Church and State: Australia’s Imaginary Wall (Ch 2)

Tom Frame; University of New South Wales, 2006. 

The following is the product of research being conducted for a paper regarding the Christian role in politics. 

Tom Frame is the Anglican Bishop for the Australian Defence Force. The following is part of a book that looks at the working relationship and tensions between Church and State in Australia. This book is a part of a series that explore, social, political and cultural issues in association with Australian Policy Online.

Frame on Hobbes
Because God did not give one person authority to compel others in respect of when and how they should worship, government had no power to demand religious compliance of any kind. Furthermore, he shared Hobbe’s view that compulsion was inconsistent with the nature of faith and would not guarantee salvation:
“Whatsoever is not done with the assurance of faith, is neither welling itself, not can it be acceptable to God. To impose such things, therefore, upon any people, contrary to their own judgement, is, in effect, to common them to offend God.” p 36.

In this context, why should religion be given any political credibility or the churches receive any civil privilege? p 36-7.

Remaining separate for the church’s good. 

Quoting Father Neville Figgis, 1913 – what concerned him:
“was not so much whether or not a religious body be in a technical sense established, but whether or not it be conceived as possessing any living power of self-development, or whether it be conceived as a creation of the State… In other words, is the life of society to be conceived as inherent or derived? Does the Church exist by some inward living force, with powers of self-development like a person; or is she amore aggregate, a fortuitous concourse of convenience, but with no real claim to a mind or a will of her own, except so far as the civil power sees good to invest here for the nonce with a fiction of unity.” p 45.

The battle of the twentieth century was, he argued, “the battle of small societies to maintain their inherent life as against the devouring Leviathan of the whole”. p 45.

Quoting Ralph Inge:
I do not think that the political power of the Church is often used for purely religious and moral ends… it is notorious that political Christianity excited bitter hatred against the Church, such as is almost unknown in countries were there is no such organisation… The choice for the Church is between political power and moral influence. p 46.

Rather than Christianity being a religion that championed individual liberty and promoted personal discretion, the church has consistently imposed restraints and demanded compliance. The French theological Jacques Ellul lamented that “whenever the Church hs been in a position of power, it has regarded freedom as an enemy.”
Although power is seductive and many organisations lose sight of their origins and objectives in an effort to retain power, the church is called to resist the allure of power for the sake of its message, which is most clearly proclaimed for a position of powerlessness. p 47.

…when the church has gained authority and power to order temporal things and compel earthly obedience. It has exchanged conviction for compulsion, made mandatory what needed to be voluntary if virtue were to flourish, created monolithic societies deprived of the blessings of diversity, and attempted cultural unity for the sake of bureaucratic control. p 47.

Whereas authentic Christianity accepts that human society is enriched by variety and acknowledges that people will live and think differently, a church with totalitarian tendencies overlook the possibilities inherent in diversity and strives to achieve not unity, but uniformity and compliance. p 47.





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