It's a counter-intuitive and controversial argument to make at a time like this - one might even say ''brave'', minister - but churches and faith communities are still the strongest centres of public good in modern society, writes Andrew West in The Sydney Morning Herald.
The clerical sex abuse crisis has certainly undermined the public esteem that churches once enjoyed. Recent research, however, confirms that in Australia, Britain and the US, religious congregations are the most effective civil institutions mediating between a bureaucratic state and a rapacious corporate sector.
The National Church Life Survey in Australia, a Demos study in Britain and research from the Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam in the US tell a similar story. Within parishes and other congregations, you will find a vast volunteer labour force and a disproportionate number of people employed in the so-called caring professions.
You will also find - perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not - political views that are, on the whole, more left-wing and education levels that are higher than those of the broader community.
As many other civil society groups, such as service clubs and political parties wane, it is the churches, synagogues, mosques and temples that are keeping alive the flame of brotherhood, sisterhood and neighbourhood.With 260,000 people taking part across 3000 congregations, the National Church Life Survey is probably Australia's most comprehensive survey except for the federal census.
Now that the results are in, we know that churchgoers are highly educated - 34 per cent have university degrees, compared with about 25 per cent of the broader community.They also tend to concentrate in areas such as education, healthcare, medicine, welfare and social services.
As the director of the survey, Dr Ruth Powell, points out, their faith and their occupation tend to affirm each other. Religious people often see their jobs as a ''mission'', even a form of lay ministry.''It's … strong ways to live out faith or express one's values that come out of one's world view as a Christian, in the whole of one's life,'' she says.
Because 60 per cent of people in Australian congregations are women, there is also a bias towards ''relational'' jobs and pastimes, which also explains the high level of community involvement of religious people.More than 25 per cent of attendees are involved in their church's ''welfare or justice activities'' - volunteering with groups such as St Vincent de Paul, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, World Vision or Caritas - and 23 per cent are involved in broader community activities, with organisations such as Meals on Wheels and Amnesty International cited frequently.
FULL STORY In spite of the scandals, religious groups still lead the way on public good (SMH)