The most recent “round” in the discussion about the way religion is presented in our State Schools is now a series of conversations being held under very attenuated circumstances by religious organizations themselves.

It is an obscure and hard to understand set of exchanges that is a bit like looking at a coral reef from the deck of a boat.  From the boat you can only see the general shapes and parts of the “big picture” the details are all obscured by the way light moves between water and air.  To really see the reef in all its detail, you have to dive in and swim eye to eye with the fish, and if you don’t have gills and eyes evolved for dealing with the water,  this takes special effort and equipment.

Churches and the views of their members and congregations are a bit like coral reefs – to really understand what is going on inside them, you have to be inside them, you can’t really tell what is happening or see all the colors from the deck of a boat floating above it all.  However, sometimes events happen that leave their mark on the surface, for instance when a shark attacks and the water is visibly stained with blood.

Peter Sherlock makes his case for reform in Camberwell Photo: Richard Wilson

The most recent event in the “Religion in Schools” discussion is a bit like that.  The blood in the water was written up in the AGE by religion editor, Barney Zwartz,


This really is a must read, and if anyone wonders what this means, both for the future of Religion in our State schools and for the Anglicans in Melbourne, let me spell it out clearly:

It means that Bishop Hale is calling the shots.

What happened was that Peter Sherlock led a vote in the Synod to have the Anglican Communion endorse teaching children about different religions, under the banner of “General Religious Education”.

Peter Sherlock is not a household name in Australia, but he is the dean of the United Faculty of Theology, and someone who has studied and written on the issue of Religion in Schools in Victoria, he is highly placed expert on this issue.  If you look closely at what Sherlock thought he could achieve, it wasn’t much, and he went to all kinds of lengths to make sure that what he was proposing to the church was not in any way critical of the obvious flaws in the current system, but even going to these diplomatic lengths wasn’t or isn’t enough.  To men like Hale, an inch is as good as a mile, and Sherlock’s resolution went down in flames at Hale’s objection.

To be fair he lost 204 votes to 167 – he only needs to convince 10% more of the synod to think like him to overcome Hale, but can he do this?  Additionally, look at what he felt he had to propose to even have a chance.  He had to basically endorse ACCESS Ministry.  In the past Sherlock has written that it was time to move on, and the ACCESS has outlived its usefulness and a better model for education, one not run by volunteers doing “mission” in schools, one not based on “making disciples” was needed.

Well, so much for that.

Sherlock wrote up the details of his defeat, and his frustration here:


What is the take away from all this?

This is a war for the soul of the Anglican Church in Melbourne, and the events here seem to show pretty clearly which faction has the upper hand.

It is noteworthy that the FIRIS claims of discrimination are completely ignored by the church, even the moderates, such as Sherlock, by ignoring the claims of FIRIS parents are in a sense ignoring the Elephant in the room.

The elephant gets its day in VCAT on December 12th … Sherlock and the rest of the moderates in the Anglican Church won’t be there, they are seemingly unwilling to join FIRIS’s effort, hoping instead that if they bend over backward far enough, they can find a solution that will make everyone happy.

We’ll see what kind of reception we get in VCAT – where at least the case will be made, the special interests in this argument however are full of passion and intensity and the moderates, well the moderates seem to lack all conviction.

Peter Sherlock sums this all up by calling it a return to “Sectarianism” – in some senses he is right, but only in a limited sense, society has moved on the church is left with it increasingly militant factions for whom sectarianism is survival.  Most Australians can care less.