“To be a Tamil Christian in itself is a minority but then you take that and transplant that as a refugee community in Australia, and the Tamil Christian community in Australia is even smaller again.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that Max Jeganathan is a minority of a minority of a minority.
His refugee parents fled the horrors of the Sri Lankan civil war when he was one year old to settle in Melbourne and then Perth and Canberra. As he grew up, Max always felt like he straddled the divides between Sri Lankan and Australian culture.
Later, he worked as a policy advisor to Families Minister Jenny Macklin and afterwards for Bill Shorten, the current leader of the Opposition. There, Max again found himself in the minority, with few other public servants of a similar background: “We certainly weren’t represented in the halls of parliament anywhere near as much as we’re represented down Parramatta Road or in eastern Melbourne or northern Brisbane.”
His faith also set him at odds with many of his secular colleagues – and in a context where faith is often seen as an unwelcome intrusion into public life and government policy.
“The separation of church and state does not mean for a second the separation of faith and politics … To expect or assume or pressure anyone into leaving their faith at the door before they engage in public life is completely ridiculous. It’s the equivalent of saying to the atheist or the humanist, look, you can be an atheist, but when you come to parliament, you just have to believe in God while you’re in parliament. That’s as ridiculous as it is to say to the Christian or the Muslim or the Hindu, you’re fine to believe in your religion, but when you come to parliament, you have to be secular.”
If Max wasn’t a global citizen before, he certainly is one now, having studied at Oxford and now basing himself in Singapore, where he speaks across the Asia-Pacific about Christianity and its implications for politics, economics, and public policy for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
His experience abroad gives him renewed perspective on Australia – an affluent country, but one with striking levels of both anxiety and personal debt. People are looking for meaning through material advancement, and we’re good enough at it, says Max, that “we can actually trick ourselves into thinking that it’ll get us the fulfilment that we’re looking for”.
The problem is that if we seek validation in our jobs, families, or income, then an affair, a health crisis, a tragedy, a recession, or a change in government – not that Australians know anything about this, right? – can deeply unsettle our sense of security.
That’s at least partly why Max anchors his trust in Jesus – although he clarifies that “the only good reason to be a Christian is because it’s true”. And so he encourages everyone to examine the truth claims of a belief system to see how it lines up with reality.
Almost as a bonus, he also recognises that his faith delivers a profound sense of belonging.
“When you find your belonging in the person of Jesus it’s not like you’re invincible, but your identity is invincible. There’s nothing really that the world can throw at you that can shake who you are.”