When deciding who to include on our religious power list, there was one question we kept asking to test someone’s influence: who’s putting religion into our lives?
Over the past year, our national conversation has revolved around debates where religious figures have had a big say. Same-sex marriage, school funding, school chaplains and racial discrimination are a few.
Despite this, Australians seem to regard themselves as a secular lot. We did elect a declared atheist as prime minister after all. We also don’t go to church as much as we used to. According to the most recent census, our biggest two religions – Catholicism and Anglicanism – are losing followers, while those reporting ‘No Religion’ have increased from 15% to 22% in the past four years.
With that in mind, The Power Index thought it was important to find those who aren’t just powerful in their own community, but are succeeding in pushing their religious views on to non believers.
People like Jim Wallace, from the Australian Christian Lobby, who is unashamed in saying he wants more religion in Canberra. He’s succeeded in one way, getting Prime Minister Julia Gillard to his national conference (although Gillard pulled out this morning after Wallace's comments about gay marriage and smoking).
Or Sydney Anglican archbishop Peter Jensen, who is using the power of his constituency to help block same-sex marriage – something 64% of Australians support, according to recent surveys.
Not all religions have seen decreases in numbers. Non-Christian faiths such as Buddhism (up 48%), Islam (up 69%) and Hinduism (up 189%) have all boomed over the past decade. And then there’s the homegrown Pentecostal churches like Hillsong, which have seen their own boost in popularity.
With a larger community, generally comes a bigger seat at the power table. This theory is being tested by Samier Dandan from the Lebanese Muslim Association, who has explicitly stated he’ll be throwing his support behind the politicians who give Muslims the best deal.
But power does not necessarily reside with who has the most followers (although it doesn’t hurt). The Jewish community, which numbers less than 100,000 people in Australia, is widely regarded as being a force politically through organisations such as the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.
What issues are religious leaders having a say over?
• Same-sex marriage
• Publicly funded chaplains in public schools
• Funding for religious non-government schools
• Health and aged care
• Abortion and birth control
• Stem cell research
• Anti-discrimination laws
• The right to hire and fire on the basis of faith