My advice: don’t let the Secular Education Network nor Bible in Schools near your kids

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.

CEN pamphlet 1

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.

8 thoughts on “My advice: don’t let the Secular Education Network nor Bible in Schools near your kids

  1. Hi There,

    I thought I’d address some of the things you raised in this blog. Although I can’t claim to speak on behalf of SEN, I’m a member of SEN and also have a blog about the issue of religious instruction at

    Firstly, thanks for helping to raise awareness of this issue. The great majority of parents don’t understand it and the greatest hurdle we face is overcoming the misinformation being spread by the CEC.

    SEN hasn’t been asleep – far from it! David Hines and Tanya Jacob have been preparing for a Human Rights Tribunal hearing. Unfortunately, it could take years to get into court unless they are able to jump the long queue.

    One misunderstanding you seem to have is that SEN is an atheist group. It’s not. We have members from various religions (including Christians) who are actively involved in remove religious instruction from our secular schools.

    The pamphlets being handed out were targeting a specific school that told SEN they were offering the Connect syllabus, which includes some of the less savoury aspects shown in the pamphlet. It turns out that the CEC had changed the syllabus several months earlier without telling the school. That doesn’t speak well for either the school or the CEC. The school should know what is being taught. Also, the CEC said that they stopped teaching Connect back in 2012. The pamphlets were also handed to parents, not children. I’m sure the parents can handle it. It hardly compares to direct access to children in their own classroom.

    I’m not sure why you’d stick with the idea that NZ is a Christian country. Yes, it had some missionaries who turned up 200 years ago, after roughly 800 years of pagan animism that Maori subscribed to. Yes, at one stage, NZ was around 90% Christian but that is ancient history. Christianity has been declining rapidly for over 50 years and now accounts for less than half the population, while people who have no religion is rising rapidly and as at the 2013 census was about 42% of the population. NZ has never had an official religion and the church has no say in government. The Education Act was formed in 1877 to be create “free, compulsory and secular” education. Christians have been trying to undermine that ever since. Essentially, we are a secular country, even if Christians have managed to scent mark their religion into things like the national anthem and the odd council meeting!

    Is religious instruction indoctrination? I don’t see how anyone could claim that it is anything other than indoctrination. It is taught by an adult in a position of authority over children as fact, without questioning it’s validity or discussion of opposing views, week after week for several years. If this isn’t indoctrination, I don’t know what is.

    I don’t agree that it’s a good idea to make the situation even more confused by adding other religious faith teaching into the mix and invite individuals representing their religions to teach. What we need is proper academic study of religion. You say that we shouldn’t let SEN near your kids? SEN would agree! We don’t want access to children, we want to remove access for any religious group to children in secular state schools. We do not want anyone to run Bible in Schools, not even us. It should be abolished and (in my opinion) replaced with something along the lines of what you suggest… civics, philosophy, human rights, critical thinking. Religious Education could (and should) be part of a history or social studies class.

    1. Kia ora Dave, this is a blog in its own right!

      SEN has a reductionist approach to the role Christianity has in Aotearoa New Zealand, in that it assumes dropping numbers ends the significance of those doctrines to who we are today. No question that the number of professing Christians has plunged, and where the numbers have held up immigrant populations are often a significant cohort. However, it remains key in our history and our present in four respects:
      – the partnership between the Crown and tāngata whenua in te Tiriti o Waitangi reflects the missionaries’ covenantal thinking. That is relevant today as we resolve historical grievances and build a modern Treaty relationship;
      – our civics and human rights are culturally derived from Western Judeo-Christian thought. As a country that thinking affects many of our geo-political decisions;
      – in international relations, particularly relevant with the ructions in the USA, Christian faith is an important driver in some of the countries we maintain relationships with. The more conversant we are with it, the more intelligently we can engage and understand perspectives;
      – With the rise in climate refugees and other displaced people, we will see another influx of Christians as well as other faiths. We need to understand their perspective to be able to debate and defend secularism.

      SEN seems to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Understanding religions will remain very important for many decades to come; if our tamariki don’t understand the religious impulse, they will lack tolerance and an ability to box out of their own corner. CEC are not an appropriate group to do it; but it should be done.

      Indoctrination is a perjorative and even emotive term. Our tamariki are indoctrinated every day by targeted advertising, social media influence, and permissive societal boundaries. In our wharekura, we are trying to form our taiohi into contributing, functional, safe members of their whānau, hapū and iwi. I suppose we are indoctrinating them; I suspect they’ll be the better for it.

