There is an enormous amount of misinformation out there about religious instruction. Commonly referred to as “Bible in Schools” and misleadingly called “Religious Education” by those who want to promote it. It’s a combination of bullshit, misleading claims and fudging the facts. Not all of this comes from the main providers of RI syllabuses. A lot of these claims are made by bible teachers themselves or other parties with an interest in promoting religion in primary schools, such as school staff or parents who either have a religious agenda or are just genuinely ignorant of the truth.
The Churches Education Commission (CEC) provides most of the religious instruction syllabuses for the roughly 30% of secular state primary schools that offer religious instruction throughout New Zealand. They like to hold themselves up as some sort of moral authority, claiming to “equip and inspire Kiwi kids through values-based Christian Religious Education”
I’m going to categorize these claims as either;
We don’t evangelize! [BULLSHIT]
This is a ridiculous claim made by the CEC as well as other groups and the many school staff and bible teachers I’ve communicated with.
“There is certainly no evangelising going on or being encouraged by us.”
Tracey Kirkley, CEC Marketing Manager in an interview with Radio New Zealand – (26/09/2017)
It’s even more ridiculous given the history of statements made by the various heads of the CEC over the years. Most recently, the National Director of the CEC spoke on Radio Rhema, encouraging churches to “…own their local school”. My favourite quote is still this one from David Mulholland. David was also one of the authors of a document titled “The Evangelisation of Children”.
“Churches by and large have not woken up to the fact that this is a mission field on our doorstep.
The children are right there and we don’t have to supply buildings, seating, lighting or heating,”
“We often hear in church about the 10-40 window for evangelising people in the world. For me it’s a 9 to 3 window,”
David Mulholland, CEC National Director in a Baptist Newsletter – (01/09/2011)
The various church groups that provide the volunteers who promote their religious beliefs to children in state schools, certainly seem to be of the impression that it is all about furthering the kingdom of God! Here’s a quote from the website of the Te Awamutu Bible Chapel. The same page provides a link to the CEC website. This quote isn’t a mistake on their part, it’s just that (unlike most other church groups) they’ve been honest enough to publish what they’re really trying to achieve. Let’s see how long it takes them to change the page. Every time I expose something like this, it mysteriously disappears a short time later!
Vision – To see “Today’s Children” growing up with an understanding of the Bible that will ultimately lead them to a personal faith in Jesus.
Te Awamutu Bible Chapel website (December 2017)
The quote below was taken from the website of a Baptist church in Auckland. The Baptists appear to be some of the most evangelical of the Churches associated with the Churches Education Commission. It’s very clear from their website that the purpose of their bible classes is to claim the “hearts and minds” of the children.
“We value children and believe that the earlier seeds are sown into the hearts and minds of these precious ones, the better.
Our hearts desire is that all people will come to know Jesus as their Saviour so several of our fellowship teach children in school about God using the Churches Education Commission material.
The children of Kaukapakapa School and Parakai School are the fortunate recipients of this teaching.”
River Valley Baptist Church (March 2018) Source
Here’s another quote from OAC Ministries website, where they talk about evangelism in the Manawatu region. They use the Life Choices syllabus provided by the CEC. Unless you’re willing to believe that it is a total coincidence that children they teach in school, want to talk to street evangelists about faith in Jesus, there is more than just “values teaching” going on.
“It is exciting to meet teenagers on the street who understand what you are talking about in regards to having faith in Jesus.
Then you find out afterwards that it is because they remember you from being their teacher in a Bible in Schools programme.”
Andrew Moore (Andrew attended the OAC School of Evangelism in Wellington)
The same OAC page talks about after-school and holiday programmes and is more explicit in stating their aims;
“In January we run a summer mission in Foxton town during which we have a week long children’s holiday programme at the Foxton Gospel hall. This year we had many children who came and enjoyed the programme. It was exciting to see 13 of these children respond to the gospel to follow Jesus Christ, 8 of whom for them it was the first time.”
