Tuesday, 9 August 2011
Losing Our Religion
Tonight is 'census night' in Australia, when all households are meant to complete a form which provides basic population data to the government. Q19 on the census form is 'What is the person's religion?'. I noticed that 'Lutheran' is still listed as an independent category in response to this question, although it is ninth in a list of ten which concludes with the catch-all category 'Other'*. Given that the number of nominal Lutherans over the last generation or so has shown only minimal growth, I wonder how much longer before 'Lutheran' is overtaken by some faster growing religious group and disappears into the 'Other' category? If 'present trends' continue, and barring an influx of Norwegian boat people to swell our numbers, I wouldn't be surprised if this happens by the time the next census comes around in five years. Who knows, maybe the Jedi will replace us on the list?
The next largest Christian denomination would surely be the 'Assemblies of God', with c. 225 000 adherents and growing, although curiously they are not listed separately in the Australian Bureau of Statistics data, but are presumably included in the category 'Pentecostal'. Come to think of it, there must be considerably more than 250 000 Pentecostals in Australia (which would put them ahead of Lutherans numerically); I can only speculate that many of them either don't answer the question or use their independent church name instead of the category 'Pentecostal'.
Be that as may, I've been wondering what impact losing the 'Lutheran' option from the census form might have on our church, given that so much that has driven the Lutheran Church of Australia in recent times seems (to this Anglo observer anyway) to stem from the desire of Australian Lutherans of German descent to be recognised by the Anglo-Australian majority as 'mainstream'?
Maybe 'losing our religion' from the census form could be a good thing for the LCA? It might symbolically free us from the need to seek recognition and approval from the majority and allow us to be unapologetically 'Lutheran' again?
* The possible responses listed are:
Anglican (Church of England)
Other - please specify'
There are c. 250 000 Lutherans in Australia out of a total of 22.5 million, so we are a little over 1% of the population nationally, although in some areas the proportion would be much higher - the original Lutheran migrants, being shrewd German peasant farmers, tended to settle closely in good agricultural areas, of which there are few in Australia, which means there are some pockets of the country (e.g. the 'Barossa Valley' in South Australia, the 'Darling Downs' in Queensland, the 'western district' of Victoria, the 'Riverina' of New South Wales) where Lutherans probably outnumber the Anglicans, Uniting and Presbyterians, the three largest historically Protestant church bodies in Australia (of these, only the Presbyterians hold unequivocally to their Reformation heritage). The Roman Catholics are the largest single church body, due to Irish migration in the 19th century and post-WWII southern European migration (and, I suppose, their high birth rates). The Greek Orthodox became more numerous than Lutherans here some time in the 1980s, again due to post-war migration, and most of the other autocephalous Orthodox churches are present here in lesser numbers too, along with various 'non-canonical' groups. The Buddhists and Muslims overtook Lutherans sometime in the 2000s as a result of South-East Asian and Middle Eastern immigration.
The Lutherans first settled in Australia in 1838, one group establishing a small colony at Moreton Bay (now Brisbane) under the auspices of 'Father' Gossner in Germany, with the aim of evangelising the local indigenous people, while a second group fled to South Australia from Prussia, where their Lutheranism was increasingly under pressure from a state sponsored church union with the Reformed.
Q43 asks 'What are the main goods or services provided by your employer's business?'
I've answered 'Salvation.'
That will give them something to think about!