By Mark Brolly, From the website of the Diocese of Melbourne
Church abuse is the chief obstacle to Australians believing in Christianity, according to a national online survey of more than 1000 people conducted by a Christian media group.
The Australian Communities Report said more than three-quarters of respondents, 76%, said church abuse was a “massive” or “significant” negative influence on their attitudes towards Christianity and church.
It said the top 10 “belief blockers” for Christianity were church abuse, hypocrisy, “judging others”, religious wars, suffering, issues around money, that it was “outdated”, Hell and condemnation, homosexuality and exclusivity.
The report also found that doctrines and practices about homosexuality were a “block” to belief for 69% of respondents, while those on Hell and condemnation (66%), the role of women (60%), suffering (60%) and science and evolution (57%) were also prominent obstacles.
The survey was commissioned by Olive Tree Media – which is led by Sydney Baptist pastor Karl Faase, a former Executive Director of Arrow Leadership Australia – and conducted by McCrindle Research in October, based on an online national survey of 1094 people and followed up with three focus groups made up of non-Christians. It was designed to prepare for a new Apologetics Series being produced by Olive Tree Media in 2012, which will tackle the issues arising from the research.
Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen launched the publication of the research results on 4 November.
“Christianity, as you know, is a communication religion,” Dr Jensen said. “We believe in the Word and the spreading of the Word… The whole business of translating the text into the language of the people is part of the genius of the Christian Gospel.
“The first thing I noticed as a communicator is how ill-informed the audience is. My expectation of what people know is far higher than what, in fact, the research has indicated.”
Archbishop Jensen said he was interested that celebrity endorsers of Christianity were a turn-off for Australians.
"I think it is cultural,” he said. “I think Americans tend to go in for that sort of thing and Aussies don't. I can understand that.”
Dr Jensen said the transmission of faith through families was immensely significant. Friends also were significant, he said, citing another survey that 60% of Australians did not know a Christian. Formation and fearlessness were other key factors.
“My own view is that the Christian faith suffered a monumental intellectual collapse 40 years ago,” he said. “We’ve never recovered ground.
“Friends, the situation now is not as bad as it was in the 1st century … We’re far better off now than we were. Thirty per cent of people say they’re Christians.
“I’m not discouraged by these figures – I see them as a challenge but I’m not discouraged by them. I think we have immense resource, immense possibility, and I’m very much a believer in the strength of the Gospel, the transforming power of the Gospel and the God who is the great evangelist.
“And so I’m not at all discouraged by these figures but I am informed by them and helped by them as I think of how to translate the faith in a way which will be heard by the real people we deal with and not the imaginary people that I think we ought to be dealing with.”
Several other findings were that:
Only one in every two Australians identified with a religion, with only two-fifths of the population declaring themselves to be Christians, the survey found.
The report said 31% of respondents did not identify with any religion or spiritual belief, while 19% said they were “spiritual, not religious”. Catholic and Orthodox Christians made up 22% of respondents, while 18% were classified as Protestant/Evangelical.
If indicative of the population as a whole, the report presents a much diminished picture of religious belief in Australia compared with the most recent available Census figures, those of 2006, when religious believers comprised about 70 per cent of all Australians. The total number of Christians grew to 12.7 million but fell as a proportion of the population from 71% in 1996 to 64% in 2006.
Anglicans comprised 19% of all Australians in 2006, but their numbers had dropped by five per cent to 3.7 million between 1996 and 2006.
From 1996-2006, the number of Australian residents who stated that they had no religion increased from 2.9 million to 3.7 million, from 17% in 1996 to 19% in 2006.
Census figures on religion from this year’s Census, held on 9 August, are not expected to be available until at least June 2012.