Australian Christians is unashamed of being a voice for Christian values in the public square. Sometimes we are asked, shouldn’t religion be kept out of politics?
The story we Aussies generally tell ourselves is that we are an immigrant society built by convicts and other misfits. There’s a general sense that we were born modern and more worldly than our British ancestors, and that we’ve always kept religion and politics poles apart.
But does that story about our past stack up?
Australia wasn’t founded explicitly as a “Christian nation” but we did proclaim ourselves proudly British. And by definition, British meant Protestant.
It’s true that many of the convicts brought to Australia weren’t religious. But it’s a mistake to project the convict experience on to the rest of Australia. Convicts were only arriving here until the 1850s. Both before and after, huge numbers of free settlers were arriving from England, Ireland, Scotland, and other parts of Europe.
Travel anywhere in Australia today — to country towns especially — and you will see churches, chapels and cathedrals that still stand as a testimony to Australia’s strong Christian roots.
There never was a point in our past when every Australian was a Christian or behaved Christianly. We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking there is a “golden age” for us to return to. But when Australia was federated, Christianity was more or less a given. It was seen as a kind of “stable centre” that our country would be built on.
Around the time of Federation in 1901, the percentage of Australians identifying as Christians was in the high 90s. So during the Federation debates, Australia’s Christian identity was discussed a lot.
Our founders affirmed Australia’s Christian character by including this phrase in the first sentence of Australia’s Constitution. They described us as a people “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”.
There was quite a bit of controversy around this phrase being included.
Thousands of Australians petitioned their Federation delegates to make sure the phrase “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God” was kept in the Constitution. In fact, they were so passionate about this issue that, if the delegates had ignored them, Federation may never have happened!
Consider what some of Australia’s founders have said about Australia’s Christian character.
The ‘Father of Federation’ Henry Parkes (1815-1896) said of Australia that “our whole system of jurisprudence, our constitution… are based upon and interwoven with our Christian belief.”
Alfred Deakin, our second Prime Minister, declared that, “Without God and without immortality there can be no true or efficient morality from generation to generation, no task for the race, and no goal for it to attain.”
In fact, as the Constitution was being drafted, Alfred Deakin prayed that the move towards Federation “may be the means of creating and fostering throughout all Australia a Christ-like Citizenship.”
Keep in mind what Queen Elizabeth II, Australia’s head of state, vowed at her coronation in 1953.
At that ceremony, she vowed to maintain “the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel,” along with “the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government” of “the Protestant Reformed Religion”.
The idea that Australia is a secular nation just doesn’t square with the facts of history. As recently as the 1950s, only 10% of Australians claimed no religion. It was only from the 60s that religious belief in Australia—like other Western countries—really started to decline.
All this to say that Christian ideas, beliefs and values have a really important role to play in our nation. The Christian’s voice absolutely has a place in politics. Australian Christians have a crucial role to play in shaping politics and our conversations around community, justice, family and life.