It’s not indoctrination! [BULLSHIT]
I suspect that apologists for religious instruction consider indoctrination to be something that only occurs in a Chinese re-education camp. But no, it happens in many primary schools throughout New Zealand. To understand whether or not Bible in Schools classes is indoctrination, we first need to define what indoctrination of children is. I think this pretty much sums it up;
- Teaching children a set of beliefs uncritically.
- To often repeat an idea or belief to children in order to persuade them to accept it.
- Teaching children to accept a set of beliefs without questioning them.
- Teaching a set of beliefs from a position of authority without the ability to question or criticise.
Do they tell kids God exists? Yes.
Do they tell them there’s a possibility none of it is true or that another religion might be true? No.
It’s pretty obvious that religious instruction classes are religious indoctrination. They’re not an academic study of religion. That’s why the school has to close to allow them. The CEC recently got very upset when it was suggested that they were grooming children. Of course, “grooming” is associated with sexual abuse but that’s not the only thing that children can be groomed for. Is repeatedly telling children that “God loves you” grooming them for belief in Christianity? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
In a report from One News, the CEC Marketing Manager, Tracey Kirkley “…dismissed any claims that religious indoctrination occurs in state school”;
Kirkley said religious education in New Zealand schools is taught according to a strict report issued by Human Rights Commission in 2009 outlining appropriate curriculum
One News (27/09/2017)
This claim is nonsense. The ‘strict report’ is actually a brochure of non-binding guidelines called “Religion in New Zealand Schools” put out by the Human Right Commission in 2009. You can find out more about religious indoctrination and watch a cool video here.
It’s Religious Education! [BULLSHIT]
Using the word “education” makes it sound like it’s quite academic, doesn’t it? Sometimes, they also use the term “Religious Studies”. The kids are studying and being educated, so it’s ok! Stop asking questions!
The catch is that legally, the school is providing the class under the Education Act 1964, where the classes are defined as “Religious Instruction”. That doesn’t sound so academic, does it? In fact, it sounds a bit “indoctrinatey”. It’s no wonder they don’t want to use that term.
Don’t you think it’s a little hypocritical that the CEC is claiming to follow the “strict report” issued by the Human Rights Commission while at the same time ignoring the definition of what they do in the legislation that allows them into the school in the first place? The really amusing thing is that the HRC document that they refer to also defines the difference between religious education and religious instruction. Here’s what it says in answer to Question 1 on page 4;
Q1. What is the difference between religious observance, religious instruction and religious education?
Religious instruction means teaching aspects of a faith in its own right. Religious instruction carries an implicit or explicit endorsement of a particular faith and/or encourages students to engage with and make decisions about accepting it on a personal level. An example is optional classes run by voluntary groups. (Emphasis mine)
Religious education, also commonly called religious studies, refers to teaching about religion(s) as part of a broader context. An example is the role religion has played in politics, culture, art, history or literature. Religious education does not require students to engage with the religions being studied at a personal level or make choices about accepting those beliefs. Religious education can take place as part of the school curriculum. (Emphasis mine)
Given that the classes are not part of the school curriculum and are run by voluntary groups, it seems obvious what is being taught. Someone should really make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about this!
We don’t teach that syllabus! [DECEPTION]
This statement refers to a claim by the Secular Education Network that the Bible in Schools classes at a school in Christchurch were teaching the children to keep secrets from their parents, buy Bibles with their pocket money and that sin leads to death. The CEC got very upset (again) at this outrageous claim (see also Stuff article) and defended it by stating that the Connect syllabus (widely used in Australia) was no longer used at the school. SEN were given information about the syllabus used by the school.
It turns out that several months earlier, the Connect syllabus was in use by church volunteers representing the CEC but then changed to the Life Choices syllabus now recommended by the CEC. So yeah… we did teach it but we don’t teach it NOW.
