Having argued that any insistence upon the removal of Christianity from the public decision-making process is undemocratic (as the silencing of any voice is) and unrepresentative (since the majority of Australians still choose to identify themselves in some way as “Christian”) I now want to turn to the specific folly of silencing Christianity given it’s positive contribution to our nation. The simple reality is this – Christianity has had a profoundly positive input and effect upon Australian society (and western society more generally). This is not the same as claiming that Christianity’s influence has been exclusively positive; even the ongoing inquiries into abuse of children make that more than clear. But when Christianity is true to it’s own self-identification, our society has benefitted and prospered. Consider just a brief survey of what Christianity brought to us:
- The first universities in the 13th Century
- Medical care long before hospitals were established
- Abolition of slavery – pushed tenaciously through the British Parliament by the evangelical Wilberforce who at the time was labelled as a “fanatic”.
- Factory, Coal, Mine and Lunacy Acts of the 19th Century in the UK under prominent evangelicals such as Shaftesbury.
- Renewed call for improved medical care spearheaded by many like Florence Nightingale who described her motivation in nursing as “a divine Christian calling”.
- The Royal Flying Doctor Service here in Australia, founded by Rev. John Flynn (who also established bush hospitals).
- The Salvos (Salvation Army) who do phenomenal work amongst the disadvantaged, founded in 1865 by Williams and Catherine Booth as the East London Christian Mission.
Now of course a brief list like this is not a knock-down argument but it is indicative of a provenance of sustained positive contribution into our society by Christians and others. The religious have done a lot for us and we ought to not be in denial about it. Nor is this a historical oddity, the same occurs today.
Macquarie Fields in SW Sydney, where I minister today, is widely acknowledged as an area with a number of serious social issues. There are a great number of disadvantaged people here who need help and encouragement. Aside from governmental agencies who are doing their very best, who else is giving of themselves to serve the people here? Let me tell you the major prominent charities:
- The Salvos (Christian)
- St Vincent de Paul (Christian)
- Youth Off the Streets (Christian)
- Break the Cycle (Christian – a ministry of our church Glenquarie Anglicans), in partnership with Anglicare and Anglican Aid (Christian).
And that’s the list of major agencies. There isn’t any representation from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Now I’m happy to admit that last sentence is a bit of rhetoric, but the principle behind it is, I trust, clear. It’s the Christians who are giving sacrificially to serve our society. And they always have been. Even in Ancient Rome, Christianity was known for it’s (as they saw it) absurd care of the marginalised. Dr Rodney Stark of Baylor University argues,
what Christianity gave its converts was nothing less than their humanity
Christians have done much good for society, the people around us that we love. We care and look to help with the needs of those that others cannot help. We do it on the ground and we have done it through the democratic process in Parliament. That some would now seek to remove our influence from that process is a little bit like later in life rejecting the friend who has done so much for you in previous decades. Despite all the sacrifices made in the past on our behalf and the many benefits we have accrued from it, because they now hold a couple of opinions (which they always held) which we don’t agree with, we discard them from our life. And only one person loses. It’s terribly myopic. The great thing, of course, is that Christians are the sort of discarded best friend who are still there for you, even if you don’t want them. But it is particularly foolish to exclude that friend from our lives when they’ve been such a good friend.
“Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties?”