Radio Rhema is a Christian radio station whose mission is to “connect Kiwis to Christ”. So when Luke Weston interviewed the Churches Education Commission’s National Director, Stephanie Sewell and Public Relations person, Tracey Kirkley, I was fascinated to hear how they could have a discussion on the topic without being tripped up by the many inconvenient facts stacked against them.
The interview started with the inevitable presumption that bible in schools is beneficial and that “…as Christians, we are totally for it aren’t we?”. Clearly, this wasn’t going to be a hard-hitting interview of (and by) people whose goal is to promote their religious faith to 5 year olds. Oddly (or perhaps predictably), the interview did not once touch on promotion of faith as a goal of the Bible in Schools “crusade”. They ramble on about protection of our values and culture (which I write about further below) but “Steph” dropped a massive clanger that the Radio Rhema people will regret not editing out.
Toward the end of the interview, the presenter asks what people can do to support the Churches Education Commission in their promotion of Bible in Schools. Stephanie Sewell goes on to talk about how local churches can get involved with schools and in a startling moment of blatant honesty, exposes exactly how she wants Christians to assert their supposed moral authority over local primary schools. Here’s what she said…
“I think yes, we do need the public’s help. One, is to get on when you see an article, like, be great to have input. But not only that. I really feel like, the local church. The local church get behind their local primary school and resource them through bible in schools and be part of it. And so, getting the local church on board, so that they are within their local public school as a privilege to go in and teach bible in schools would be great to somehow engage that so that a local church owns their local primary school.”
(Pause for effect)… Clearly the CEC doesn’t just want to ensure their continued access to primary school kids, they want more control over the school itself.
It will be interesting to see if Radio Rhema leave this interview online and unedited. (They didn’t. It was taken offline within a couple of months) And YES, I have a copy of the original interview!
Update 7-Aug-2017: Radio Rhema have removed the interview that took place on 10th May 2017. You can still listen to the recording below. The comments by Steph start at 9:02 mins.
Shocking isn’t it? Maybe it is if you haven’t been following the debate around bible in schools as closely as I have. But to me, it’s not shocking at all. It’s simply a confirmation of what the Churches Education Commission, its predecessors and individual church volunteers have been attempting to achieve for decades. Just recently, Pastor Damien Goodsir was forced to step down as Chairman of Fenwick School’s board of trustees when parents complained about his recorded sermons where he claimed that he has “infiltrated” the school. He was simply doing what the Churches Education Commission are asking for!
The CEC claim that they are represented in 650 primary schools throughout the country, by 2500 volunteers teaching the bible to 60,000 kids a week. That is some seriously large scale, legally supported, religious indoctrination. It needs to stop. You can donate to the case against bible in schools here
I’m always perplexed by how advocates of bible in schools are able to be completely blinkered to what they are really doing and how the general public really see it. Tracey Kirkley claimed that there is a “…small but vocal percentage of people who are right against it.”. However, if you look at public comment on any media report around religious instruction, the comments on the article are always overwhelmingly against it. Just look at the comments! I’m always amazed by how many people, who are not active in protesting against RI are very much against the classes and how few people are for them.
Tracey Kirkley seems to intentionally misrepresent both herself and aspects of the issue. She is paid to actively engage schools in promotion of the bible in schools syllabus but in the interview refers to the Secular Education network as a lobby group as if it were a bad thing. They do lobby for change to the Education Act 1964 but she is herself a lobbyist to schools! It’s her job!
She also tries to suggest that there is a majority of people who want bible in schools. This is not only untrue in many schools but not required to insert the classes into a school. A board of trustees is usually a small group of less than 10 people who can decide off their own backs that their school needs some religious indoctrination. As indicated in the interview, the CEC have been encouraging Christians to get onto school boards in order to push their religious agenda, so they don’t just “happen to be there”.
“…we happen to be in a lot of schools because that reflects the majority view and role that we have with people’s belief and that is why boards have us in their schools if they want us there.” – Tracey Kirkley
Tracey also misrepresented the Secular Education Network position on the whole issue! She stated that SEN do not want children to hear about the bible or Christianity. This is not true at all. SEN have called for true education about world religions (including Christianity). It is religious faith teaching that they object to.
Luke: “…they don’t want any children to hear about the bible or Christianity in our school curriculum?”
Tracey: “Yes, that’s correct.”
Tracey then goes on to misrepresent the right to religion as a right to preach.
In response to Luke’s question: “And what is their argument? What is so deeply threatening about Bible in Schools?”, Tracey talks about how SEN say that the Christian dominance of religious instruction is discrimination against other religions and comments on religious bullying but says it is a “larger systemic problem” and “to remove the right from everyone because they’re not happy with something. I don’t agree with that position at all”. This confuses the right to hold religious beliefs with the right to to proselytise. It confuses individual bullying with institutional bullying via promotion of religious faith.
Luke then repeats a common bible in schools fallacy and goes on to suggest that we should present as much information as possible so that children can “make great choices”. He ignores the fact that there is NO opposing arguments provided in religious instruction classes. They only promote the religion of the people taking them. SEN want to educate children about different religions so that they can make educated choices and not be indoctrinated in one belief system.
Tracey then stumbles over an unexpectedly difficult question…
Luke: “How does NZ Bible in Schools compare to Religious Education in other parts of the world? Because I know that say, England for example, they have something called RE.”
Tracey: “Ummm… How would it compare with other… *gasp* countries… ways of teaching RE… ummm… I couldn’t really give you a specific on that. There aren’t that many western countries that are still allowing this opportunity within the public school system. So we are definitely in a very… ummm… privileged position in that regard because under NZ law, we’re still allowed to have RI time in the public school.”
The question is difficult because Tracey would know that the UK have a school system that offers the type of comparative religious education that the Secular Education Network want for New Zealand! It is true academic study and not religious faith teaching like bible in schools is.
Luke: “What is so beneficial from your perspective about Bible in schools and what you do?”
Steph waffles on about how nice it is for kids to see old people and learn biblical values. “You want a kid with generosity, kindness, goodness. And those are biblical values that we’re teaching to kids every week for just 30 minutes.”
Of course it is ridiculous and insulting to suggest that we need Christians to teach the rest of us to be kind! Tracey has seen responses to this argument before from myself and others, so interjects with…
Tracey: “And we’re not saying that those values are completely inherent to the Christian biblical world view. They’re a lot of values that are commonly shared amongst people of other faiths, religions, cultures. So we’re supporting the school in under-girding those values that the school will put forward… courage respect, forgiveness, kindness. Values which are common to us all. But we’re giving them some information and education around a biblical perspective around how those things can be um… aligned with and worked out in your every day world.”
Tracey then talks about HRC tribunal case…
Tracey: “Having a faith view and the ability to freely express that as we are allowed to in this nation um… is a fundamental right that we should protect and be prepared to fight for.”
She doesn’t seem to realise that no one is threatening that right. You can hold whatever religious views you like… you just shouldn’t be able to indoctrinate secular state primary school children in them!
She then goes on to complain about legal costs as a small organisation “fighting the fight”. Tanya Jacob and David Hines are taking the case against bible in schools to court at their own individual risk! If you’re offended by the way evangelists want to “own your school”, please help Tanya and David by donating on Givealittle.
The interview ends with Tracey talking about teams of church volunteers who have been going into primary schools for 20 or 30 years as if it’s a good thing. Luke then talks about society becoming wishy washy and that our society has Christian based values (patronising) and that Christians should fight for these values. As usual, Christians often confuse human values we all hold as being “their” values.
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