With the abandonment of the White Australia Policy underHolt Government, the increasingly multifaith and pluralistic nature of post1945 Australia forced the churches to reassess their past sectarian ways.
Succeeding World War 2, Australia transformed into anincreasingly diverse and globalized society. Withimmigration from locations including Italy and Malta, the Catholic Church increasedfrom 4% from 1947 to 2011. Paradoxically, the initially dominant AnglicanChurch declined by 22%. Other immigration-based changes included an increase inthe Orthodox Church – with migrants of Greek, Russian and Eastern European descent– the formation of reformed bodies – such as the Pentecostal, Lutheran andBaptist churches – additional ethnic parishes and rise in non-Christianreligions – including Buddhism from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia,and Islam from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. Within this increasingly pluralistic andmulti-faith society, gradual globalization and evolving social values have contributedto a rise insecularism.
Straying from Christian traditional roots, the freedomto be religiously selective to gain spiritual fulfillment has been reflectedthrough the rise in denominational switching, particularly towards the Pentecostaland Evangelical churches. Tthe Pentecostal church increased of 60% in the pastdecade. Through its ecstatic festivals of contemporary music such as Hilson, itdelivers to the excitement and self-gain sought by modern capitalist society.
With Australia’s decreasing Christianity, the mainstreamchurches have renewed their relevance by becoming more involved in issues ofpeace and social justice. Demand for harmony and racial tolerance have producedbroadening ecumenical and interfaith perspectives. To promote the restoration of unity amongst allChristian divisions, the Anglican and Protestant churches first initiated theecumenical movement in Australia. Events such as the formationof the Uniting Church in 1977 were followed by the emergence of the NationalCouncil of Churches in Australia (NCCA) in 1994 – in which the Eastern andOriental Orthodox Churches joined in the late 1960s. The group of fifteenchurches aims to promote a unified front on important issues, commitments suchshared ordained ministries and theologically agreements were unprecedented halfa decade ago. In partnership with state ecumenical councils such as the 1982NSW Ecumenical Council, it runs interdenominational programs including TheSocial Justice Network and A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity In an increasingly secularised society, interfaithdialogue assists with uniting differing religions together in their commonproclamation of the important of faith.
TheSecond Vatican Council’s declaration of the 1965 Nostra Aetate enabled the Catholic Church to enter dialogue withother religions including Hinduism,Islam and Judaism. Since 2000, Religions for Peace Australia has sponsoredinterfaith initiatives nationally, including the Australian Council ofChristian and Jews. The 1997 Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations addressesmisconceptions through methods such as employing social media to serveAustralia’s technologically familiar society. Australia’s growing recognition and sensitivity of Aboriginalspiritual perspectives has influenced the development of an ecologicalawareness in the Christian Spirituality. In1996, Patrick Dodson, a chairperson for Aboriginal Reconciliation expressedthat ‘A united Australia” is one that “respects this land of ours” and”provides justice and equality for all”.
Similarly, a united Christianity is onethat abandons the horrors of Australia’s past missionaries, and infusesAboriginal ceremonial and ritual culture into churches. This initiative, particularlyadopted by the Protestant Church, responds to the majority of IndigenousAustralians that are affiliated with Christianity. While events such as the1993 Week of Prayer for Reconciliation are steps towards working ‘with’ theAboriginal people rather than ‘for’ them, the journey towards reconciliation remainsongoing. In essence, in Australia’s transforming religiouslandscape – which is increasingly diverse, and increasingly non compliant totraditional spiritual approaches – the Christian churches have responded effectivelyby strengthening relationships within their divisions, and with other religioustraditions. However, the treatment of Indigenous Australians,and excluding refugees by closing the borders, are current and ongoing tensionsthat must be responded to.