Christian religious education takes a secular beating

In the last few months the Christian faith, and faith believers in general, have taken a beating in the mainstream press. As a result, believers are questioning not only their ministry involvement, but their freedom to express their faith in public and risk persecution.

The reason? A small group of parents in Victoria is questioning the Act of Education which provides for Special Religious Instruction in public schools. That same group is taking the Education Department to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), claiming that children whose parents opt them out of faith instruction are discriminated against.

In mid-May, HREOC referred the matter to a VCAT hearing.

As the main provider of special religious instruction in Victoria, the role of ACCESS ministries was called into question.  There are other faith providers – Jewish, Ba’hai, Christian Orthodox, Muslim.

ACCESS is but one, yet it is our service provision that has come under relentless media scrutiny.

Along the journey, chaplaincy and the role of the church has also been yanked into the media debate.  Interestingly, our state and federal political leaders have come out in support of faith instruction, many of them professing their faith publicly for the first time. Our own Prime Minister, an avowed atheist, even referred to the relevance of the King James Bible in one’s life!

What has developed over a few short months is a deliberate attempt by the media to start a faith war  – to divide Christians against other Christians; faiths against faiths; congregations against congregations.

It’s sensationalist journalism – find a schism in the foundation, a rat in the ranks, report the division and watch the Letters to the Editor or the news blog implode with atheistic comment.

Emails received at ACCESS have been vicious, filthy, malicious, and racist.  Our staff, chaplains and CR educators are under considerable attack and have borne the brunt of this media-created maelstrom of misinformation.  At the same time, anecdotal complaints have been made about children in CRE colouring in sheets saying “Jesus Loves Me”.

If we can’t make that claim as a faith educator, what is left?

Any parent may choose to opt their child out of faith education at any time. There is no prejudice. Christianity does not permit prejudice.  Our CR educators are community volunteers, many with teaching backgrounds themselves, who have undergone training, a Working With Children Check, and are under the supervision of a Field Supervisor employed by ACCESS.  Under Departmental guidelines a classroom teacher is required to remain with the CR class at all times. Not once has ACCESS received a formal complaint from a parent or principal.

With 12 million Christians in Australia, and nearly 65 per cent of parents opting their children into CRE classes, Christians too should have a choice.  Detractors claim that CRE should be confined to Sunday. I’ve got news for them – God is with us, always, not just on the day of rest.

The argument has now become one against faith – against the right of individuals to hold a faith and to express a faith, and to share the common values of those faiths with others.  Our parents cry out for a provider to take the time to teach their children virtues such as love, mercy, social responsibility, humanity, humility, sharing, grace and forgiveness.   They are grateful that we are there and regularly thank us for our presence.

These parents and their children should not be denied access to a faith provision merely because of the stand of a minority.

Migrants flock to our shores to flee oppression and persecution in their country of origin. Many find their way into Christian churches, and we welcome them with open arms. Let us not be the persecuted as well.

It’s time – time for Christians to stand together, united as the body of Christ, to defend our faith, and the values that have shaped this country today.  I urge Christians to speak positively of CRE in their schools, to write or email their local MPs, to praise and uphold friends who are CR educators or chaplains. Most importantly, pray.

Canon Dr Evonne Paddison

ACCESS ministries