In the eyes of the mainstream journalists, Anglicans and Roman Catholics appear to be the only Christian people in Australia, and for some time. With Prime Minister Scott Morrison an unashamed Pentecostal that now too gets some broadcast air.
I have been concerned that this restricted vision of the media (Anglicans and Roman Catholics) does not represent the diversity of Christians in Australia. I do not see nonconformist news or comment reflected at one end of the spectrum, nor that of the nine different Orthodox groups, at the other end.
The word 'nonconformist' comes from the English 1662 Act of Uniformity. It originally referred to those Christians in England who were not Church of England (Anglican), which at that time represented a number of minority Christian groups such as Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers and later Methodists, Unitarians and members of the Salvation Army. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonconformism
The term 'nonconformist' gradually spread across the globe, and came to mean a much larger group of Protestants who were non-Anglican which, today, includes the vast numbers of the group loosely called Pentecostals. In a quirky twist of history, the nonconformist Baptists are now greater in actual number than the historically traditional Anglicans.
Having noted those world-wide figures, Australians seem to be a little more conservative than the world in general. I also know, from separate research, that those figures do not tell us whether people attend church regularly or what congregation they attend. For those figures one needs to search out the various church survey results where annually those in congregations around Australia fill in a separate data document.
The 5.1 million Roman Catholics in Australia only 9% attend Mass on anything like a regular basis. Of the 3.7 million Anglicans only 3% attend church, however those Anglican figures across Australia do not apply within the Sydney evangelical diocese, where 27% attend church.
The comparative figures for Pentecostal and other nonconformist church attendees reveal a startling result. A whopping 62% of ‘evangelical and Pentecostal’ nonconformists either attend church regularly or are involved in some way in the life of their church or its mission welfare arms.
This means there are more ‘evangelical and Pentecostal’ nonconformists in Australia actively involved in church than both Roman Catholics and Anglicans combined. Hey Secular Media, take notice. The catch is of course the Anglicans and Roman Catholics own vast real estate and therefore very wealthy. Money talks.
In the daily media, the press ignores these realities to present a case of Australian Christianity rushing headlong down the gurgler, when in reality the truth is quite the opposite. Moreover the Child Abuse Royal Commission was an eye opener.
Another startling anomaly from these figures. Many Christians who attend Pentecostal churches actually state on their census forms that they are Roman Catholic (Pentecostalism is attractive to disenfranchised Roman Catholics as they too have a clearly defined leader). Also, those Sydney Anglicans who live outside Sydney normally attend Baptist or Churches of Christ congregations rather than ‘traditional or high church’ Anglican churches. Sydney Anglicans are now appointing Bishops to such, as I might dare say, non-conformist Anglicans outside Sydney.
As well as this, of those three thousand Australians in ministry who rely on faith financing, such as we do, whose income is generated from donations generously given by a network of supporters, 97% are nonconformist Christians.
Within the community that calls itself Baptist, there is autonomy for each church with a congregational form of government. This is the direct opposite to a hierarchical system, familiar to Roman Catholics and Anglicans, where you have Diocese Archbishops or a Pope. In other words, there is no one leader, rather the media themselves pick out a high profile ‘nonconformist’ spokesperson, but that person functionally only represents him or herself. Truth is always stranger than fiction.
Pentecostals do a little better in that their larger churches have significant leaders, but again they only speak for that single congregation while within their representative body, ‘The Australian Christian Church’, the President is only there for a limited period. This is one reason why Hillsong has now become a separate Pentecostal entity.
Meanwhile, there are serious groups who aim to co-ordinate various non-conformist groups (or largely non-conformist), such as the Australian Evangelical Alliance, but they don’t seem to be able make secular media news print
The 'Australian Christian Lobby' http://www.acl.org.au/ gets publicity on social issues, same sex marriage and more recently Religious Freedom and Religious Ant-Discrimination. Non-Conformist Christianity is huge in this arena – such as Christian schools.
It is in this context that Reverend Dr Ross Clifford, former Australian Baptist President, Principal of Morling College (Australia's largest seminary), and the Sydney Sunday night radio 2CH disc jockey, maintains that Christians needs to focus - to gain serious secular media attention http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ross_Clifford.
Taking up the challenge, as the Australian cricket chaplain of 17 years (Ret) and a recognised nonconformist, I have used my past experience writing for the media to develop 'Press Service International' (PSI) – young writer ministry - as one arm of his ministry of Well-Being Australia'. PSI this year (2019) was presented the Australian Religious Press Association’s premier award, ‘The Gutenberg’.
The nonconformist representation therefore, depends on high quality articles written specifically for media attention. This includes a necessary flair for news angles, otherwise the secular media takes the easy way out and goes to Roman Catholic and Anglican spokespersons, such as in Victoria - Eureka Street and the Melbourne Anglican (both previous Gutenberg awardees).
In Sydney, ‘Eternity’ edited by former SMH stalwart John Sandeman often gets news stories out before the main stream media. Christian Today Australia ‘young writer ministry’ through Press Service International - frolics in a different fish bowl with young people tackling many variant issues of the day. We know that many US media outlets check out these young writers to pick up the mood swings of society.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html