The Influence of Christianity on Social Welfare

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					              Religion in Australia, 1901 to the Present
The primary influence of Christianity in Australian society within the period
1901 to the present

The Influence of Christianity on Social Welfare

1) Catholic – St Vincent de Paul is one of Australia‟s largest organisations. Formed
in 1833, the St Vincent de Paul Society provides many services to the community
- disability services
- employment services
- home visitations
- opportunity shops and Centres for Charity
- Hostels for Homeless Men – Matthew Talbot Hostel

2) Methodist – Wesley Mission Sydney was established in 1966. It provides many
services such as:
- worship services
- fellowship groups
- television, internet and film ministry
- extensive Pastoral Ministry

3) Anglican – Anglicare was established in the mid-1800s. About eighty different
Anglican groups come under the umbrella organisation of Anglicare. Some of these
- the Good Samaritans
- the Brotherhood of St Laurence
- aged care centres
- prison chaplains
- juvenile justice centres
- medical and psychiatric hospitals
- emergency services
- clothing bins

4) Baptist – Baptist Inner City Missions was established in 1987. Baptist Inner City
Missions works with:
- street sex workers
- the Fair Wear campaign
- people with drug, alcohol or gambling addictions
- Scripture teaching at the local school
- fruit and vegetable co-op
- people who are mentally ill, homeless, unemployed or experiencing violence

The interrelationship between the Australian physical and cultural environment and
the development of Christianity in Australia

Aboriginal Dispossession. Fixed understandings of religion meant that the colonisers
failed to recognise the deeply religious nature of Aboriginal societies and their
relationship to the land. The dispossession of indigenous people and desecration of
their sacred sites resulted. For most of the 20th century with the exception of a few
lonely voices, the churches participated in the destruction through generally
paternalistic mission policies and the crime of the stolen generations.

Sectarianism. Christianity brought with it in religious tensions within Great Britain
and Ireland. Denominational rivalry was a feature of the Australian religious
landscape to the mid-20th century. Some of it was based on old-world suspicions of
Anglicans and „Nonconformists‟. Another part of it was anti-Catholicism. This was
aggravated because from the start Catholics were a more sizeable minority here than
in Britain and thus capable of greater influence. It was inflamed at times by Irish
immigration, the education question and state aid debate, Catholic decrees against
mixed religion marriages and Mannix‟s Irish clause. In 1901 the Australian Protestant
Defence Association was founded to counter Catholic influence on politics. At times
sectarianism limited a Catholic‟s opportunities for employment and promotion.
However, it needs to be put in perspective. Catholics delayed their favourable
reception in the wider community. They chose not to benefit from the great leveller,
public education. Some Catholics displayed opinionated attitudes towards so-called
„non-Catholics‟. Catholic life to about 1970 tended to be self contained and look in on
itself, as Catholics generally mixed socially mainly with each other. The impact of the
Second Vatican Council (1962-65) has enabled Catholics to join in ecumenical
dialogue and activity that has lead to greater understanding.

(Alien) physical environment. Australian heat, drought and flood were alien to many
colonisers. Many saw Australia as a place to make quick money „in the colonies‟ and
to retire comfortably in Britain. Australia was alien, hostile and temporary. The
Christian „work ethic‟ would bring deserved prosperity. The land was the barrier to
success. Settlers set out to dominate and clear the land or reproduce the homeland
through introduced plants and animals, often with deleterious effects on Australia‟s
natural environment. This attitude predominated until recently. While these activities
may not appear to be motivated directly by Christianity, they were consistent with
Christian understandings of „filling the earth and conquering it‟ (Gen. 1:28).
Indifference to religion. Christianity was introduced to Australia as part of harsh
convict environment. This inauspicious start had ongoing consequences. The vast
majority of people have professed belief in Christianity at each census and in other
surveys. However, the proportion regularly participating in worship and church
activities stood at one person in three for most of Australia‟s history. The figure was
higher at times (e.g. late last century, during WW1 and in the 1950‟s) and among
certain groups (e.g. Methodists, Catholics and more recently Pentecostals) and it was
lower before 1850 and has declined from 1970. Most people have sought Christian
rites of birth, marriage and death but in their regular routine display an indifference to
religious participation. For many Australian Christians, religion is simply a private

Christianity in Australia sometimes is described as having a unoriginal character. This
refers to the perception that it was transplanted from Britain and other countries and
has not developed its own identity. Australia has not developed any new religious
movements but has depended on traditions from overseas. Anglican independence
was not in place until 1962 and the Catholic Church remained at least in theory under
Roman missionary jurisdiction until 1976.
On the other hand, one could argue that two centuries is not long enough to establish a
distinctive religious character. The emergence of the Uniting Church, the increasing
multicultural expressions of Christianity and the adaptation of Christian themes in art
and ceremony of Aboriginal Christians give rise to the possibility of distinctive
Australian forms of Christianity.

