GOD AND CAESAR IN AUSTRALIA - Aspects of Church and State from 1788


The subject of Church - State relationships is of perennial interest to both church and secular historians as it touches on many    areas of concern. It has become of increasing community concern in recent times because of close relationships between some members of the former government under Howard and more conservative elements in the Churches. Also, the formation of the Family First Party, connected with a Pentecostal Church. 

This work covers the history from primitive times through to the present day, and compares the situation in Australia to that in the United States of America and several European countries. Included is a detailed case-study of affairs in Queensland from the time of its separation from NSW in 1859 to 1920, by which time the situation had stabilised in the churches' and the government's relations to education, aborigines, war, and social issues. 

The several High Court challenges, based on Section 112 of the Federal Constitution, in 1912, 1943, and 1981 to Federal Government initiatives are also covered. All three were rejected.

In Store Price: $AU34.95 

ISBN:   978-1-921406-88-1 
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 420
Genre: Religion/Non Fiction, Reference



Author: Bruce Upham
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2009
Language: English



Professor Upham lectured for over twenty years on Church History in Trinity Theological College, which was a member of the then Brisbane College of Theology, affiliated with Griffith University. He has a particular interest in Australian Church History. 

His studies were firstly at the United Faculty of Theology (Sydney) and the University of Sydney, then with the Melbourne College of Divinity, and finally at the University of Queensland. He is currently living in Brisbane.


It is realised that the title given to the work is guilty of ignoring the presence in this country of other religions—not only those brought in by migrants from the Middle East and the Far East—but also the religion(s) of indigenous Australians.

The relationship between the church and the state is of perennial interest to historians and others, and is especially relevant in Australia at present with the rise of the ‘religious right’ in the political arena, and the formation of the Family First Party XE "Family First Party" , closely allied with a Pentecostal Church in South Australia.[1] This new party was successful in having a member elected to the South Australian Parliament, in the 2004 Federal election it was successful in electing a senator in Victoria, as well as influencing the outcome in other places by the distribution of preferences. This sparked anger in some quarters, to the extent of one person placing expensive advertisements on television telling the church to stay out of politics! That person was obviously unaware that the church has rarely stayed out of politics. Sometimes its influence might be described as right wing, sometimes left wing, depending on the issue at hand.

Some knowledge of the historical background is essential to understand these recent developments, and this work attempts to fill in part of that background. It is not comprehensive—no single book could possibly claim to cover all aspects of how the Australian churches and governments have interacted and intertwined with one another.

This study is mainly concerned with the history, rather than the philosophical and theological aspects—though these are discussed briefly at some points.


The story of church-state relationships in Australia has never been dealt with in a comprehensive way. Brief references to the subject can be found in various works, such as denominational histories, biographies, general histories and the like. A number of articles have appeared in journals.[2] Border’s XE "Border, Ross"  Church and State in Australia 1788-1872, while valuable for its coverage of the early period of Australian developments, doesn’t cover all the colonies, and, as its sub-title indicates, deals only with the Anglican Church.[3]

Gregory XE "Gregory, J.S." ’s Church and State is also restricted, though more general than Border in its one chapter devoted to the early period prior to the separation of Victoria from New South Wales in 1844. It deals only with the Victorian scene.[4] Turner’s Sinews of Sectarian Warfare? gives useful information on the operation of the Church Act 1836, but does not include anything beyond New South Wales.[5] Frame’s Church and State: Australia’s Imaginary Wall is a more recent short account of both the history and the constitutional aspects.[6]

PART I of this work covers the story in all the colonies up to the various times when they ceased to give direct aid to the Churches. The differences between the colonies have been largely due to differing prevailing political outlooks at their times of formation. Leading personalities also influenced events in some colonies.

Geography played a part. Aboriginal issues were more to the fore in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory in the second half of the nineteenth century than in the southern States, because of their numbers. In the south they had been reduced to tiny minorities, whereas in the north they were sufficient to pose a threat to squatting interests, which looked to the government for a solution. Christians and other humanitarians had a deep concern for their wellbeing and future, and so both church and state became involved.

