All posts by PaulG

Sophie Aitken Interview – ABC Melbourne

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Sophie Aitken discusses her recent success at the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. Sophie and two other parents will now have their case brought to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal – VCAT.

The case focuses on discrimination against non theistic and members of faiths other than Christianity. Or more correctly, the brand of literal biblical evangelism pushed onto children by ACCESS Ministries as part of their aim to convert children they believe “desperately need Christ in their lives”.

As part of their “God given open door” to make “disciples” from the “greatest mission field in Australia”, ACCESS Ministries have been told by their C.E. Evonne Paddison, “Without Jesus, our students are lost… let’s go for it”.

Sophie is chatting to Sally Warhaft on the 774 morning programme on May 20th, 2011.


In Her Own Words: Evonne Paddison confirms intent to convert students

“Without Jesus, our students are lost”, warned Evonne Paddison at EFAC in September 2008.

“It may be uncomfortable, but so what! What a command to make disciples, what a responsibility, what a privilege we have been given. Let’s go for it!”, was her concluding statement.

Speaking of existing ministry;

“How much of that ministry is actually resulting in Christian conversion and discipleship growing, and resulting in church growth?. We must develop right attitudes and framework and goals and models in order to see not only Christian ministry taking place, but conversion, discipleship and commitment to a Christian community. We need ‘missional attitudes’ a clear theological framework and intentional goals to impact on the lives of students, and a clear biblical view of discipleship. We need to see our scripture teachers, our chaplains, especially as facilitators of this”.

“And can I urge, we must move them to an acceptance of the centrality of scripture… showing it as a door to growing in the relationship with Jesus – do not water it down… plant the gospel and the church where they are. Our young people need Christ… desperately need a relationship with the Lord Jesus. Get them in the story of salvation. We must give our people and young people a model of discipleship that promotes belief and response to the word of God, and trains them to abide in it”.

However on May 16th, over almost ten minutes, Evonne obfuscates on Open House Christian Radio. “There is no way” ACCESS staff seek to teach Christian gospel or convert students. “In fact we prohibit it”, she plainly lies to listeners. Her design presented in 2008 included;
“Our engagement must show Jesus to be the best of all choices that teaches and models for them the love of God and how to be in a community of faith”, Paddison said of the ACCESS mission. “We need a model that is marked by fruit bearing and involves our young people in evangelism and disciple making. We need a model that points to the glory of Christ in his incarnation, his work on the cross, his resurrection and exaltation and sees his disciples continuing that work and reflecting in his world”.

Dear reader, you be the judge.

“Christian” group sorry for bully cartoon

Jewel Topsfield reports in The Age today that ACCESS Ministries ‘has apologised unreservedly for any ”damage or emotional distress” caused by a comic strip that portrayed a teacher impervious to the suffering of a bullying victim’.

I’ve added the inverted commas above. Apart from one, Christians I know and have spoken to on the issue of ACCESS Ministries quickly distance themselves from the brand pushed by para-churches as “un-Christian”. The other was “saved” by showman Evangelist Benny Hinn at Dallas Brooks Hall in the late 1990s. But, that’s another story.

Chief Executive of ACCESS Ministries, Evonne Paddison published a letter on the ACCESS site claiming, ”Once Access Ministries became aware of the damaging and offensive nature of the cartoons, they were immediately pulled from its website”. This is not hot of the press news. But some disturbing ambiguities and the inability to take responsibility on the part of Evonne Paddison need to be brought home. Scott has addressed the “apology” already reminding us that, “This statement gives the impression that what is on ACCESS’s website has little relationship to ACCESS Ministry.”

Indeed, but we can look further. “Pulled from its website”? This gives the impression of a third party commentator. Coming from Chief Executive Paddison, however, it alludes to her somehow making things right with a wayward subcontractor. If a builder was notified by a new home buyer of displeasure with a transparent, not opaque window in the bathroom, this is the tone of apology one expects. Sadly, these failed attempts to both sway opinion and apportion blame, masked as an apology are frequent in Christian lobbyist circles.