The school had not been informed of the change and so were unaware of what was being taught to the children in their care. This sort of situation is very common. Schools often have no idea of what syllabus is being taught and don’t seriously review content provided to the children. Although this particular school no longer taught the Connect syllabus, in 2017, a survey uncovered several other primary schools throughout New Zealand that were teaching religious instruction using it.
It should be noted that the Secular Education Network made no public statements regarding the specific syllabus used before the CEC Marketing Manager, Tracey Kirkley went on the defence about the Connect syllabus. She stated that Connect was replaced by “Life Choices” about eight years earlier. But she did this without ever admitting Connect was used at that school by their own “accredited” volunteers only a few months ago. Apparently, neither the school nor the CEC had any idea what their own volunteers were teaching!
It’s Ministry of Education approved! [BULLSHIT]
This was a claim that was repeated for many years by the CEC and their volunteers. Their syllabuses are not and never have been approved by the MOE. The CEC claimed this for years but in 2007, they were taken to task over it by the Advertising Standards Authority. The ruling stated that the claim was misleading. The CEC claimed that a staff member from the MOE told them that this claim was acceptable in the “early 1990’s” but they provided no evidence of this.
We might be able to forgive them for this slip if they had stopped making the claim and ensured that the schools they provided volunteers to, stopped making the claims. But the CEC’s Simon Greening again made the claim on TV One’s Breakfast show in 2012. School were continuing to tell parents that the classes are “MOE Approved” as late as 2015.
Do you remember that Human Rights Commission document that the CEC follow and call a “strict report”? Here’s what Question 22 says;
Q22. Does the Ministry of Education endorse these groups?
The Ministry of Education does not endorse any providers of religious instruction or observance. It has no role in approving or formulating any programmes of religious instruction. This is usually done by the voluntary group itself, or the religious body that it is affiliated with. The Ministry of Education requires people in regular contact with students to be vetted by the police.
Our teachers don’t talk about hell or sin [DECEPTION]
The volunteers may have been told not to talk about hell – but some of them certainly do. There’s this attitude that because the “official line” from the syllabus providers is that sin or hell is not mentioned, their hands are clean. Every complaint is then an “isolated incident” and the situation is allowed to continue until it happens again. Young children are sometimes taught about Hell in religious instruction classes. The same logic applies when children are told that their parents should be married, that God makes the rain and the sunshine and that there’s no Santa. They’re not meant to do that… but they do. There is no overview by the Ministry of Education, so there is no real accountability.
Even if a Bible teacher doesn’t teach about those things (let’s call her “Mabel”), that doesn’t mean the kids won’t learn to believe in sin and hell. The religious faith that Mabel is hoping to instil in the kids leads to believe in sin and hell. Does Mabel believe in sin and hell? Absolutely she does. It’s not all kindness and love. Teaching religious faith leads to fear. Also, Mabel is probably not a “teacher” at all. Most “Bible teachers” are completely unqualified volunteers.
Lessons are interdenominational [DECEPTION]
This claim gives parents the impression that there may be a degree of fairness in that differing beliefs may be represented. But the reality is that religious instruction is all Christian with a tendency for individual groups who promote Christian evangelism to be the active volunteers. The case of the Pastor that infiltrated a school (his words, not mine) is an example of the prevailing attitude.
The CEC represents a number of different religious groups (below). The Catholic Church has observer status (whatever that means).
- Assemblies of God
- Associating Churches and Ministries of New Zealand
- Christian Brethren
- Christian Churches of New Zealand
- New Life
- The Christian Covenant Church NZ
- The Salvation Army
- The Wesleyan Methodist Church
Schools invite us in [EXAGGERATION]
This is a claim that the CEC like to make. The impression they like to give is that they are only there because they were “invited into the communities” – as they claim in this interview with Maori TV’s show Native Affairs. It is somewhat exaggerated! The schools are marketed to by paid staff whose job it is to get their syllabus into the school. If there are Christians on the Board of Trustees, they will vote on whether or not to allow the classes to go ahead. This doesn’t require a community vote but sometimes they may have one. What are they actually voting on? They’re voting on whether or not to close the school to all children (including non-Christian families) so that their religion can be promoted. Should breaching the rights of NZ children to a secular education be something that we should vote on? If you consider valuing other people’s right to their own beliefs as important, it doesn’t seem a very nice thing to do.