      Finally, and don’t feel attacked, but as tāngata whenua, I object to the western academic labeling of my ancestors’ faith and theology as ‘pagan animism’ and to the insinuation that missionaries came transformed a passive Māori society. The interactions between tāngata whenua, missionary and empire are complex and contextual; faith is not a linear discussion. Indeed, perhaps that is my closing remark: I’d encourage SEN members to understand the complexity of what they are criticising.

  2. Be prepaerd to say goodbye to $1000… sweeping assertion based on assumption of what you think you know , and how it is taught, and the credibilit/ faith understanding of many, many, volunteers.
    Big ups however on calling out SENs tactics as inappropriate and misinformed. Have they ever bothered to engage with the people/ organisations they attack through the media..That would be a NO.

    1. That’s a bold assertion. I have friends, family and whānau who have taught or do teach Bible in Schools. History and complexity are not a big part of that curriculum; for example the Bible passages used I have seen taught as though they were describing history as opposed to theology. I suspect that’s why it is aimed at early primary years. I’d love to see a rejig of the programmes to focus on delivering a genuine religious education programme in secondary schools.

    2. Actually Blondechik, SEN have approached multiple parties before ever considering their current approach. They have legal proceedings underway that have been in place for some time now exactly because these parties you speak of have refused to respond, been dismissive in their response or have repeated the errors in contempt. The SEN has written to the MOE, the relevant churches, schools and their boards of trustees etc, the CEC, local MP’s and all the major political parties (even John Key was asked directly) and many others to start dialogue about the methods employed and have been stonewalled at every step. They have legal proceedings underway due to the inaction of the relevant parties.

      It’s a real shame when people make baseless assumptions without the slightest bit of research in to what they say.

    3. Thanks for your comments Tim. I can see that CEC have been very poor at dialogue, which is frustrating and self-defeating. There are strongly drawn sides in this disagreement, which means it cannot be a debate and no useful resolution is likely to be achieved. That’s probably the real shame.

  3. Hi Graham,

    It’s a pretty confusing topic!

    Yes, immigration does play some part in reducing the proportion of Christians. However between 2006 and 2013, the overall numbers of Christians declined by over 175,000 people at the same time as population increased by over 130,000 people.

    However, I don’t think that declining numbers of Christians is relevant to whether or not we should allow religious instruction in state primary schools. After all, they are secular state schools and as such, should not offer any position on religion. Certainly not when it’s decided by a few (often very biased) people on a board of trustees. I would be equally opposed to indoctrinating atheism in schools and I’m an atheist. And if Christianity does decline significantly, we should protect them from other religious pressures in the same way we *should* be protecting non-Christian children now.

    You are right about Christianity being an important part of our history, represented in both good and bad ways. That is not up for debate but I don’t think it’s relevant to the issue. If we were discussing whether or not there should be ANY mention of religion in schools, I’d agree. But we’re not. We’re talking about whether or not religion itself should be promoted. I (and SEN) absolutely support academic teaching about the role of religion in society and history. What we don’t support is the promotion of any religious faith to children. So again… SEN is not wanting to dispose of the baby with the bathwater at all.

    Yes, “indoctrination” is a pejorative but that is exactly what religion instruction classes are. Because other forms of indoctrination occur via media etc, that does not mean religious instruction is ok. There is certainly a close parallel issue with corporate access to schools in the form of “sponsorship” that should strengthen the case for removal of RI, not lessen it. In this comparison, Christianity is really just another “corporate” that we need to protect children from. We shouldn’t do what the CEC do and conflate human values with Christianity and say it’s the same thing, any more than we would if Coca Cola decided to promote a healthy lifestyle and say it’s all about “Coke’s Values”.

    I’m not offended by your final comments at all. There would be some members of SEN who are very critical of religion itself (and I would be one of them) but the aim of the group is not to attack Christianity. I think that would be framing it the wrong way. This is not an attack on Christianity…. it’s a defence from Christianity. We are not attempting to promote secularism in churches, we are trying to remove churches from secular schools.

    Blondechik – Many SEN members have been in direct contact with the Churches Education Commission and many, many other related organisations. I’ve been there and done that… from the local board of trustees to the top of the Ministry of Education. I asked the CEC to send me copies of their teacher guides… of course, I never go them. Media is actually the last resort. Most of us would prefer not to have to do it but the manipulation and outright lies from almost everyone who tries to defend religious instruction is impossible to combat without making a bigger issue of it.

    1. Kia ora Dave,

      Thanks for your comments. I think you and I can agree on that a more academic approach would be preferable, and that understanding the history and place of religions in our world is an important part of preparing our children and youth for the future. Which is probably quite enough for now.

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