Goodbye Tall Poppy

Australia, many suggest, is one of the most egalitarian countries in the world. The heart of egalitarianism is treating all people as equals with any inequality, whether it be economic political, civil or social, being removed.

In Australia, rather than address our Head of State as Monsieur Presidente, as the France do, or Mr President, as they do in America, we just call them John, Kevin or Julia. Egalitarianism is so ingrained in our psyche that women were first able to vote in Australia, our unions are the oldest in the world and we are the forerunners of the eight-hour working day, equal rights, pensions and other social benefits.

Daisy in Field

Our “tall poppy syndrome” cuts down any who thinks of themselves above or better than the “average”.

Egalitarianism, it seems, began when Australia was one big prison and further developed under the colonial culture. It is evident in our value of “mateship” and in our irreverence for established authority. We expect people to behave with humility and not think of themselves better than others. Our “tall poppy syndrome” cuts down any who thinks of themselves above or better than the “average.” We are particularly critical of any authority that is pompous and appears out of touch.

From the beginning of white settlement the Australian church and its leaders have struggled within this environment and found it difficult to connect. The leadership looked out of place coming from the upper and middle classes of Anglican England when the convicts were primarily from the lower class or Catholic Ireland. As the convict colony developed into a nation and society became settled and diverse, the church found a place, albeit, still uncomfortable within the harsh and alien Australian environment.

It is no surprise that today the church is still considered old and out of touch. Australians remain suspicious and distrustful of the church’s motives. When our leaders comment on social issues such as poverty, land rights, taxation reform etc. they are told not to interfere but rather stick to things religious. Visiting Christian speakers often remark about the hardness of the Australian soul to the gospel.

“Authority, he demonstrated, is a responsibility not a ‘privilege’.”

Despite the difficulties the church faces there is much that Jesus modeled and taught that can connect with our egalitarian and anti-authoritarian ways. Jesus taught that authority and power are to be used for the benefit of others, not personal gain. Authority, he demonstrated, is a responsibility not a ‘privilege.’ Jesus never used authority for personal advantage but lovingly served to others. In fact, he was critical of the pompous displays of the religious authorities and reacted strongly against any inequalities.

To the “average” person of his day Jesus did not come across as pompous or authoritarian but rather as one who was for them. He did not stand aloof condemning, but was willing to share a meal with tax collectors, sinners, outcasts, and untouchables.

This Easter most Australians will take a holiday without reflecting on why it exists. They will not recognise in the death and resurrection of Jesus, a condemnation of the misuse of authority. They will miss the reality that he disarms authorities. They will not understand that this demonstrates once and for all the correct use of authority (Col 2:15). Sadly, they are unaware that all authority has now been given to Jesus (Phil 2:9-11) and he will one day return to set the world aright.

While Australian egalitarianism and anti-authoritarianism often leads Aussies to reject Jesus, there is something in these attitudes that should draw people to him. Let us pray that the Spirit of God may move in Aussies this Easter and that they may see in Jesus a kindred spirit rather than an authoritarian master.

Stephen L Baxter

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One thought on “Goodbye Tall Poppy

  1. Mary Mackillop would be a good example of what you are discussing here. She took a more egalitarian approach to Christian work and won many admirers in the process.

    Samuel Marsden has also fascinated me in the way he is remembered differently in Australia compared to Australia. In New Zealand, Marsden is widely celebrated as a great man who brought the gospel to the Maori. In Australia, he is remembered as the “flogging parson”. The Convict men said of him:

    “He prays for our souls on Sunday, and takes it out of bodies during the rest of the week.”

    Today, few Australians even know who he is.

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