The problem with the church (and its public role in Australia)

By Ruth Limkin

There’s a very big problem with the Christian church and its public role in Australia. I realised it once again last night when I read the latest report about how the church was interfering in society.

Reports in the Herald Sun said, “The Salvation Army has helped rescue three young women trafficked from Thailand and forced to work in a Sydney brothel. A Sydney brothel owner has been charged with human trafficking offences following raids by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) last night. They were tipped off by the Salvation Army, that had learned of the women’s situation and contacted them with suspicions they were being held against their will.”

Here we have, once again, the church going down the same old path that it has for generations; even centuries, if the truth be told.

Helping the vulnerable. Speaking out for the oppressed. Caring for the forgotten. Feeding the hungry.

It’s a problem. Particularly for those who hate religion or who remain wholly suspicious of people of the Christian faith.

Yes, the church has made mistakes over the centuries, and some of them are of the highest magnitude. Tragically, there have been times when the church has failed the very people who needed their protection. This shouldn’t be denied and like all organisations or groups of people, the church needs to be honest about failings when they occur.

Yet the problem with the Christian church is that it makes an enormously positive contribution to public life, by serving and caring for those in need, and that makes it difficult to write it off, even if you aren’t a person of faith.

It’s hard to completely quantify the positive contribution of the church in Australia. A soon to be published research report in the US, from a secular research group and University of Pennsylvania professor, suggests the 12 congregations they studied contribute the equivalent of US$50,577,098 in annual economic benefits to their communities. It’s hard to deny that the Australian church makes a broad positive contribution to the community when one considers their direct service programs, charitable and cultural programs, schools and hospitals, and community development or social advocacy programs, many of which are facilitated by volunteers.

That’s a problem for the strident voices that sometimes try to deny a place to the church, or people of faith, in public dialogue. Sadly, there’s often no reason for this attempted exclusion other than the existence of an individual’s faith background.

I suspect that such exclusion is not so much a problem for the church, which will continue to help the poor and oppressed regardless. However, it’s most certainly a problem for the quality of public conversations in Australia.


Full disclosure: Ruth happily acknowledges her involvement with a number of organisations that put their faith in action and provide practical assistance to the community.

10 thoughts on “The problem with the church (and its public role in Australia)

  1. Who doesn’t love the mega garage sales, soup kitchens, fitness groups, kids holiday clubs, play groups, Christmas extravaganzas that our local churches do so well, drawing thousands of people from every demographic through the doors. If this is a problem, then it’s a truly wonderful problem to be a part of. Great article again, Ruth.

  2. Its been said that the aged care system (and the health systems too) would fall.over and stop working if the churches of Australia stopped running their health care arms.

  3. Wow this article is topical. Spot on. There is so much in the media at present attacking Christianity as a whole. The atheist lobby is feeling empowered. (This doesn’t negate our responsibility to speak up.)

  4. You don’t need to be religious or belong to an organised belief system to be charitable. This article attempts to promote “the church” (which it admits has consistently caused more harm and pain in our history than any other organised society), as a positive thing in our society.

    The church is indeed charitable and I applaud that, but this is not the “problem” with the church/religion that one would expect to read about, based on the title. Instead, the REAL problem(s) with the church would take more pages than a brief flippant 1 page blog…

    1. Hi Matt

      Thanks for the comment. I’m sincerely very sorry if any experience you have had with the the church has been more negative than positive. I wish I could give you a glimpse of the many, many wonderful things I have seen happen in and through churches so that you had at least a breadth of experiences to draw from.

      I agree with you. You don’t need to be religious to be charitable. In fact, not all religions practise charity the way a society based on Judeo-Christian ethics understands charity.

      Let me clarify one thing though. You suggest that I ‘admit’ the church has ‘consistently caused more harm and pain in our history than any other organised society’. I don’t suggest that, and in fact, would refute that. I would actually suggest the Christian church has consistently promoted health, care, freedom and comfort than than any other organised society.

      Thanks for reading…

      1. I concur with Matt on this one. Charity isn’t related to the church’s belief or it’s organization. It’s caused by the people there, as other congregations aren’t as beneficial. I think you’ll find that secular charity organizations fulfill similar roles also. So I’m not sure if the positive of church, is actually church or rather the culture that leaders of the local church promoted. One and the same in many ways, however, I think it’s more leadership than belief is what I’m saying.

      2. Hi Donavan

        Thanks for your thoughts – you bring an interesting perspective. Obviously leadership has a huge influence however influential leaders aren’t necessarily charitable (and I’m sure we can list many who were the antithesis of such).

        There has to be more than leadership alone then. The values and worldview we hold to be true influence the culture which the leader leads from, which they help to sustain or create, and which informs them what is right or wrong. Perhaps you would feel more comfortable with the term ‘worldview’ than ‘belief’.


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