As demonstrated by census data obtainedwithin recent years, the religious landscape of Australia has undergone rapidchange since the wake of the Second World War, seeing the nation evolve intoboth an increasingly secularized and religiously diverse society. Suchtransformation demands that interactions of those practicing different beliefssustain a pursuit of peace and social justice, a triumph most efficaciously participatedin by Australian mainstream Christian churches as a means of ensuring theirrelevance in an increasingly pluralistic society. Whilst involvements ininterfaith dialogue have helped to create a peaceful multifaith environment, Christianity’sown denominational differences have been celebrated under an ecumenicalmovement.
Efficacy also transpires through churches’ attempts in assistingAustralia’s reconciliation with its indigenous people. The post-war period in Australia saw bothethnic and religious diversification that necessitated reappraisal oftraditional sectarian methods. Christian churches have largely responded tothis change efficacy, imbuing the Australian religious community with a senseof continuously developing interfaith dialogue through their unprecedentedefforts. The Second Vatican Council’s 1965 document Nostra Aetate which permitted Catholics to participate in dialogueon equal terms with other faiths created a fundamental basis for the developmentof interfaith dialogue in Australia, with Catholic influence extending into morerecent years with Pope John Paul II hosting an interfaith prayer service in theDomain in Sydney in 1996. Despite Australia’s interfaith dialogue lackingexplicit action of other denominations, the hosting of the 1989 fifth worldassembly of Religions for Peace in Melbourne embodied an effort of allChristian churches in ecumenically uniting to intensify the Christian approachtowards achieving respect and appreciation for Australia’s shifting religiouslandscape. In recent years, Australia’s religiouslandscape has shifted on a narrower level through an increasing prevalence ofdenominational switching within the Christian faith.
Churches have responded tothis change with extreme efficacy through a national ecumenical movement,despite historical dispute between Christian denominations. Blossoming to lifeat the turn of the 19th century, Christian ecumenism was initiatedby Anglican and Protestant churches, the dialogue joined by Eastern andOriental churches throughout the 1960s and 70s. Undeterred by failed efforts ofthe Protestant Church in the early 20th century, the PresbyterianChurch’s 1945 vote to reopen negotiations with Methodist and Congregationalchurches eventuated in the 1972 formation of the Uniting Church of Australia. TheCatholic Archbishop of Brisbane at the time, Francis Rush, pronounced the affairas “the most significant ecumenical event in Australia’s history”.
Thecontemporary church is renowned for it’s ecumenical aims, its formationexplained in ‘The Basis of Union’ as their “seeking to bear witness to thatUnity which is both Christ’s gift and will for the church”. In the midst of Australia’s attempt atreconciliation with it’s indigenous people, Christian Churches have somewhatresponded with efficacy to the changing society around them, as theirconnection with Aboriginal spirituality can be inherently problematic. With a greatmajority of Indigenous Australians affiliating with Christian churches,mainstream denominations have attempted to assimilate them into theinstitutional church through the forming of an ‘Aboriginal Christianity’. Some denominationshave been fairly successful in incorporating aboriginal spirituality into theirown beliefs and practices; the Assemblies of God Ganggalah Church does notcommemorate Australia Day as a congregation, whilst the Australian Churches ofChrist Indigenous Ministries has become a part of the Churches of Christ GlobalMission Partners, working towards establishing sustainable Christian indigenouspartnerships.
However, such efforts have been met by conflicting views, such asthat of Chicka Dixon, stating “For mainstream churches to try to absorbAboriginal culture is genocidal. We will lose our traditional ways if theycontinue to marry our beliefs into their religious beliefs”, highlighting thepresence of a primitive, seemingly colonizing mindset within contemporarychurches. Ultimately, the response of Christian Churchesto Australia’s changing religious landscape has been efficacious, yet couldstill benefit from a more sensitive approach to certain cultural differences.Interfaith dialogue has proven itself as a progressive response to anincreasingly diverse society, whilst previously condemned differences withinChristianity itself have been mended and celebrated in an ecumenical movement.Whilst controversy surrounds the efforts of churches in assisting theAustralian movement of reconciliation, it is undeniable that such efforts havebeen exerted with good intentions; their negative interpretations, whilstvalid, were not the intended result of attempts to reconcile.