Responses by some religious traditions to social change and initiatives in
community development from 1901 to the present

1) Ministry in rural and outback Australia
Catholic church
~ Moved where the Irish went.
~ Nuns and brothers prepared to go where Anglicans wouldn‟t.
~ Most religious orders came to Australia specifically to go to rural areas.
~ Sisters of St Joseph founded my Mary MacKillop.
~ Sisters of Mercy on „motor missions‟ brought religious education to Catholic
children in rural areas.
~ Bush Church aid society founded in 1919.
                           * Correspondence schools.
                           * Hostels
                           * Health care
                           * Preaching
 ~ Women played a large role, taking services, preaching and providing health care
and education.
 ~ Replaced the Bush Brotherhoods, initiated by Sydney Low Anglicans.
 ~ Reaction to Mannix‟s stand against conscription- alleged fear of Catholic
aggression in the bush.
       ~ Australian Inland Mission begun in 1912 by Rv. John Flynn.
       ~ Sought „benefit for the whole nation‟ not just Christians.
       ~ Rev J Payn Lewis and Rev Brady pioneered mission to areas never
         visited by any churches.
       ~ „Such is our task. In places we just go on until the remotest islanders
          know that we are a part of their life and their lives parts of ours‟ Rev
          Plowman 1912.
       ~ AIM approached by government to set up hospital n 1917.
       ~ Flynn dreamed of a network of safety-schools, nursing homes etc.
       ~ Flying Doctor Service established 1928, with Flynn wanting it to
                  become independent of the AIM (became Royal Flying Doctors in
                ~ 1949 first Old Times Home opened in Alice Springs.
                ~ Flynn died 1951
                ~ Became Frontier Services after the formation of the Uniting Church
                ~ Only organisation to provide aged care, HACC. Health, family,
                  respite and welfare support across the whole of remote Australia

Response of Islam to rural and outback Australia.
The majority of camel drivers who came to Australia to drive camel teams across the
deserts were Muslim. Before the end of the 19th century, Christian entrepreneurs such
as a Scotsman by the name of Thomas Elder, were importing camels and sponsoring
the arrival of Afghani camel drivers. Towns made up of Muslims, called Ghan towns
(because they were from Afghanistan) developed near rural freight depots. It was
because of camel driving that the first Muslim settlements developed in outback
Australia. This continued in the 20th century. Today, the graves of these pioneer
Muslims are still to be found in outback towns in Australia.
There were no Afghan women or children in the first Muslim towns; so many Afghan
men married Australian women. South Australia and Western Australia (and hence
the greatest demand for camels) were the states that initially had the highest
proportion of Muslims. The first city mosque was opened in Adelaide in 1890 and
others soon followed in Broken Hill and Perth.
After Federation, and because of the White Australia Policy, many Muslims returned
to their homelands.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Albanian Islamic immigrants arrived in Australia. Many
went to Queensland, working on tobacco farms, cane cutting and cotton picking.
As earlier, the response of Muslim people to the harsh conditions of the outback was
to pursue holiness as best they could. They prayed 5 times a day, expressed belief in
Allah and looked for fellowship with other Islamic people by building mosques.
While Jews got land grants for synagogues and Christians got land grants for
churches, Muslims had to raise their own money for land for mosques.

2) The role of religious traditions in the labour movement, conscription, wars and the
Great Depression

The Labour Movement
Labour Movement refers to the unionisation of the working class in the 20th century.
Before World War One, most Australian Catholics were working class and therefore,
supported the Labour movement/party. Church leaders encouraged Catholics that
were affiliated with the Labour party. However, Catholics did not affiliate with the
Labour party for religious reasons, but for social or occupational concerns.
The majority of Protestants were middle class so tended to support the conservative
parties because things were good for them. However, across all churches, religious
ethics and doctrine did not determine political allegiance.

Churches soon (after World War Two) began to concern themselves with communism
in trade unions. Supported by Daniel Mannix, B. A. Santamaria organised groups of
Catholics to lead trade unions dominated by Communism. This gained influence in
the Labour party after the establishment of the Catholic Social Studies Movement
(The Movement). The Movement later formed the Democratic Labour Party after a
split from the Labour party.

