Cool Bananas Youthwork Trust is a group based in Tauranga that provide a range of programmes “teaching values and life skills from a Christian perspective”. They are closely aligned with the Churches Education Commission. Unfortunately, parents don’t often read enough into the innocuous “Christian perspective” part of their approach and are sometimes surprised that children come home talking about god. Like all religious instruction classes, while appearing to be merely teaching “values”, their intention is for children to be introduced into Christian beliefs beyond just values, with the ultimate goal of becoming a Christian.
Cool Bananas came to my sons school under the guise of teaching morals but tried to teach him religion instead. I only found out when he started repeating stuff to me like he was proud that he learnt it. – N.Y. (Facebook)
Cool Bananas is no stranger to controversy about their programmes. They have appeared a number of times in NZ Herald articles over parents complaining to the Human Rights Commission (who were and are completely ineffective when it comes to religious instruction complaints) and the Secular Education Network have been vocal in their criticism as well. Here are a few articles where Cool Bananas are mentioned.
Cynical evangelisation of children (Sciblogs – 12th August 2012)
Spreading the message – (Bay of Plenty Times – 12th September 2012)
When teaching becomes preaching – (Werewolf – 11th October 2012)
Religious Education ‘up to schools’ – (Bay of Plenty Times – 17th February 2014)
Schools restart religious lessons – (Stuff – 16th March 2014)
My daughter has gone from feeling obligated to do ‘cool bananas’ to proper bible classes, none of this was agreed to by me, my daughter wasn’t asked and was told to cover her ears during to bible lesson. I’m bloody fuming WTF can I do? She feels pressure to do it socially and the teacher tells me that she will be given an iPad at the back of the class if she doesn’t want to. – J.S (Facebook)
Questions on religion for potential camp leaders
One of the programmes Cool Bananas promote is their Annual Cool Bananas Adventure Camp. Like religious instruction classes, it is promoted as an event that promotes “life values from a Biblical foundation and how to apply practical Christian principles to get the best out of life”. This might seem like enough to give most parents an indication that it is more than just fun and games but some still don’t see that there is a strong evangelical motivation behind these camps.
To make this clearer to anyone unfamiliar with the camps, on a page (now removed) that appeared on their website asking for camp leader registrations, they made the following statement and asked very specific questions around the religious views of the leaders.
It is our preference for any leaders coming to camp to be a Christian (e.g. you have made a personal decision to be a follower of Jesus). If you do not consider yourself to be a Christian, this will not discount you from coming, however, you do need to be aware that Camp is run on Christian values and daily Chapel times and leaders meetings will also be based on Christian beliefs so you need to be comfortable operating in that environment should your application be accepted.
- Do you currently attend a Church or Church youth group on a regular basis?
- How would you best describe where you are at in your relationship with God right now? *
- Do you consider yourself to be a Christian?
- If YES, please provide us with a brief outline of when and why you decided to become a Christian and tell us about a verse that has meant a lot to you and why.
- If NO, please provide us with a short description of where your belief in God/Christianity is at and ask any questions you may have about God.
Cool Bananas response to criticism
I gave Cool Bananas a 1-star review on their Facebook page without any comment and they responded (this conversation was later deleted by them)…
Hi Dave, thanks for taking the time to give us a review. If you’d like to PM us letting us know what you think we can improve that would be fantastic. Have a lovely day.
I dislike religious groups who use access to children as a means to get them to “Discover God” under the guise of teaching values. It is dishonest and manipulative.
Thanks for your comment Dave, we understand why you might feel this way about religious groups who do this. As for Cool Bananas we do our best to honestly represent our intent. For example, all the schools we are in, know that we teach values from a Christian foundation. We let our schools know which values we’ll teach and what Bible stories we’ll use for illustration on the occasions that we share one. What we teach is approved by the school board before we teach it and also aligns with the New Zealand Curriculum’s Key Values required to be taught in schools (http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum).
As a whole, our primary goal is to present children with excellent values that will help them excel in life. We choose to use good values found in the Bible as a basis for this teaching. Though we reference the Bible and draw upon its wisdom it is not the only resource we use. There’s no expectation for kids to explore God further or even believe in God. If they choose to investigate God further from the references and stories we share we leave that up to them. We think that doing so makes us honest and respectful.
Thanks for taking the time to review us and we’ll do our best to not be dishonest or manipulative
Considering that organisations like yours, (eg: the CEC) have been encouraging church members to join school boards specifically to provide access for religion for decades, “board of trustee approved”, simply means a religious agenda has been achieved, not that it is good for everyone or even anyone.
The MOE’s values also include “diversity”, which obviously does not align with teaching from the perspective of one religion.
On that topic, what values do you teach that are only found in the bible as opposed to being common human values held by everyone?
Also, what about all the atrocious values that the Bible teaches, such as;
- Slavery being acceptable (eg; Exodus 21, 1 Peter 2:18),
- Women are subordinate to men (eg; 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Ephesians 5:22)
- Murder, human sacrifice, rape and genocide is ok if god says it’s ok (pretty much the whole old testament)
- Gays should be punished (Romans 1:27)
- And that it’s ok to use a scapegoat to avoid responsibility (the whole Jesus human sacrifice thing).
And if there is no expectation for kids to explore god further, why do you have a page on your website all about how cool it would be for kids to discover god further? (I linked to a page on their website that was removed not long after but you can still view an archive of it here).
QUOTE: “We can’t wait to journey and discover God with you!”
So… pretty dishonest and manipulative right there.
My last comment received no response from Cool Bananas. I guess it was just too much for them to process! The takeaway from this regardless of whether you are Christian or not is that Cool Bananas are not just about teaching kids some good values “from a Christian perspective” or putting on a Christmas play. The main purpose of their programmes is to lead children into Christian beliefs and a life in their church. They just won’t admit that. When I lasted checked (November 2021), all references to encouraging children into Christian religious faith had been removed from their website.