So, we need a better term than “apology” here. The recent debacle over Jim Wallace, Australian Christian Lobby head who tweeted on ANZAC day that soldiers didn’t fight for an Australia that was “gay and Islamic”, provides the solution. Appearing on Sunrise to address the community outrage, Jim blamed Twitter “activists”, his elderly father and suggested he’d been fumbling on Twitter for about “a week”, when his first tweet was 14 months prior. He insisted “Australian values” were under threat. Thus, the handy term Nopology came into use.

Paddisons habit of nopologising for the proselytising of ACCESS volunteers has already been aired. She would “want to know” if such things occurred. This apparently meant they do not. Yet, they did occur. And these are important matters. Things that should never have gone wrong initially.

What confidence can one expect to have in Paddison as CE of ACCESS Ministries if her nopologies allude to an independent streak offending parents, students, teachers and the community under her watch? An author of text for ACCESS cartoon resources herself, one has every right to expect final drafts pass over her desk. In fact, one has every right to expect they do.

On May 6th, the website Eternity reported Paddison’s nopology under Vilified Cartoonist Was Translating A Parable. In The Age today we read, ‘Teachers claimed they had been vilified by the comic strip, and bullying experts warned it undermined Education Department anti-bullying guidelines to seek help from teachers.” Justified condemnation is hardly vilification. Casting teacher’s as bullies themselves is a more apt “vilification”.

Also on the Eternity site, cartoon author and Anglican minister René Pfitzner also nopologises saying, “In this case I happened to choose a student’s relationship with their teacher”. And, [H]e says children are bright enough to weigh a comic strip against their own experiences. “They could say: ‘Boy, I’m glad my teacher’s not like that’. It’s not at all about instructing children on their relationship with teachers.” Today in The Age, he adds, ‘‘The child does not appeal to God, but continues to appeal to the teacher and ends up getting what he wanted.”

Read those comments again, and like me you may wonder just why we need Christian ministers or ACCESS volunteers to impart such wisdom. That strikes me as plain and simple Ethics. And isn’t ethics trumpeted by ACCESS as unsuitable? Because it denies children what may be their only opportunity to be introduced to Christian values?

As a final underscore that the burden of truth weighs heavily on Evonne Paddisons shoulders, Jewel Topsfields article finishes with;

He [René Pfitzner] said it had been Access Ministries’ decision to put the comic strip on the website.

Whatever Evonne Paddison thinks she is conveying to Victorians, I venture to add it lacks what most understand to be basic Christian values.

ACCESS Ministries: “You’re asking for it”

In an episode that can only be described as offensive as it is bizarre, an ACCESS Ministries cartoon depicting a cruel, uncaring teacher dismissing a bullying victim has drawn outrage. The cartoon, available for download from ACCESS Ministries as a volunteer teaching “resource” – for $2:00 – was pulled when it’s nature was made public.

Writing in The Age today – Teacher fury over God comic – Jewel Topsfield reports that the comic, “… tells children who are bullied to pray, because teachers are too lazy and callous to help them unless God intervenes, was advertised as a ”resource” by the group that teaches Christian education classes in primary schools.” On approaching a teacher for help after being “beaten up at playtime” the bullied child is told, “You look fine to me, sort it out with him OK?”. “But he’ll just beat me up again” replies the young boy. “Well that’s just bad luck isn’t it” is the teacher’s answer. Later, “Life’s tough kid, better get used to it”. You may comment on the article.

Talking to Fairfax media, teacher Michael Stuchbery (below) discusses his dismay upon logging on to the ACCESS web site to find the blatant connotation that abuse in the playground is not just tolerated, but ignored out of sheer callousness. He also refers to the frames indicating what happens after the student prays. “Punish Gary” (the bully) appears on a blackboard. The teacher’s wife calls demanding he “punish Gary”. As Mr. Stuchbery notes despite corporal punishment being illegal in schools the teacher is depicted forcing the bully to do chin ups under great strain. This fictitious brute is also thinking “I need a coffee” and yelling, “You know, I would love this job if it wasn’t for all the kids”.

