ABS – cultural diversity

Adapted from a longer article by Rev Dr Apwee Ting, Uniting Church Assembly National Consultant and published here.

The 2021 Census has revealed Australia is more culturally and religious diverse than ever. For the first time, first and second generation migrants make up more than half of the Australian population (51.5%).

The data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released last week showed that:

  • 27.6% of the population were born overseas.
  • Top 5 languages used at home, other than English, were Mandarin (2.7%), Arabic (1.4%), Vietnamese (1.3%), Cantonese (1.2%) and Punjabi (0.9%). 
  • Top 5 ancestries were English (33.0%), Australian (29.9%), Irish (9.5%), Scottish (8.6%) and Chinese (5.5%). 
  • Top 5 religious affiliations were No religion (38.9%), Catholic (20%), Anglican (9.8%), Islam (3.2%) and Hinduism (2.7%).

The communities we live in are growing in diversity. Our neighbourhoods are made up of people of different cultures, languages and belief systems.

These changes have important implications for how we understand our identity and how we live out our life as the Church in Australia.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Uniting Church recognised and embraced its culturally diverse communities when in 1985 we declared “We are a Multicultural Church”.

As our wider community becomes more diverse, so do our faith communities.

There are many emerging, vibrant and growing culturally and linguistically diverse communities across our synods. This is something we should celebrate.

Diversity is a gift from God to be celebrated with joyfulness. Diversity challenges us to expand our grace margin to accept, embrace and celebrate those who are different from us.

The recent 16th Assembly passed a proposal that seeks to deepen the Uniting Church’s commitment to living faith and life interculturally. This recognises there is more work for us to do.

We intentionally seek to become an Intercultural Church by building trusting, open and honest relationships among all cultures and languages.

The Census revealed Christianity is still the most common religion in Australia, with over 40 per cent (43.9%) identifying as Christian. However, this has reduced from over 50% (52.1%) in 2016 and from over 60% (61.1%) in 2011.

Other religions are growing but continue to make up a small proportion of the population. Hinduism has grown by 55.3% to 684,002 people, or 2.7% of the population. Islam has grown to 813,392 people, which is 3.2% of the Australian population.

In responding to religious diversity, the Assembly’s Seeking Common Ground Circle invites people to participate in our work across faiths, and with people of no faith. We recognise the importance of ‘sacred ground’ or a ‘space of grace’ when we accept each person as made in the image of God and beloved by God, regardless of their beliefs.

The Uniting Church has a role to play in modelling workplace practices and in calling for policies and laws which ensure all people, of all faiths, can continue to practice their faith without fear or discrimination.

With have consistently said that any legislative provisions for religious freedom should be driven by an overriding focus on enabling and maintaining a society which encourages mutual respect for all beliefs, including those of no faith, and is free from discrimination that demeans and diminishes people’s dignity.

There is also the opportunity we have of coming together across our different faiths or beliefs, to build trust, friendship and to learn from one another. Each year the Uniting Church co-hosts an Iftar Dinner with the Affinity Intercultural Foundation. These are important occasions building trust and understanding.

Indeed, the latest Census data has important implications for us as a Church, but we should not miss the doors of opportunity.

Our life, culturally and religiously, has been enriched by diversity, and will continue to be so.