Bible in Schools is suitable for everyone [EXAGGERATION]
This is a very subjective claim, which I think is total bullshit but I’ve called it an exaggeration! How on earth is a religious instruction class that has the express purpose of promoting a specific version of Christian religious faith suitable for every child in our very diverse country? What about children from families who follow other religions? Over half of Kiwis are not even Christians! The assumption by many is that this has changed due to immigration but the reality is that a lot of our immigrants are Christians from places that are more religious, such as India, Fiji and the Philippines.
Even with the current high levels of immigration, the numbers of people affiliated with Christianity is in rapid decline with 43% of Kiwis saying they have no religion in the 2013 census. People are actually choosing to leave religion behind entirely… but bible classes are apparently suitable for everyone!
Surely a suitable education about religion would come from an academic perspective? Here’s what Victoria University’s Professor of Religious Studies, Paul Morris had to say about it when he reviewed two of the CEC’s syllabuses in 2015;
(a) I do not consider that the CEC’s CRE teaching materials that I have examined are at all suitable for non-Christian, non-evangelical students;
(b) I do not consider that the assurances to parents and trustees are sufficient to make the content clear or honestly reflect their minority viewpoints; and,
(c) I do not view the CEC’s selectivity in relation to the New Zealand curriculum’s competencies and values to validate the claim that Life Choices does support the National Curriculum and it might well be at odds with it, particularly by excluding diversity and critical textual learning.
It’s their choice!
It’s not harming anyone!
It’s not forced on anyone!
We’re only teaching values! [DECEPTION]
These are really common claims and just nonsense. Yes, parents have an option to send their children to the classes or not but this completely ignores not only the law, but also the reality of dealing with religious instruction in primary schools.
Firstly, the law only allows parents to opt their children out. It’s a choice that is forced on all school parents by Christians who want to promote their religion in their children’s classroom. This is also a choice that all parents have already made outside the school. I suspect that all of us have a church within a few minutes drive. The choice is there already!
Most parents would not be foolish enough to ask little Johnny(5) if he’d like to become a Christian. Johnny doesn’t understand what a Christian is. Johnny is also not given the opportunity to mature enough to be able to ask informed questions about beliefs that others would like him to accept. “Choice” is not inherently a good thing. How about we let Johnny grow up enough to be able to make real choices before we try and brand him with a religious viewpoint?
Kids who opt out of religious instruction are often treated badly. They’ve been punished by being made to pick up rubbish, ostracised by their schoolmates for being different or bullied by them because they don’t have the same beliefs and the opt-out classes are often sub-standard. It can affect people into adulthood. The Human Rights Commission hear several cases a year where harm has been proven before the case is heard.
Lots of children are coerced into religious instruction while others are forced to leave their class to avoid it. The claim that there is no harm is absurd. These classes are an attack on non-Christian families within their own children’s school.
- They are divisive in the classroom and the school community.
- They force children to lose curriculum teaching time (up to 32 days over years 1-8)
- They undermine the official curriculum. Kids are taught creationism in RI and are then expected to learn to think scientifically in the curriculum.
- There is rarely any real academic teaching about religion.
- Diversity is valued as a part of the official curriculum but frowned upon in religious faith.
Obviously, the Bible in Schools volunteers are not just teaching values. It’s an insult to the parents’ intelligence to claim that they are. When children are taught that God exists, that he created the world (and them), that Jesus is his son, the Bible is the word of God and they’re invited to pray with the Bible teacher – it’s not “just values”.
We don’t need religion to teach children values. Arguably, human values are superior to the religious values which have led to the religious privilege that the rest of us have to deal with. What do you think? Please comment below.