Many Catholics remained loyal to the ALP after the split and continued to vote for it.
However, the Vietnam war caused a shift in allegiance with many Catholics turning to
Liberal against communism. Variations in political allegiance today have become
less noticeable. However, the churches have remained active in challenging
governments and society on key issues.

Pre World War Two, most Jews supported non-Labour parties as they tended to be
self-employed and were not members of unions. After World War Two, many Jews
began to support the Labour Party because: the ALP policy allowed Jews to migrate
to Australia after the Holocaust and because Labour leader H. V. Evatt was a strong
supporter of Israel.

World War One – Christians were divided – Daniel Mannix (Catholic) was against
                whilst Prime Minister Billy Hughes was for. Most protestant
                clergy supported it.
World War Two – Christians generally supported
Vietnam War – Christians were divided – Catholics tended to support it.

The Jews votes were also based primarily on social class in World War One. There
were few working-class Jews, therefore, there was almost universal support for
conscription among Jews. The Jews were one of the few groups in the community not
split by the issue.

World War I
Churches generally supported the was with the Catholics believing it would prove
their loyalty to their nation and Protestants believing in the ally between themselves
and the British. Lutherans supported the war, however, they were often accused of
being German supporters and as a result, were persecuted.

Jews strongly supported the war as they were thankful to Britain for their freedom.
Like Christians, Jews were very active on the home front. The Jewish involvement in
the war was very similar to the Christian involvement.

World War II
WW2 broke out in 1939 and lasted until 1945. Again Australia followed Britain into
the war. But, unlike WW1, Australia had to fight for its own survival, with Japanese
troops invading New Guinea, Japanese planes bombing Darwin and Japanese
submarines probing into Sydney Harbour. With so much at stake, the churches
generally supported Australia‟s war effort. There was hardly any protest, even when
the government successfully introduced conscription in 1942 (only a few groups, like
the Quakers, remained pacifists). Church leaders proclaimed the need to fight against
cold-blooded tyranny and defend the very existence of democracy. Yet there was
none of the bubbling enthusiasm that swept the nation at the outbreak of WW1.
Instead, Australians viewed the war as a duty.
Both Catholic and Protestant leaders gave widespread support to Australia‟s entry into
WW2. Even the outspoken Daniel Mannix gave his support. In 1940, government
authorities arrested some Catholic German missionaries who were working with
Aboriginal people in the Kimberly region. Mannix believed this action was unjust and
he threatened to organise mass catholic protests over the incident. Prime Minister
Menzies quickly ordered the release of the missionaries.

The Great Depression
Although some Christian Churches provided relief to those most affected, it appears
that Christians found little support from their Church for long-term solutions. Some
clergymen believed that the Depression was a sign of displeasure sent by the higher
being for the sins of people. The Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne issued a
statement saying that the people would be saved if Christians and Churchmen voted
for the United Australia Party (now the Liberal Party).

The development of religious plurality and distribution/profile of religious
adherence today

a) immigration after World War II
After World War Two, the number of immigrants from Ireland and the United
Kingdom had declined while the number of immigrants from Continental Europe
increased. There was also a large increase of Orthodoxy.
 Pre-1945 Immigration Restriction act (1901) (while Australia policy) predominately
 Christian society.
 1945- Arthur Calwell declared that Australia‟s first priority was to increase its
 population, „populate or perish‟. This began a systematic attempt to seek migrants for
 Australia. Migrants drawn from European countries such as Germany (Lutheran),
 Italy (Catholic), Greece (Orthodox). This began the changing nature of the Australian
 religious landscape.
 1951- UN Refugee Convention (Australia a signatory).
 1972- Gough Whitlam elected (Labor).
 1972-1973- White Australia Policy dismantled and immigration program from Asia
 1970s- migrants from Lebanon (Islam, Maronite and Coptic religions) and the USSR
 (Orthodox) arrived escaping civil strife in their home countries.
 1975- End of Vietnam war and 1000‟s of refugees became a major political and
 humanitarian issue for the Australian government.
 1977- Federal Government‟s Charter for Multicultural Australia established the
 principle of cultural identity, where the right of all to express and share their cultural
 heritage, language and religion was declared.
 Over 12,000 refugees from Asia were living in Australia. These were particularly
 Vietnamese and Cambodian (Buddhist).
 1992- Asian immigrants and their descendants made up 3.5% of the Australian
 2002- Australia has a planned, global, non-discriminatory immigration program.
 Anyone from any country can apply to migrate to Australia regardless of their ethnic
 origin, gender, race or religion. Australia also has a quota of 12,000 „humanitarian
 entrants‟, which includes a total of 8,000 spaces allocated for refugees.

