The role of religion in state affairs has a long history. Tied into this history are the experiences of religious expeditions overseas: first to conquer heathens, then to convert and finally to help. Especially the missionary activities during the nineteenth century figure in the imagination, and with them the ambivalent picture of on the one side selfless agents of change helping the downtrodden and on the other stories of abuse and forced conversion. Undoubted achievements that are of importance to this day include the provision of health services, begun as missions. Missionary activity in the nineteenth century created a health infrastructure as it became a key component of its civilising and modernising project.
Faith-based organisations (FBOs) have been experiencing somewhat of a renaissance. Significant shifts in global politics such as the attacks of 9/11, the subsequent ‘war on terror’ and the 2002 Bali bombings have brought religion, especially Islam, more prominently into the Australian public sphere. Debates around the infamous ‘clashes of civilisations’ thesis, largely based on religious traditions, also fermented a sense of global religious divides that have erupted most recently in Europe, where calls for JudeoChristian European values abound. On a more constructive note, institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations have acknowledged that FBOs have a unique role in facilitating development outcomes where western state/church separation development models have failed.
The growth of FBOs in the Australian context is evident. In the 2005 Boxing Day tsunami response, for instance, Baptist World Aid Australia, AngliCORD, CARITAS, World Vision Australia (WVA), Christian Blind Mission International and Uniting Church Overseas Aid were just some of the FBOs to receive significant Australian Federal Government grants.4 Nevertheless, Australian faith-based development organisations are seldom acknowledged in the development literature, even though their charitable imperatives predate development theory.