Christian dominance of Anzac Day services a “betrayal” of Army culture

Si Gladman / 14 May 2024

The Australian Defence Force and other authorities that host Anzac Day services must pursue secular reform of the commemorations or risk alienating many currently serving and former Defence personnel, a veteran has told The Secular Agenda podcast.

In an interview for the newly released episode, Sam Proctor (pictured) spoke about his submission to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide in which he called for reform of Anzac Day commemorations inside Defence and also in the community.

Proctor, who separated from the Australian Army last year after 10 years in service, said the Christian dominance of Dawn Services was “exclusionary” and “hugely damaging” for many non-religious and non-Christian service personnel.

Listen to the podcast episode here on our website.

He recalled how he nearly walked out of a Dawn Service following the recital of multiple hymns and prayers.

“I was so offended, so hurt, so rejected and so excluded that I, as a full-time very proud serving soldier, nearly walked off in disgust. I was standing there in the cold at 5.30 in the morning wondering who this was for. It certainly wasn’t for me. It certainly wasn’t for my forebears, my grandfathers and great grandfathers, who fought. I felt alien there,” he said.

“More to the point, it didn’t represent the Army as I knew it. There’s a really profoundly beautiful thing about the Army that I think a lot of people won’t necessarily appreciate unless they’ve lived that dream – which is, overwhelmingly, soldiers and sailors and airmen are the most colour-blind and accepting and egalitarian people that you’ll ever meet…

“When I see something like Anzac Day being presented as a Christian sermon, the reason that that is so upsetting for me and so many of my colleagues is it betrays that and it undermines the equality and colour-blindness that I know we soldiers feel on the ground. It betrays that.”

With the majority of Defence personnel identifying as not religious, Proctor said there was much opposition to the religious nature of such events, but little ability for people in the junior ranks and even high-ranking personnel to advocate for reform.

He was hopeful that external pressure could help effect change.

“I think change is inevitable on these things. It simply has to change because the price of not doing so – the price of not shaping things like Anzac Day to be a genuine reflection of what service life is like and what soldiering means and what it represents to its people, is these things falling by the wayside, declining attendance, declining relevance…” he said.

“It would be a colossal loss to the community if these things were lost, if people stopped going to them, if they fell by the wayside because they were presented in a light that just isn’t reflective or representative of what Australia and the Defence Force is today, which is hugely diverse, accepting and egalitarian.” 

In a new article for an Army publication, former Colonel and Defence statistician Phillip Hoglin has written on the need for junior soldiers and officers to question some of the Army’s inappropriate and non-contemporary traditions, including those dominated by Christianity.

Proctor spoke to the podcast in a personal capacity about his submission to the Royal Commission, and his views are his own.

The Rationalist Society of Australia is actively lobbying and advocating for secular reform of the Defence Force. See the latest updates here.

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Si Gladman is Executive Director of the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.

All the more reason.