Collapsing Church & State: the Case of Tasmania

Life Site News has fleshed out a report made earlier this week in the Australian Broadcasting Commission concerning the recently installed Archbishop of Hobert (in Tasmania), Julian Porteous.

In response to a comment that Archbishop Porteous would like to revive the tradition of restricting the function of serving at liturgies to men, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Robin Banks, made the remark that the Archbishop could be in violation of Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination laws, even when the provision that allows for discrimination by religious organisations is taken into account.

In the hullabaloo over the question whether it is a case of discrimination - Archbishop Porteous has already acknowledged that this does amount to discrimination - and whether one should or should not prefer a strictly all male alter-serving corps, what has gotten overlooked is a minor remark by Banks that nonetheless has major ecclesiological consequences should the Commissioner decide to pursue this issue further. In explaining when the exception would be effective, Banks stated that

"There's a defence that says a religious institution can discriminate on the basis of gender if it's required by the doctrines of the religion..."

Why this seemingly glib remark is significant is because, in the understanding of the Commissioner, something is religious only to the extent that it pertains to doctrine. Because the practice of worship does not pertain to doctrine, it does not fall within the Anti-Discrimination Act's religious exception. In other words, worship is not "religious" and can be considered a matter over which the State has competence to direct.

Why such a statement has ecclesiological ramifications is because it amounts to a redefinition of the Church by confining its constitutive elements to merely its doctrines and not its practice of worship (this point was alluded to in an earlier post pertaining to the American HHS Mandate, which still remains a live issue). This reductive definition completely ignores a remark once made by the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser in his For Marx, that practices and theory actually presume each other and are mutually constitutive and reinforcing. In a similar vein, such a statement by the Commissioner sidesteps an ecclesiological statement made in paragraph 25(a) of Pope Emeritus Benedict's enclyclical Deus Caritas Est, in which he cited worship (Leitourgia) as just as important a constitutive element of the Church as witness (Martyria) and the works of charity (Diakonia). To try and remove one would render all the others nonsensical.

In other words, should Commissioner Banks decide to pursue this case further, she would be doing so on the premise of a false picture of what the Church is, and relying on an essentially reductive modern fiction. What would be instructive is whether the Church, should it find itself needing to respond to any action by the Commissioner, do so on the basis of a defence of its ecclesiology along Benedictine lines, or on a legal foundation that tries to fit with the Anti-Discrimination Act's fiction of religion as merely doctrine. Should the latter path be chosen, the Church may find itself cooperating with the state's program of reduction or marginalisation of the Church, so as to bring all aspects of  life, including that of worship, under state purview.

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