With the court case coming up at the end of this month, it seems that the Churches Education Commission has been contacting congregations all over the country asking their parishioners to pray and write to the Ministry of Education and their MP’s to encourage them to support their case for retaining Bible in Schools classes.
This blog is part of a story about my experience with religious education in my Daughter’s school. If you missed the start of it, you can find the beginning here.
It seems that many churches have taken this to heart and are rallying the Christian soldiers to fight for the cause. This is completely understandable, as they wish to further their own beliefs. However, it is objectionable for them to mislead their congregations about the issue and make it sound like Christians are being persecuted. I know Christians just love the idea of being persecuted (it makes them feel closer to Jesus) but calling the people who are trying to remove religious faith teaching from primary schools “anti-Christian”, is false and misleading.
One parish that has said this in their newsletter is the Anglican Parish of Oxford-Cust, which was established in 1865 and is near Rangiora. Here’s an excerpt from their newsletter…
Leaders at all levels do have a tendency to speak to their supporters only of how they are “right” and ignore the issues, in an attempt to reinforce existing beliefs with a false but believable threat to their way of life. Hopefully, the Anglican parish of Oxford-Cust aren’t too revolutionary and we can sleep safe in our beds at night. But just to be sure, I wrote a friendly email to the Vicar, Christine Allan-Johns…
From: Dave Smyth
Sent: Friday, 15 April 2016 10:36 a.m.
To: Christine Allan-Johns
I was surprised to read in your Parish Newsletter of 10th April that I was “anti Christian”!
As a member of the Secular Education Network, that is attempting to have religious instruction removed from Primary Schools, I can assure you that the cause has nothing to do with being anti-Christian. In fact, many of the members are Christians, as well as members of other religious faiths.
The situation is far more complicated than being a clash of beliefs. The law says that state schools should be secular, yet they are allowed to “close” so that religious faith teaching can take place. It is discriminatory against non-religious parents and children. You can read more about this here.
My particular story is just one example of school administrators, school boards and even Ministry of Education officials manipulating the law to further their own religious beliefs.
This isn’t about your religious beliefs, it’s about the use of primary school children to further a religious agenda.
Christine gave me the courtesy of a considered reply…
From: Christine Allan-John
Sent: Friday, 15 April 2016 12:52 p.m.
To: Dave Smyth
Subject: RE: newsletter
I was surprised that you read a small church’s newsletter! Yes the early educationalists decided to have secular education in our schools in about 1877, a very long time ago but the intention of that legislation was to stop any particular denomination from pushing their particular Christian view point – not to remove Christianity from schools altogether – that was never envisioned or even imagined. Christianity is the core culture of our European heritage. Bible in Schools is now the ONLY teaching our country’s children have about our heritage – quite apart from a “Faith” point of view. To remove this removes a huge part of our historical past. If I saw that you were recommending a curriculum of Christian heritage then I would be happier. When I was doing Romantic poets at university, I got the references to Biblical stories and Theology straight away, most of the class didn’t. To take away all Christian teaching makes us an ignorant people because we will no longer understand our history, our art or our literature. Why do you want to remove the ONLY teaching our children have about the Christian faith? The Muslims must think we are stupid to take away our own culture and not teach the basics.
A month ago I was doing the 10 commandments with my youth gp – ” Have no other gods before me” was the topic. I explained about the religious environment that the Jews were living amongst in Egypt – these 11 year olds knew all about the Egyptian gods from teaching at school! So we now teach other religions and not our own.
So many children with a violent or absent [parent] hear about a Jesus who loves them and doesn’t hit them and is there for them when they are frightened. Why would you not want this for our increasingly damaged children? Surely it’s a very small thing to allow this to be taught to the children in this glide time in the teaching curriculum.
I guess your point of view comes from a sense of “fairness” – like teaching only one faith when we are now multicultural. There is some sense in that but Christianity and our Bible stories are the foundation of the European side of our heritage and quickly became the faith of most of the Maori people. It was Christianity that stopped the cannibalism among tribes, brought literacy to the Maori people and fairness was behind the writing of the Treaty which would not have happened without the Missionaries. They would have been in the same position as the Aboriginals in Australia without the Treaty. I think it’s very unfair that you want to wipe out any teaching about Christianity in our schools.
If I moved to Saudi Arabia I would be studying hard to understand the basis of the culture I chose to live amongst. If people move to NZ then they need to know our faith history and culture AND it would be up to their cultural leaders to teach their own faith, but they also need to know about ours.
So yes, I see this court case as being “anti-Christian” and if you have Christians on your team, then shame on them. I feel like Jesus would say “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Yes I’m sure you see those passing on the Christian faith as having an agenda and there will always be someone who goes too far. All the Bible in Schools teachers I have ever met just want to tell kids the Bible stories and about the love of Jesus. (better than strap a bomb to your body and blow yourself up so you can get 27 virgins in paradise!) What sort of teaching would you rather have? I’d rather risk the odd “hellfire and damnation” teacher which you can remove very quickly that wipe out 2000 years of healthy loving teaching. This court case has an secular agenda which I consider very serious for our kiwi society. Remove Christian teaching and there is a gap which other agenda will fill very quickly. The bombing in Brussells recently was is a good example of the teaching of other agenda which is completely opposite from Christianity. Is that what your team want to encourage? I certainly don’t. This is so much bigger than the odd Bible in Schools teacher who upsets you. Please see the bigger picture!
