We are told constantly that the number of Christians in Australia is falling — but is that true? How can anyone know the real number of Christians in Australia when Christianity is not even listed as a religion on the Australian Census?
Yes! What you read is correct!
There is no “box” for Christianity on the Census!
At the last Census, in 2016, I was really concerned that I had to go to the “other religion” box to mark myself as a Christian. I didn’t want to put myself in “other religion”, so I put myself under Catholic, even though I’m not a Catholic.
How many other people did what I did? Just — for the sake of filling out a form — selected one of the six Christian denominations presented, rather than going over the page to be statistically counted as “other religion”. No wonder they say Christianity is diminishing and “other religion” is growing!
Six denominations out of 86 — really?
I was so concerned about the blatant discrimination against Christianity that on 9 Nov 2019, I wrote to The Australian Bureau of Statistics asking that Christianity, as the largest religion in the world, and in Australia, be given the recognition it deserves on our next Census, due out in 2021. I received this response on 24 Dec 2019:
There are a number of ways people may choose to identify their religion. In the case of Christians, some may identify with one of the (6) Christian denominations specified on the form, while others (the other 79 identified Christian denominations plus all those who don’t identify with a denomination) may choose to write in ‘Christian/Christianity’ in the ‘other religion’ text box.
The ABS classifies religious affiliation by the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Group, 2016, cat.no.1266.0. Under the broad group of Christianity there are 18 narrow groups specified, including two other classifications. At the narrowest grouping there are 86 groups in the classification under the Christian group. The classification is reviewed regularly with public and stakeholder input, as was last reviewed in early 2016.
Mark Harding, Program Manager
I’m not the only one concerned…
I was pleased to read today an article from ABC Religion and Ethics by Phillip Jensen titled “When it comes to religion, the Australian Bureau of Statistics is asking the wrong questions“, which lays out what we can expect in this coming census.
The question on religion provided multiple choice answers organised by “no religion”, denomination of choice, and religion of choice. The initial (perhaps, the default?) position went to “no religion”, which was left in a category of its own and separated by a line before denominations and religions were listed.
The religions and denominations seemed to be listed in descending order according to their number of adherents as per the last Census. So Catholic and Anglican were at the top of the list, while others like Hindus and Baptists were further down. Finally, there was a box to indicate any other religion that did not appear on the list.
He comments on the multiple journalistic and political problems such inaccurate and misleading statistics can cause, and goes on to say that,
The right question to ask is not which denomination you belong to, but which religion.
His article is well worth reading in its entirety (here). And as he says,
It is easy to make a complaint and not offer an alternative, but not particularly helpful. So, let me recommend to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the following:
1. That all options, including “no religion”, be presented alphabetically.
2. That the basic question be divided between:
- No religion
3. That one’s belonging to particular religious denominations or sects (including those within Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and so on) and more precise specifications of what one means by “no religion” (atheist, agnostic, no interest, spiritual) be offered as sub-questions beneath these more basic religious groupings.
In his final comments he says,
The growth of “no religion” — since being moved from the bottom of the list to the top in the Census — also warrants clarification. At its most basic level, it is important to understand whether this represents a growth in atheism or a rejection of organised religion.
What can we do?
I think it is time now, for all concerned Christians to write to The Bureau of Statistics requesting that “Christianity”, as the largest religion in Australia, be given its rightful place on our census.
And further request that since the number of Christians is still double the number making up “no religion”, the “no religion” box should be removed as a first choice, and sensibly placed at the bottom after all religions are counted.
The person to write to at the ABS is:
Dr David Gruen
Agency Head of the ABS
Locked Bag 10
Belconnen ACT 2616
We live in a time when Government bureaucracy is desperately trying to eliminate Christianity from our Australian culture. But we MUST push back and draw the line at discrimination against Christianity. Christianity MUST be included as a named religion alongside all the other religions in Australia, and not be relegated to “other religion”. To classify it as “other religion” is not only inaccurate, it’s deceitful.
How can anyone trust any statistics the ABS puts out if they can’t get this one right?
Please write to Dr Gruen. If Christians don’t stand up for Christianity in this country, no one else will. It’s up to us — all of us. We all need to write.
[Photo by Catarina Sousa