The connotations are clear. The effect of this misrepresentation is to drive a wedge between student trust in teachers and the proselytising of ACCESS volunteers. Essentially: Pray to Jesus for he will listen and intervene whilst teachers don’t care. God will then orchestrate demands on the teacher, who only then deals with the bully. But of course, not the problem of bullying. This is not only a perverse mode of proselytising and a deliberate attempt to alienate students from teachers. It serves to usurp the student-teacher relationship in favour of the notion that a vengeful Jesus will intercede directly in the child’s reality. “And Jesus said, “So won’t God more quickly and eagerly get justice for his own people?”, reads one frame.

As far as “values” education goes it seems that this leans heavily toward cult-like, retributive In Group thinking in which outside or Out Group identities are falsely cast as a threat. Why? Are secular public schools assumed bereft of compassion or moral integrity? Is it a reflection of attitudes that led to the Baillieu government’s changes to Equal Opportunity laws? Changes that allow Christian schools to discriminate against and ban single parent, alternate faith or non-theistic teachers.

The Age also reported:

Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive officer Joe Tucci said the comic strip was irresponsible and undermined children’s confidence in teachers. ”It’s unbelievable,” Dr Tucci said. ”It places responsibility on the child for their own protection, and it doesn’t reflect the commitments schools make to try to deal positively with bullying.”

If this is indicative of the Christian values education that Evonne Paddison insists public school student’s only get through ACCESS, we have a severe problem. One may confidently conclude student’s are better off without the meddling and deception of ACCESS Ministries and their volunteer’s. It’s a little hard to blame humanists for this appalling episode. Indeed it evokes comments from Humanist of the year Dr. Leslie Cannold who recently said, violently intolerant ideologies in Australia, ”emanate primarily from evangelical Christian fundamentalists, not jihadist Muslims”.

Evonne Paddison would not return calls to Fairfax yesterday.



ABC ‘The Drum’ discuss ACCESS Minstries

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Following Martin Dixons announcement of a further grant of $220,000 to ACCESS Ministries, in early April community concerns relating to the ACCESS monopoly were discussed on The Drum.

An “issue which has been simmering for quite some time” according to ABC Religion and Ethics editor Scott Stephens. Unlike NSW Scott notes that ethics classes are not available. As Tim Palmer prompts, “They have to pick a religion or nothing”. With 96% of classes provided by ACCESS that choice is clearly made by default.

Describing Victorias legislation as “remarkable” in that it “guarantees secular, compulsory and free schooling”, Scott Stephens leads an interesting discussion. He covers the “red carpet” given to para-churches and the use of untrained, unskilled and theologically unaware volunteers in this “anomalous situation”. As many of us know, with funding comes pressure to spend – or more importantly – be seen to be spending. Stephens thus refers to Scott Hedges article and his comparison to the over funded insulation scheme, “effectively installing faulty religious products in our children’s minds”.

John Roskam and Fran Kelly raise sweeping secularisation and human rights respectively.

Tim Palmer hosts a discussion with ABC Radio National Breakfast host Fran Kelly, ABC Religion and Ethics editor Scott Stephens and John Roskam from the Institute of Public Affairs.



RE in government schools 101

The upcoming complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission is referenced today in The Age Education Resource Centre.

Colleen Ricci of The Age has summarised the major points surrounding the controversy of Religious Instruction, presented as Religious Education by ACCESS Ministries.

Areas covered include, © The Age:

What is the nature of the complaint?

Under current arrangements, if a school is approached by an accredited teacher of religious studies, it is obliged to allow 30 minutes a week of ‘‘special religious instruction’’ (SRI) to its pupils. Children automatically attend these classes unless parents formally ‘‘opt out’’.

The complainants say the Education Department segregates children on religious grounds and discriminates by making it incumbent upon families to ‘‘opt out’’ of a program, rather than ‘‘opt in’’, and by not providing a secular (non-religious) alternative for students.

They also challenge the prevailing interpretation of the legislation, which says special religious instruction ‘‘may be given’’. The  department interprets this to mean ‘‘must be given’’. This, it says, is to conform to the ‘‘original intent’’ of the act.

