The Secular Education Network (SEN) has awoken from its year long sleep to again stoke the public’s fear of its children being indoctrinated by Bible in Schools into that most awful of institutions, Christianity; pray that SEN may drive off these do-gooders so that your children can return to chat groups frequented by men masquerading as children, and get back to experimenting with P.
SEN’s annual drive for attention has been a difficult row to hoe this year, what with the threat of nuclear warfare in the north Pacific, climate change ratcheting up every storm it can find and New Zealand awaiting the whims of Winston to find out who its Government is. So they went all out with a pamphlet showing a child choking herself and said this is an example of what Bible in Schools is teaching children, indeed that they are grooming your children.
This is a slightly unorthodox approach, even for a religion that celebrates a man dying on a Roman torture device. One might even suggest it seems unlikely and the claim of grooming is potentially libelous. One of my relations teaches Bible in Schools and we have left our children with her; at this time, they have not returned with a penchant for auto-asphyxiation. The problem here is SEN and the Churches Education Commission (CEC) who run Bible in Schools are in a war with each other, and the first casualty of war is truth.
SEN claims that Bible in Schools is Christian indoctrination. CEC claim that there is “no evangelising going on or being encouraged by us” and that they provide education about Christianity but that doesn’t exclude learning about other religions. CEC admit that whilst they don’t encourage (which is different from discourage) evangelism, their Bible in Schools educators’ personal motivation would likely be in the hope the children would open their hearts to Jesus. That sounds very much like the hopes of my relation. She sincerely loves the children she gets to teach and, for her, the greatest expression of that love is to give the gift of Christ’s salvation and grace. If she stands up to teach it is very much on the basis that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
I have no time for the mission of the SEN because they have not followed the wise advice of Sun Tzu:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
They have never taken the time to understand why people agree to teach Bible in Schools. They are fools who have got so wrapped up in the purity of their secularism and atheism that they are themselves a poor model of the very evangelists they despise. They are the ones traumatising children, handing out pamphlets with distressing content in front of a school, never once seeking permission or support from that school.
Nevertheless, CEC should stop lying to schools. It is not religious education. It is not even Christian education. It is Pentecostal Fundamentalism, a thread of Christianity, that in its modern incarnation is anti-intellectual, and has consequently removed itself from the theological tradition and connection to church history. There are good, caring people involved, but I’d be willing to put down $1,000 that the majority of those who teach in Bible in Schools could not give an historically grounded narrative that explained how Christianity came to be and how over 1,800 years it then came to find a place here in Aotearoa. If they could, then CEC could argue it is Christian education. SEN are fundamentally wrong when they say New Zealand is a secular country; Christianity is central to whom we have become. But if you can’t teach an informed and self-aware history of Christianity, you shouldn’t be teaching our tamariki.
I would put religious education alongside civics and human rights as something all children should learn. I went to a Catholic college, and we had religious education the whole time I was at school. As one of the few non-Catholics, I was more fascinated than most. What Catholics get right in this space is they’re not particularly interested in evangelising you (I think they have an overbearing confidence that you will figure out in the end that Catholicism is obviously right compared with the rest). So we did genuine religious education; it was a Catholic foundation that explored other faiths, that asked hard social and geopolitical moral questions, and taught a 2,000 year history. It was great; I am better person for it.
Schools should refuse to have CEC run Bibles in Schools. Not because it is Christian indoctrination, but because it is an undisciplined and unlearned Christian education. It relies on Bible roulette, culturally derived value statements, historically inaccurate understandings of the development of the church and flawed complementarity between truth and fact that frankly does not exist. If you want the tamariki to learn, formulate a programme in which a Catholic priest, an Anglican vicar, an imam, a rabbi, an atheist and your New Age hippy come to talk about religion, faith and spirituality. The capacity of future generations to navigate that diversity will be essential in an increasingly connected world.