b) the ending of the White Australia Policy
The White Australia Policy was initially enforced to allow only „white‟ people to
enter the country. It was enforced so that all people living in Australia would speak
English. Migrants wanting to come to Australia had to sit a dictation test which was
not usually in their own language. The White Australia Policy was abolished in 1973.
This caused an influx of migrants predominately from Asia and other non-English
speaking backgrounds.

c) the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977
The Uniting Church was established in 1977 when the Congregational Union in
Australia, the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Presbyterian Church of
Australia united. This formation has been described as the most significant
ecumenical movement ever. It is the third largest religious group in Australia and it
provides equal opportunities for women with 1/8 of their ministers being female. The
emblem of the Uniting Church focuses on the gospel message as a central element for
all their actions, the need for constant reform and renewal, and the commitment to
worship, witness and service.

d) New Age Religions
- focus on individual fulfilment and generally do not have divine texts
- era of harmony, progress, knowing and enlightenment
- people are dissatisfied with mainstream religions
- searching for rebirth and soul
- identify with ancient religions
- forces the person to look inside him/herself, experiencing a transformation without
religious doctrine
- individuals are encouraged to shop for the beliefs and practices that they will fell
more comfortable with

e) Religious conversion and denominational switching
Religious conversion is a term used to describe those who join a religion either from
no religion or from a different tradition. For example, Christianity to Islam. Reasons
for the change include:
- marriage
- influx of new religions as a result of immigration
- dissatisfaction with current religion

Denominational switching is a term used to describe Christians who change from one
denomination to another. For example, Catholicism to Anglican. The majority of the
switching has been to Pentecostal churches with the main losers being the older,
mainstream variants such as Anglican, Uniting and Presbyterian.

f) Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement
- fastest growing religious movement in Australia in the 20th century
- denominations include the Apostolic Church, Assemblies of God, Christian Revival
Crusade, Foursquare Gospel and Wesleyan Methodist
- more people attend Pentecostal services than identify themselves as Pentecostal
- „revolving door syndrome‟ – people only stay for between nine months and three
- charismatic – focus on the gifts of the Holy Spirit
- believe that the second coming of Jesus is soon to take place
- follow beliefs of the traditional Protestant churches such as the Bible as God‟s word,
personal salvation, holy living and that Jesus‟ died for people‟s sins
- less structured services, involve many people in the services, use contemporary
music, aggressively evangelical, involve faith healing and body movements
- The Charismatic Movement – a radical re-evaluation of the role of „spiritual gifts‟ in
many Churches. The spread of Pentecostalism into traditional churches.
- Key aspects of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement that have contributed
to diversity of worship in Australia include
~ the importance of religious experience, as well as belief in the life of the believer
~ more involvement of lay people
~less formality of worship
~ more contemporary music styles
~ an emphasis on youth
Recognition of common elements in religious expression and world views in
Australia today

Religious harmony and Inter-faith dialogue
- celebration of commonality in religion
- turning point in inter-religious relations in Australia – 5th World Assembly of the
World Conference on Religion and Peace in Melbourne in 1989.
- in the past, religious commentary on contemporary social issues was the domain of
Christian Churches however, the views of other faith communities are being
increasingly sought after and reported on. Interfaith Appeal for Peace (Sydney,
January, 2000) was staged to stand against religious violence in Indonesia.
- appreciation and respect for religious diversity and commonalities are an essential
part of harmonious relationships within Australia‟s multicultural and multifaith
society. Perhaps some of the most significant moments of religious harmony have
come in times of tragedy such as the Thredbo landslide, the Bali bombings and the
Indonesian tsunami.
- Other example of interfaith dialogue include Council of Christians and Jews, The
Catholic Church‟s Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Columban
Centre for Christian-Muslim relations (Sydney), the Interfaith Chapel at Sydney 2000
Olympics and the World Conference on Religion and Peace meetings held every two

Ecumenical Developments within Christianity
The World Council of Churches
- established in 1948
- convenes every 7 years and describes itself as “an international fellowship of
Christian Churches, built upon the foundation of encounter, dialogue and

National Council of Churches in Australia
- established in 1994
- makes submissions to the government on behalf of the member Churches
- purpose is to deepen the relationship of member churches “in order to express more
visibly the unity willed by Christ”
- operate Operation Christmas Bowl

Australian College of Theology
- an ecumenical body

Joint Inter-faith and Ecumenical Initiatives
See above under Religious Harmony and Inter-faith Dialogue