American influence on Protestantism in Queensland since 1945

Buch, Neville Douglas (1995). American influence on Protestantism in Queensland since 1945 PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Buch, Neville Douglas
Thesis Title American influence on Protestantism in Queensland since 1945
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1995
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Total pages 463
Language eng
Subjects 220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)
Formatted abstract
An important area in Christian historiography is the relationship between Protestant religious belief and culture. Prior to 1945 Queensland Protestantism had been influenced by British culture. The presence of a substantial body of American troops posted to Queensland during World War II, was a watershed. The post-1945 period saw a transition from influences coming from a British Protestant culture to influences from an American Protestant culture. Firstly, Queensland Protestantism was affected by the general Americanization which occurred in Australian society in this period. Secondly, American Protestant denominations established churches in Queensland. Thirdly, American Protestant ministers were appointed to Queensland Churches. Fourthly, Queensland Protestant denominations developed significant relationships with their American denominational counterparts. Fifthly, there was an interchange of visitors. This process of Americanization prevented Queensland Protestant churches from coming to terms with contemporary Australian society.

Protestantism channelled theology into two streams: academic and popular. Academic theology has tended to be influenced by European traditions. Popular theology has been influenced more by the American Revivalist tradition. This Revivalist tradition has three distinct characteristics, Biblicalism, Anti-intellectualism, and Mechanisation of the Christian faith. It has also taken three forms, Classic Fundamentalism, Neo-Evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism. As a popular theology, shaped by these various forms and types of the American Revivalist tradition, grew in influence academic theology was marginalised.

In the Australian religious book-selling market in the post-1945 period, there was a shift of attention from British-published religious literature to American published popular religious literature. Thirty-six major American religious publishing companies sold their literature to Queensland Protestants. This literature included reprinted periodical articles, unbounded literature, and books. American-published literature affected most areas of Queensland Protestant Church life. Its impact was consolidated by American-produced music, film, radio and television. The impact of American-produced music minimised the effort of the local Christian music industry. Queensland Protestants received biblical and civil religious images from Hollywood films and American religious films marketed in Queensland through Australian religious film distributors. The American religious radio and television industry provided a limited programming input in Queensland. American recorded music, film, radio and television led Queensland Protestants into an imitation of an American sub-culture.

American theological centres provided Queensland Protestants with a three-tier model, and an interchange of scholars and students. This interchange involved Americans arriving in Queensland, and Queenslanders arriving in the United States, and has been associated more with institutions promoting American popular theology rather than academic theology.

Another area of American influence has been the Youth market. Traditional youth organisations declined as new church youth programmes pushed Queensland Protestants towards Americanised innovations. The foremost influence here has been the Methodist YPD under Ivan Alcorn with its youth rallies, teenage cabarets, and pop hymns. This created tensions between pacesetters and reactionaries, but these tensions were largely surmounted when the American Jesus movement arrived in Queensland. Tensions eased also because innovations in youth programming largely ended up being captive to the agendas of the conservative evangelicals, as evidenced in the most recent Americanised innovation, the American discipleship movement. Pacesetters which took a more liberal perspective, such as the House of Freedom, were marginalised from mainstream church youth ministries.

American influence made evangelism a formative part of Queensland Church life. There have been two types of crusades/missions, one denominational and the other interdenominational. A large number of visiting American evangelists were involved in these crusades/missions. The impact of American evangelists generally can be illustrated by examining the evangelistic campaigns associated with the Baptist Union, which included the Appelman Campaign, the Taylor Campaigns, the evangelistic exchanges between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist Union of Australia, and the Lay Renewal Campaign. Such an examination reveals that the impact of American evangelism has largely disappointed expectations. Even the most significant interdenominational American evangelistic organisation to influence Queensland Protestantism, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), generated an expectation of revival that fell far short of its goals.

Eventually the American Church Growth movement replaced Queensland Protestant interest in mass evangelism. In the 1980s, a number of Brisbane Charismatic churches were caught up in the Church Growth movement, including Gateway Baptist Church and Garden City Christian Church. During the 1980s, American Church Growth experts visited Queensland, and Queensland Protestants visited American Church Growth centres. The Church Growth movement failed to bring membership growth in the traditional Queensland Protestant churches, even those most associated with its American origin.

Christian education has been reshaped by American influence on Queensland Protestantism. This can be seen in two different Christian educational institutions; the Sunday School and the "Secular" Class Room. The American All Age Sunday School (AASS) movement altered the traditional Sunday School, and the Independent Christian Schooling movement reformed the "Secular" Class Room.

Queensland political culture did not escape from the American influences on Queensland Protestantism. This was seen in the populist politics exploited by the National Party Government, which encouraged American-style right-wing fundamentalist political lobby groups. In the late 1980s, when the National Party Government was in crisis the Christian neo-conservatives supported it openly in an attempt to keep their power base. The downfall of the National Party Government at the 1989 elections has meant the demise of many political lobby groups, but it has not meant the end of American style populist politics in Queensland.

This thesis argues that there has been a cultural shift in Queensland Protestantism from a British Protestant culture to an American Protestant culture. This can be seen in popular theology in Queensland Protestant church life, communication media used by Queensland Protestant churches, the interchange between theological centres in Queensland and the United States, the impact of American influence in church youth programmes, evangelism, Christian education, and the Queensland political culture. This thesis raises questions about the cultural appropriateness of this Americanization of Protestant religion, and argues that there is little evidence to show American influence has consolidated the traditional Protestant churches as part of the institutional structure of civil society. Instead, it has created a number of shallow and short-lived enthusiasms, and a number of major new congregations, whose one attempt to influence civil society through the National Party, produced a style of government unacceptable to Queenslanders and perhaps subverted their rights. This thesis challenges Queensland Protestantism to seek its own independent path.
Keyword Protestant churches -- Queensland -- Foreign influences.
Protestant churches -- United states -- Influence
Queensland -- Church history -- 1945-
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