Sydney Anglicanism, political engagement and marriage

Sydney Anglicanism, political engagement and marriage

Anglicans were a key part of the colonial establishment from the very beginnings of the Sydney colony. They were a key part of control of convicts and subjugation of Australia’s First Peoples; their wealth is derived from lands stolen from the latter.

Since then Australian culture and religion has changed and morphed in a way that will cause churches to wander with uncertainty for decades, unsure of what it is they’re supposed to do to engage within their political and cultural context.

Some churches may have already begun the journey; but on the whole, churches don’t know if they’re supposed to battle the culture, defeat it, slay it, withdraw from it, or embrace it.

Others will see this as a tricky time and space to be in.

Movements come for many reasons—and they are deterred by many other reasons.  Yet, one of those reasons has to be the uncertainty with which we are engaging political environment and culture around us.

The Anglican Church in Australia has to learn how to engage culture and the political process from the edges instead of the centre. Why?  I have been saying and living this for over 25 years. The church is no longer the epicentre of political power and has minimal influence on culture.

The fact is that churches and church leadership are increasingly at the margins.

But for the most part, our churches are still poised for ministry in the old cultural mindset. They expect to be heard and respected. They expect to have the power. They expect culture to fall in line under the leadership of the church, but Australian culture is just not listening.

Until Australian churches and church leadership understand how to live and work in an increasingly post-Christian culture, they will struggle with any kind of effectiveness engagement at any level.

The Anglican Diocese of Sydney has attacked changes to the marriage act on at least three critical occasions.  On each, it played the politics and was shown to be inept politically and as a mere side player in Australian culture.

Firstly, the divorce laws of the late 19th century were debated in the NSW Parliament by Sir Alfred Stephen.  He wanted to allow divorce on the ground of violence.  The Sydney Diocese appealed to the Queen not to assent to the Act.  A huge row ensued with the church castigated in the daily press and by community leaders.

Secondly, Lionel Murphy’s change to the Divorce Law in the 1970s was opposed since it was seen to undervalue marriage because of its no fault rule.  At the same time the community was struggling with Australia’s new role in Asia and multiculturalism was settling as our quality of community life.

Thirdly, the present story taking place soon after the national Census which showed the huge loss of affiliation with Christianity along with massive community and political polarisation on climate change, refugee policy and recognition of First Peoples.

Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall
Lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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