Rev Christine Allan-Johns
Vicar of Oxford-Cust
I thought that considering her position as a Vicar and a Christian, Christine’s response was pretty well reasoned, apart from the bit about suicide bombers!
From: Dave Smyth
Sent: Friday, 15 April 2016 3:29 p.m.
To: ‘Christine Allan-John’
Subject: RE: newsletter
I was doing some research and found your newsletter! Thanks for your detailed reply. It is refreshing to have a bible in schools supporter offer a considered response rather than some vague platitudes.
Yes, the 1877 act was intended to stop Christian denominations from fighting over access to children but it did have the effect of entirely removing faith teaching from schools. One particular brand of Christianity winning out through loopholes in the law and effective organisational skills, doesn’t justify the classes.
Bible in Schools isn’t the only way kids can learn about Christianity. There is an NCEA Religious Studies course and religion pops up in Classical Studies, History, Social Studies and Literature. If they wish to, parents will teach them something about it at home. And there is always Sunday school. I do agree with you that a knowledge of religion is important to understand many aspects of our culture. However, if it is gained through state schools, that knowledge should be academic and not faith-based.
I don’t believe that any religious group, Christian or otherwise, should have the right of access to children in our state school system. From a purely legal point of view, ANY religious organisation could do the same thing the CEC does, if it was able to gain approval from a board of trustees. If Christianity didn’t already have access to schools, would you think that giving all religions access was a good idea?
I’m not sure if you’ve seen the teaching material that the CEC offers, but it’s basis is not historical or even values and morality (as they claim). It starts at age 5 by teaching belief in God from the very first lesson. It’s no coincidence that they recently refused to provide these materials to the courts and had to be forced by a court order to do so.
One of the things I find irritating about Christian religious instruction for children, is the emphasis on God’s love, without any knowledge of beliefs around sin or hell. The “nice” beliefs take hold and it’s only later that the kids find out the full story. It’s a betrayal, because it’s the contradictions in Christianity like this, that allow a critical thinker with more information to dispute faith teaching.
It’s not really fairness in the sense that you mean but rather fairness in the sense that children do not have the knowledge or capacity to debate (any) religion with a figure of authority in the classroom. When they are at high school, maybe. But teaching belief in God to 5 year olds is nothing less than indoctrination and to pretend it is something else is deceitful.
I don’t disagree with you that Christianity has done some good. It has also been responsible for some of the most horrific episodes in history. However, I don’t think this is relevant to the issue. This is not about removing Christianity from schools, it is about removing faith teaching. There is nothing wrong with teaching kids about Christianity but that is not what the religious instruction classes do. If it was, the schools would not be legally required to close for them.
I found your comments about moving to Saudi Arabia interesting. If we agreed that people coming here need to learn about Christianity, then it is also reasonable for them to learn about why so many people have turned away from Christianity. Why has the proportion of Christians in NZ gone from nearly 70% in 1991 to under 50% in 2013 while the number of people with no religion doubled over the same period?
This is closely related to my objections to faith teaching in schools. If the goal is to teach values and morals, we don’t need religious faith to do that. If the object is to teach “about” religion, then there’s more than just Christianity to teach, particularly when so many people are leaving it.
You’re right, that there are some people who go “too far” with bible classes but it’s not those people who are the main focus. I’m sure that most bible teachers are just nice people trying to do the right thing in their view. However, their religious beliefs are based on faith, which a growing number of people in NZ disagree with, myself included. Their beliefs have no authority greater than anyone else’s beliefs and yet, Christian privilege allows them access to proselytise.
Most tellingly for me, I have not yet spoken with any atheist who wants to replace Christian teaching with any teaching that disputes the existence of God. That would make the atheists as bad as the evangelicals. Around 50% of primary schools in NZ have no faith teaching at all, so the gap is not being filled with Muslim radicals. That’s just scaremongering.?
I think “2000 years of healthy loving teaching” is an extremely rose-tinted, historically inaccurate way of looking at it! The Western media tend to give a very biased view of world events when it comes to religion. There are plenty of Christian militants/terrorists active in the world in places such as; Uganda, the Central African Republic, Syria, Lebanon, India. Or closer to our culture, the Westboro Baptist Church and various militant anti-abortion Christians in the USA. And of course, God is called on every time the US invades another country.
I fail to see how this can be “anti Christian” when no one is trying to replace Christianity with another religious faith? You asked what I would replace it with? The bigger picture is that we need values and morality teaching in schools and it already is. The Ministry already requires values to be taught, and schools without bible in schools are not all corrupt dens of sin! I would improve on the values teaching by including critical thinking and philosophy, so that we’re not teaching just our kids what to think but rather how to think. This way kids have a real life reason for their values and morals rather than just faith. In my view, religious faith simply has no place in state schooling.