New Zealand Christian Right, it is quite possible to ignore some of the antics of the more insignificant players, like the forthcoming documentary about the Bishop of Bling, Brian Tamaki. The Maxim Institute is quite another matter.

With the Exclusive Brethren probably out of the way for the forthcoming general election, the former Christian Right 'thinktank' is currently about to deliver its latest John Graham Lecture, with the assistance of the Business Roundtable. The invited guest is US Catholic New Right Acton Institute activist, Father Robert Sirocco.

How much notice will mainstream New Zealand politicians take of Sirocco, the Institute and Roundtable? Even Listener/ex-NBR columnist David Young noted that the National Party is trying to cultivate a centrist image these days, although one wonders how much of that is spin, given the Opposition's scandalous lack of developed potential policies as the election draws closer.

What does this have to do with New Zealand's LGBT communities, one might ask? Simply that the subject of Sirocco's lecture is the alleged 'difference' between Catholic social teaching and 'social justice', and modern mainstream western welfare states. It might well be asked 'what difference,' given that most European states have centre-right Catholic-based Christian Democratic political parties which have no problem in administration of welfare states from either a theological or philosophical perspective.

And indeed, New Zealand's Catholic Bishops and social service agencies did not support the Richardson/Shipley benefit cuts back in 1991.

Sirocco, the Business Roundtable, and Maxim Institute have nothing to do with any mainstream Catholic theological and political perspectives on social welfare. Instead, they are preaching something radically different- a New Right slant on Catholic social teaching and welfare policy which is most certainly not centred on the 'common good' but on radical welfare privatisation, which would end up with church social services being allowed to run welfare services, with minimal or diminished regulation. As LGBT social service clients are classed as 'deviant' within conservative religious dogma, there is a real risk of low income, homeless and at-risk LGBT clients 'falling through the gaps' when it comes to such privatised social services. There have been frequent disputes over discrimination against vulnerable members of US LGBT communities after welfare privatisation there.

I am left with several questions about Sirocco's forthcoming lecture. One, can one hope to see New Zealand's Catholic Bishops sharply distinguish their churches real position on social justice and antipoverty initiatives from that of the New Right? One would hope so. Two, it would seem that the Maxim Institute is back at its game of trying to influence the result of the next general election- as it is indeed entitled to do within a pluralist democratic society. One wonders how far Sirocco's speech will be distributed, and where it will be publicised. Three, LGBT New Zealanders need to take a stronger interest in social policy issues. As I have continually argued, we need to do something about any barriers of entrenched poverty, homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse difficulties that could lead to destructive consequences for those outside the 'official version' of prosperous, affluent, well-educated professionals.

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