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Study reveals church loss of credibility

The findings of a major church-backed research project suggest that the reputation of the Church is sinking faster than that of the government, legal system, banks and media. reports on a study supported by the National Church Life Survey, Edith Cowan University and Deakin University that draws on the results of a similar survey conducted in 1998. It says confidence has risen in relation to almost all Australian institutions - including State and Federal Governments and the legal, health, education and police systems. The only institution to continue to lose the public's trust in recent years has been churches.

The National Church Life Survey is a project of several church organisations, including the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Anglicare, and the Uniting Church NSW Synod.

Researcher Philip Hughes pointed to abuse of power, cover-ups, and slipping moral standards within the Church.

"Those who have confidence in churches are mostly those who attend them," Dr Hughes said. "Many people in the community see churches seeking to serve their own interests, rather than serving others. [This] has been heightened greatly by the widespread attention to cases of sexual abuse."

The findings are part of the 2002-03 Wellbeing and Security study and were drawn from a survey of a random selection of 1500 people on the electoral roll.

While most surveyed said they trust church-based charities because they existed to serve others, only one third indicated they had a lot of confidence in the Church itself. Two thirds of respondents had little or no confidence in government or the legal system.

Respondents were also wary of people of different races and religions, and had only low levels of trust in people outside their family and work colleagues.

The study also suggested more Australians are living without a sense of purpose or meaning.

"Less than half surveyed felt their lives fit into a wider scheme or purpose, and almost one in five felt doubtful about life and their direction," Dr Hughes said.

In March, CathNews reported earlier findings of the survey which point to the values of the Autralian community. Most prized was honesty. This was followed by 'peace' and 'true friendship'.

The survey follows new research from the Bible Society NSW that found people reject Christianity because of negative associations they have with 'intolerant' church hierarchies and formalised religion.

Study: Church worse than government, media ( 8/11/04)

Study says negative perceptions of Church holding back evangelisation (CathNews 13/9/04)
Honesty tops Australians' values list (CathNews 23/3/04)

9 Nov 2004