When I was a kid in primary school I remember looking up the Concise Oxford Dictionary for all sorts of odd words. Of course there were the rude words: bum, tit, dick – all and more were studied diligently. Then there were the long words. The longest word in the dictionary at the time was antidisestablishmentarianism. I had no idea what it meant back then, nor did I care very much about it at the time. Now, it seems, I am on the edge of being accused of it! Of course I am not guilty, but you will have to read on to find out…
Antidisestablishmentarianism was a term used in 19th century England in regard to the relationship between the Church of England and the British Government. It was, obviously, the alternative to disestablishmentarianism; the separation of church and government or as we are probably more familiar the separation of Church and State. So how does that work itself out in Australia in the 21st century?
First up, the Constitution of Australia is, at best, ambiguous on the degree of the separation of church and state. The phrase itself is not ‘Australian’ as such, nor is it’s popularly understood intention. The phrase comes to us from the USofA where the separation of church and state is enshrined in their constitution. While the intention of the US constitution and the subsequent amendmants to the constitution in regard to separation of church and state are not all that clearly set out, an argument can be put that this separation, in its embryonic form, was more to protect the church from the manipulation of the sate than the state by the church. Given that those who originally put the argument were church leaders is it a pretty strong case.
Australia’s constitution does not separate church and state. The closest it comes is in section 116, which says the Commonwealth cannot make any law for ”establishing any religion”, ”imposing any religious observance” or ”prohibiting the free exercise of any religion”. There is not so much a ‘wall of seperation’ as there is in the US but a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that each will not try to control the other.
Again, this is as much to protect religion from the state as the state from religion. Given that our current Head of State is also the head of the Church of England, we need to think before we speak in this regard.
As for me: I am a pastor of a Baptist Church. I am not ordained but I am a recognised pastor. Baptists are not ordained in the same way that say Anglicans or Catholics are ordained as priests for life. For those of us who are recognised, we are ordained as leaders in our church for the length of tenure in that church. But that doesn’t mean much to most people apart from Baptists, and then not much to most of them.
I am a Christian and it not something I can leave at the door so to speak. My faith shapes me. If I am the sort of person that you believe would make a good councillor for Shellharbour it is to some degree because of my faith. It is an integral part of who I am and informs what I do.
Now, back to the big words: I support a separation between church and state, so I suppose I am the dis-establishment part of the equation. I have told my church that I will not use the pulpit for political purposes. I have asked them to support me as a person who is doing waht they believ to be right and I have given them the freedom to do that and still make up their own mind on who they vote for on September 3rd.
Likewise, I will not use the platform of council to preach. While it is my desire that people find faith and my privilege to point them in the right direction it is not as a councillor that I will do that.
Nor is it my intention to try and turn Shellharbour into some extension of the Kingdom of God. Where that has ever been tried before (and probably by better people than I) it has always failed and failed miserably. Jesus himself said that his kingdom was not from this world. Faith and nationalism are not good bedfellows.
So, I believe in the separation of church and state for the good of all parties concerned. I also believe that a citizen I am and as a person of faith I am still eligible to stand for councillor. It is my responsibility to make sure I don’t cross the line either way, again for the good of all. Where, if ever, a conflict of interests arises I am required to declare it and I will. My actions will be accountably to the people I serve. We are all in this together.