As mentioned above, timing also contributed to the difference. For example, the separation of Queensland from New South Wales came when liberal-democratic emphases were running strongly in the community. This had an immediate impact on the political process. One of the first acts of the new parliament in Brisbane when it came together in 1860 was to abolish financial aid to all the denominations. In Victoria, on the other hand, which had been proclaimed a Colony in 1851, and had responsible government from 1855, it was 1870 before conservative opposition gave way on the issue.[7]

Also included is a reference to the situation peculiar to the Anglican Church in Australia due to its background as the established Church in England—and effectively also in Australia during the early decades of British settlement. The legacy of that involvement was evident throughout the period under review.

PART II is a case study of Queensland from the time of its separation from New South Wales in 1859 and the virtual cessation of direct aid to the Churches in 1860, to 1920, indicating how there were still many points of interaction between the church and the state.

PART III draws some conclusions and compares the Australian situation with that in the United States of America XE "United States of America"  and several European countries.

The purpose of the study is not simply to chronicle the events, but to interpret and understand the developments in Australia as part of the much larger picture of church-state relationships as they have unfolded down through the centuries. It will be argued that the story of church and state in Australia must be seen as continuous with what had gone before in earlier times in Britain, in Europe and the other areas where Christianity was established in its early centuries.

It will be argued further that whenever in a society there is a reasonable number of people adhering to a particular religious faith and practice, then, given the intrinsic natures of both church and state, it is inevitable that there will be a close interaction between the two.

This raises the question of what is meant by ‘establishment’ and ‘disestablishment’ of the church. What is meant by the separation of church and state? Is it either possible or desirable? In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, most people came to think it was both of these. Looked at in the sweep of history, however, the concept is seen as something of a modern novelty. It is one thing for small dissenting groups to seek separation from the state, as in England from the sixteenth century onwards. A model that is workable on that scale is not necessarily applicable to society as a whole.

Repeated references have been made above to the ‘church’ rather than ‘churches’. This is justified in terms of the church’s own understanding of what it is—there can only be one church, even when, as for much of its history, it has functioned institutionally as a series of denominational structures. The modern ecumenical movement has served to remind the denominations of this facet of their own teaching, often forgotten in the Reformation XE "Reformation, the"  and post-reformation eras. What this renewed consciousness will mean for relations between church and state is still evolving, but even in the period covered here, limited realisation of their ‘oneness’ has enabled the denominations to operate in relation to the state in ways not open to individual denominations. This becomes very evident, for example, at a number of points in the matters covered in PART II.

[1]     See ‘Weekend Australian’, 5-6 February 2005. Also M. Maddox, God under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics (Sydney, 2005). The Pentecostal Churches are the fastest growing denomination in Australia, and the National Church Life Survey in 2001 appears to show more persons attending Pentecostal Churches and their offshoots than attend Anglican services on a given Sunday.

[2]     See Bibliography.

[3]     R. Border, Church and State in Australia 1788-1872: A Constitutional History of the Church of England in Australia (London, 1962).

[4]     J. S. Gregory, Church and State: Changing Government Policies towards Religion in Australia; with particular reference to Victoria since Separation (Melbourne, 1973).

[5]     Naomi Turner, Sinews of Sectarian Warfare? State Aid in New South Wales 1836-1862 (Canberra, 1972).

[6]    Tom Frame, Church and State: Australia’s Imaginary Wall (Sydney, 2006)

[7]     This was in spite of a vigorous campaign for the abolition of aid from 1856 onwards. See J. S. Gregory, Church and State: Changing Government Policies towards Religion in Australia; with particular reference to Victoria since Separation (Melbourne, 1973), pp. 68 ff. New South Wales had abolished financial aid to the churches in 1862, South Australia in 1851, Tasmania in 1869. Western Australia followed in 1895. For Western Australian developments, see Marian Aveling, ‘Western Australian Society: The Religious Aspect (1829-1925)’ in C. T. Stannage, ed., A New History of Western Australia (Nedlands, 1981), p. 597.


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