Religion and politics in Australia
Now that the prospect of Family First holding the balance of power in the Senate has receded (though not in a good way!) there are a few questions I’d like to raise. Reading all the stuff about the rise of movements like Family First, it struck me that I’ve been reading and hearing about this kind of thing for a long time, in two forms. The first is with reference to the growth of conservative/fundamentalist/pentecostalist/evangelical church groups either within or at the expense of mainstream denominations. The second is the idea that these groups will exert increasing political influence, as they do in the United States.
I’ve been hearing the second claim at least since Fred Nile was elected to the NSW Legislative Council in 1981. Even before that, the Bjelke-Petersens drew heavily on support from conservative church groups. And, while the base for the DLP was within the Catholic Church, it had a broadly similar policy position. It’s my impression that there’s a fairly reliable support base of 5 per cent of the population for this kind of politics, and that this proportion hasn’t changed much in many decades.
On the first question, I don’t have any good information, but my impression is that the news stories tend to focus on dynamic and expanding churches, ignoring the fact that there is contraction as well as expansion going on. I don’t think the census gives the kind of breakup that is needed here, but maybe readers are better informed than I am.
fn1. For my purposes, the distinctions here aren’t critical except as they bear on attitudes to political activism or quietism