"When so much is in flux… there is a renewed hunger for that which endures and gives meaning. The Christian Church can speak uniquely to that need, for at the heart of our faith stands the conviction that all people, irrespective of race, background or circumstances, can find lasting significance and purpose in the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
The London Telegraph of 16 November 2005 opened its leader, “The Queen reminds us of lasting values”, with this extract from The Queen’s speech to the General Synod of the Church of England the day before. (I mentioned this in my last column.)
These words from The Queen, the editor said, forcefully remind the British that they have an established Church. (Of course, Australia does not have an established church.)
The editor continued: “Elizabeth II has many subjects of many faiths, each of whom enjoys the equal privileges of citizenship, including, not least, the total freedom of religion.
"Yet the United Kingdom is by law a Christian country: our institutions and statutes acknowledge the authority, in the words of the Coronation Oath, of ‘the laws of God [and] the true profession of the Gospel’. As such the Queen is quite within her rights (as well as quite right, in our view) to assert that Christianity has a ‘unique value, and that it alone ‘endures and gives meaning’.”
In England, there now seems to be a widespread wish among other Christian denominations, and indeed other faiths to preserve the establishment of the Church of England. This in no way disadvantages their adherents, and it provides a bulwark against forces hostile to any religion.
The editor reflected this view when he observed:
“As the Queen implied yesterday, it is, paradoxically, Britain’s Christian particularism that protects the multitude of other religions that flourish here. Indeed, the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, has argued that, by ensuring a sacred space in the public square, the Church of England is an umbrella beneath which shelter Judaism, Islam and the rest.”‘
Australia’s relationship with religion is broader than that of the United Kingdom, and particularly that of England.
The Preamble to our Constitution Act, which gave effect to our Federal Constitution, recites the fact that the people of the several states agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown and under the Constiution “humbly relying on the blessings of Almighty God”.
This reference to the Almighty received the strongest support of any part of the Constitution in the process of popular consultation which the Founders ensured would occur during its drafting.
This was balanced by the provision in section 116 against the establishment of any religion, or the imposing of religious observances or tests. This were inserted for “more abundant caution”; none of these events was at all likely in the late nineteenth century.
This provision does not create in Australia the rigorous separation of church and state that there is in France or, indeed, as the US Supreme Court would wish in its current and sometimes confused interpretation of the US Constitution.
It would be difficult to have such a separation in Australia. It would impose, for example the proscription of religious displays such as Christmas trees, or Christmas Cribs in public places, or the banning of prayers in schools.
The settlement of Australia, brought to this land the common law, and our oldest institution, the Crown. Both are strongly imbued with Judeo-Christian values and its principles. This in no way means that Australia is closed to peoples of other religions, or indeed those who subscribe to none.
The Constitution itself recognizes this in allowing the alternative of an affirmation to the Oath of Allegiance, a form of Oath which is acceptable to most denominations and religions. . But it means that the institutions and laws the country they have come to derive from and reflect those essentially Judeo-Christian values and principles.
As the Telegraph said, The Queen’s address to the synod “bore an echo, perhaps unconscious, of her famous coming-of-age speech from Cape Town in 1947. Then, too, she mentioned the diversity of her audience – ‘wherever they live, whatever race they come from, and whatever language they speak’" – while emphasising the unifying role of the Crown she would inherit.”
And as the editor said, “it is a shame she speaks so rarely. But the sight of her sombre profile at the Cenotaph this Remembrance Sunday was eloquent enough, and all the expression we need of our common nationhood.”
“The 21-year-old woman who made a public vow of service to Britain and its Empire – and made it, as she said, ‘with an unwavering faith, a high courage, and a quiet heart’ – became a worthy Supreme Governor…(of the Church of England)"
And, we might add, a worthy Queen of Australia, a worthy Queen of her other Realms and Territories, and a worthy Head of the Commonwealth.
Until next time,