In early February, the Sydney Anglican’s John Dickson tweeted

There are two compelling reasons for Special Religious Education in schools: 1) Some religion or other profoundly shaped a child’s culture, and should form part of their education; 2) Trained adherents are better equipped to teach a living Faith than are teachers in general.

– and added –

And I would welcome anyone who is willing to debate this issue with arguments.

In response to the first ‘compelling’ reason FIRIS is simply going to state the fact that General Religious Education is currently included in the curriculum. Furthermore, FIRIS has complete confidence that professional teachers employed by the NSW Department of Education using NESA developed curricula have the necessary knowledge and competence to teach it.

This leads us on to Dickson’s second ‘compelling’ reason for SRE.

In an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph in 2015, Dickson wrote –

The main arguments against sympathetic religious education miss the mark. Some of the naysayers cite anecdotes of kids going home to mum in tears after of a [sic] scripture teacher’s ­insensitive remark about sin, or their denial of Santa, or because a piece of literature was handed out that does drift into proselytising. This can, and should, easily be fixed with better SRE protocols and training. [emphasis added]

He also called into question the feasibility of a “neutral” approach to religious education, claiming that in reality such an approach is ‘unworkable’. He wrote –

With everything else teachers have to know and do, they are never going to be able to understand the Bible as well as, say, the middle-aged mum from the local church who’s been reading scripture for decades.  

So let’s have a look at what can happen, and is happening, when ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction is allowed in our public schools. However, instead of discussing ‘a middle-aged mum from the local church‘ we will introduce you to the Sydney Anglican’s own Tim Clemens of Grace City Church.

In 2009 Tim Clemens was employed as an SRE instructor at St Ives High School in Sydney. Clemens states

This was a great time of learning for me and taught me how to communicate the gospel in an often skeptical and sometimes hostile environment. It also gave me an opportunity to develop some resources for other SRE teachers. This experience grew within me a passion for evangelism and producing resources.

So Clemens is not just your ordinary case of a ‘sympathetic’ SRE instructor. He is an author of SRE curricula sold by Christian Education Publications   =  Youthworks = Sydney Anglicans.

A reasonable member of the NSW public would be justified in concluding that that what Clemens tells SRE instructors to do, say and present to students is an example of what the Sydney Anglicans/Youthworks/CEP think is OK to do, say and present to students in a ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction class.

So let’s now look at what Clemens tells other ‘sympathetic’ SRE instructors to do, say and present to Year 7 and 8 students.

The two main curricula of interest, Radical Jesus and Hard Core Christians, can be found (in the sense of ‘can be purchased’) here (accessed 30.03.2019).

Part One of this blog will focus on Radical Jesus.

According to the Teacher’s Manual –

Radical Jesus is part of a series of curriculum products written by Tim Clemens for years 7-10 students studying Christian studies in independent schools and Special Religious Education in State schools. (emphasis added) [p. 4] – see sample of Teacher’s Manual here.

The title page of the book states – ‘10 lessons on the radical Saviour | For high school students in years 7 and 8‘.

The ‘Unit Overview’ lists the ‘radical’ key areas discussed in the curriculum, including –

4. Radical authority. Jesus showed that he has authority over everything in the natural world and in the spiritual world.

– and –

5. Radical followers. Jesus taught that those who want to follow him must give up their lives to do so.

– and –

8. Radical death. Jesus died on the cross even though he was God’s perfect Son – one who had never sinned.

– and –

9. Radical ascension. After 40 days, Jesus ascended into heaven as the King of the universe, where he reigns to this day. [p. 7]

We will now look at these four key areas.

Radical Authority

The ‘Big Idea’ of Chapter 4 is –

We need to submit our lives to Jesus because he has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. [p. 20]

An outcome from the lesson is that students will ‘consider whether they have submitted their own lives to the authority of Jesus.’ [p. 20]

The prayer for the lesson says –

Help us to see that we need to submit ourselves to your Son, Jesus, because he has all authority in heaven and on earth. [p. 21]

At the end of the Chapter the SRE instructor is directed to ‘Reinforce the Big Idea’ –

Make sure students understand that Jesus has authority over everything, and that they need to bring their lives under this authority by putting their trust in him and living lives of obedience.

In the Student Handbook, students are told –

Jesus wants us not only to recognise this supreme authority, but also to submit to it. [p. 16]

– and are asked –

3a. What do you think it means to submit to Jesus’ authority?

3b. Do you find the concept of Jesus’ authority compelling? Yes  No [p. 18]

In Chapter 7 ‘Radical Betrayal’, in response to the ‘common’ question –

What if I don’t want to obey God’s will? [p. 34]

– a suggested response is –

There will be consequences for disobeying God’s will. No one is perfect, but God wants us to put our trust in Jesus (john 6:29). If we refuse to trust in Jesus for forgiveness, we will be forced to suffer the consequences – God’s wrath. [p. 34]

Radical Followers

The ‘Big Idea’ of Chapter 5 is –

Jesus says that a true believer will deny him or herself, take up his or her cross daily and follow him. [p. 24]

Outcomes from the lesson include that students will ‘ be challenged by the call of Jesus to deny themselves and take up their cross daily’ and to ‘consider what it might look like for them to live as radical followers of Jesus.’ [p. 24]

At the end of the Chapter the SRE instructor is directed to ‘Reinforce the Big Idea’ –

Make sure the students understand that being a Christian is not just about calling yourself a Christian, but about living a radical life of obedience and self-denial. [p. 27]

Parents and caregivers may take some comfort in knowing that, in response to the ‘common’ question –

Do I have to give up my family to follow Jesus?

– the answer is ‘Yes and no’.

In the Student Handbook, students are asked to fill in some missing words from Luke 9:24 – For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it – and are then asked –

Having read this passage (V24), would you call yourself a follower of Jesus? Why or why not? [p. 22]

Later, in Chapter 9 ‘Radical Resurrection’ students are told –

Jesus promised that he would one day raise his followers from the dead and take them (and only them) to be with him in heaven. A follower of Jesus is someone who trusts in him and lets him be the boss of his or her life. (emphasis added) [p. 38]

– and are once again asked –

Would you call yourself a follower of Jesus? Yes No

Radical Death

The ‘Big Idea’ of Chapter 8 is –

Jesus died to secure forgiveness for all who put their trust in him. [p. 35]

An outcome from the lesson is that student’s will ‘explore the reality of death’ [p. 35] and here is how they explore it –

Radical Death? Ask students the question, ‘Has anyone ever had a pet that died? How did it die?’ You will need to be sensitive with this question because there may be one or two students who were particularly close to their pets. [p. 36]

– and from the Student Handbook –


Radical Ascension

In Chapter 10, the SRE instructor is prompted to ‘Reinforce the Big Idea’ –

Make sure students understand that Jesus is alive today and that he is ruling the universe. Encourage them to submit their lives to him. [p. 43]

The SRE instructor is encouraged to ‘give students an opportunity to start following Jesus by praying with them‘ –

‘Lord Jesus, I need you. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sin. I open the door of my life and receive you as my Saviour and Lord. Take control of my life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be. Amen.’ [p. 43]

The last paragraph of the Teacher’s Manual states –

To encourage a response from students, you might like to finish by saying something like, ‘If you are yet to say sorry to God and put your trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, now is an excellent time to do this. When Jesus returns it will be too late’. [p. 44]

End of Part One

In Part Two we will look at more examples of ‘believed-in’, ‘sympathetic’ religious instruction found in Clemens’ Year 7 and 8 SRE curriculum Hard Core Christians.