Reverend Sandy Grant
St Michaels Anglican Cathedral Wollongong
Corner of Church St and Market St
Wollongong NSW 2500,
+61 2 4228 9132
Dear Reverend Grant:
You have our condolences for the loss of your friend, Bronwyn Chin, who died as a result of long endurance of pancreatic cancer, but your sorrow over her death does not licence you to repeatedly fail to grasp why your policy agenda and FIRIS’s aims are in conflict.
Your letter in response to the public discussion of the CEP curriculum, was a masterpiece of “missing the point” – and given your intellect, is best understood as a deliberate attempt to misdirect people from the issues at hand.
The issue is not, as you suggest, that anyone wishes to argue that “suffering is not an opportunity for growth“, as you phrased it, the issue is that you have used her suffering as part of a curriculum in our state schools that is clearly using this example, as a rationale to promote a particular religious agenda.
It is also relevant that you want to do this in our schools as part of a programme of confessional religious instruction that segregates children according to their family’s religious opinions.
If your letter reflects your ability to listen and understand other’s suffering, or if it reflects the pastoral care you routinely give, I offer my condolences to your parishioners as well.
You seem to have a Jesus shaped blind spot in your conscience.
Let me offer you an observation: The exibitionism you display around your religious convictions, and the outworking of these convictions in the lives of your fellow citizens as policy, has reached a point where you have run into our opposition (as well as the opposition of others). We need to be very clear with you, that this conflict is one caused by your exhibitionism, and your refusal to respect the sensitivities and feelings of us, your neighbors. It is your imposition of your religious beliefs into the private and personal lives of our families that has led to this conflict.
As a priest, you must be keenly aware that cancer claims the lives of people without regard to their religious belief, and sadly, claims the lives of people who are very young, or in the prime of health. As a priest though, you are acting like the proverbial carpenter, who, because all he has is a hammer, considers every problem to look like a nail.
While it might feel reassuring for you to explain, and comfort your congregation by urging them to see cancer as a perfect reason to “focus on Jesus” – as you did at Ms. Chin’s very public funeral – I can sincerely assure you, that there are equally sincere people who would not welcome this message at their funeral, and your attempts to reframe this, as merely proposing that there is virtue in overcoming suffering, is simply dishonest. This is manifestly NOT what you are proposing in this example.
Furthermore, the materials at issue, do not frame this in any sense as “your opinion, but instead they clearly assert the truth of a view that “cancer is the result of sin in the world”.
The fact that many view this kind of religious expression with contempt should not surprise anyone.
The way you served the Chin family at their funeral, and I’m sure, as a friend, is exemplary – but you have taken her death, and rolled it into a public school curriculum – administered under the laws of our state, and incumbent on the staff of our schools to oversee and administer.
You repeatedly fail to see why, what you presume to do in our schools , impacts on the lives of those, who for various reasons choose not to join your religious community.
You repeatedly mischaracterise these underlying issues: as you did in your letter to the Australian. This pattern rises to a level of willful deception on your part.
So let us be very clear: because you blend your religious convictions and passions, with legislation and state school policy – we have come into direct conflict.
Were it not for these facts, you and I would not be addressing each other via the intermediary of the pages of the Australian. Just as none of us protested your sermon at Ms. Chin’s funeral, if if were not for the fact that your views about cancer have been made into curriculum you present in our schools: it would not be the subject of discussion.
If you were not imposing on our family, and indeed on all families who count themselves as part of the body of public education in Australia – we would not be discussing this- but because you seek to keep a policy in place that has the effect of dictating to my family – how my children are treated in their school there is a conflict.
Let us be very clear: this issue is one that can be easily solved by your agreeing to conduct your ministry outside of the hours which my children are obligated to be present in school. We resent having to excuse our children from a timeslot given to your instruction. Why does it seem to strain your imagination to believe that your insistence that our state schools should uphold a practice that gives you access to conduct ministry – imposes on everyone in a way that is unwelcome?
I would like to offer another observation – and this has to do with the overarching value of our system of public education, which you seem unconcerned with.
Ms. Chin, as the wife of someone employed by a parachurch group, sent her children to “Illawara Christian School” – and if Australian families who are Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or “none” – attend that school – they would be doing it under clear submission to the “religious confession” which is part of the charter of the Illawara Christian School. While I have every confidence that the people of Illawara Christian School mean no ill toward any of the other faiths, the school charter reads as a reminder of why we need “public education” and why our forefathers sought to create it. We’ve overcome a past that is steeped in policy that is confessional, dogmatic and celebrates the imposition of “religious tests” for membership.
The beauty, and moral purpose of “public education” – is that it educates children as Australians – which is to say, it educates them, irrespective of, and without favour towards the religion of their family. This formulation was (historically) reached over the direct protestations of your church, and those of other churches out of which our nation chose to form – in spite of its historic sectarian differences.
The innovation of public education which Australia can proudly claim as a first (ie ours is the first nation on earth to establish a system of free, compulsory and secular education) – is not hostile to your faith – it is your actions which are hostile to our system of education.
We believe that families can and should be trusted to attend to the religious formation of their children, and while a “market” for religious expression clearly exists in this country, none of these should be allowed to commandeer the system of public education – in whole or in part.
We have not “attacked” you or your chosen religion – we have decided to defend our system of public education against an increasingly aggressive and exhibitionist expression of your religion.
Perhaps this is your ultimate goal – to stand in the way of others interrogate them about their beliefs in hope that you’ll convince them of your views – if this is your goal, then let our efforts, bring adversity to you your agenda, and in so doing provide you an “opportunity for growth”.
I sincerely suggest that the sooner you experience this “growth” … the better off we all will be.