Who teaches religion in Victorian state schools?

[…..] 96 per cent of all religious education is provided by Access Ministries, a Christian agency with 4000 volunteers that reaches two-thirds of state primary schools. Access Ministries is the only religious instruction provider to receive state government funding, with the state government recently announcing this funding would increase by $200,000 from July 1.  Religious instruction teachers are forbidden to advocate or proselytise (try to convert pupils) for Christianity or any other religion. According to Access Ministries’ chief executive Evonne Paddison, volunteers are carefully trained to follow these requirements. […..]

What are some concerns?

Some parents, social commentators, academics and spiritual leaders worry that children are given a predominantly Christian perspective without reference to others. They also point to accounts of proselytising, and reports of children who have opted out of programs being inadequately supervised or given no ‘‘appropriate alternative’’. […..] Professor Gary Bouma, an Anglican priest and sociologist at Monash University, is highly critical of Access Ministries’ curriculum. He says all faiths should be offered equally. ‘‘So if there are three Baha’i people who want it in school X, then they should be able to get it,’’ he says. Other religions have  complained of a ‘‘Christian  bias’’ in Victorian religious education and funding.

What do others say?

Despite the controversy, Education Minister Martin Dixon says there are no plans to review the system. Supporters of the Access Ministries program say it has been unfairly criticised, and that for many pupils the program is the only introduction to Christianity and its values.

Some maintain that religious instruction has no place in a secular state school, while others argue that our multifaith community demands a broad religious literacy to encourage tolerance. […..]

Others suggest that  ethics class, similar to those offered in New South Wales, should be offered as an alternative for pupils who opt out of religious instruction.

Recent Headlines. [……]

What The Age says.

‘‘Parents may withdraw their children from the classes, but this can be divisive and mark those children as ‘different’. The solution is not to abandon education about religion; events of the past decade illustrate the dangers of religious ignorance and intolerance. However, the government should not rely on faith-driven volunteers instead of trained educators who teach to the same professional standards as in any other subject. The goal must not be to convert children but to ensure they have the general religious literacy they need to make sense of the past, present and future.’’

What people say.

‘‘Every day of the school year, Access Ministries CRE teachers and chaplains are sharing God’s love with over 200,000 young Victorians. They are helping students explore their lives with meaning and purpose … Our vision is to reach every student in Victoria with the Gospel.’’ [ACCESS Ministries]

‘‘[Would] the providers of Christian education feel equally comfortable if the religious education spot were handed over instead to Jewish teachers, or Buddhist teachers or, shock horror, Muslim teachers? If they’re not comfortable in that, then it’s clear that there’s a bias in the teaching.’’
Social commentator Waleed Aly, The Age, April 10

‘‘Recent letters have offered evidence of strangely unorthodox opinions being presented to children, which are decidedly unacceptable to liberally minded parents who belong to mainstream Christian denominations or none at all. Parents need to be able to judge whether or not to permit their children to receive lessons after they are notified as to the qualifications and theological stance of the instructor who is timetabled for their child. To be able to opt into an RE program once these details have been advertised would seem to be a way forward.’’
The Reverend Dr Brian Porter, Camberwell, The Age, April 25

Your View.

Should religious instruction be provided to Victorian state primary schools? Why or why not? If so, how should it be taught?  What are the alternatives?

An opportunity to comment is available, by clicking here, and scrolling to the bottom.  Comments are moderated and take time to appear, be patient and tell your friends!

UPDATE:  the turn out from the CAMPAIGN was fantastic … over 50 really thoughtful and respectful comments so far!


Kick “Miserable Failure” Out Of Schools: Leslie Cannold

Describing RI volunteer run classes and chaplains in schools as “the Australian experiment” which had been “a miserable failure”, Dr. Leslie Cannold has called for a united push to kick religions out of schools.

Dr. Cannold described exploitation of Australia’s acceptance of religious freedom as pushing ”violently intolerant ideologies”, as she accepted the Australian Humanist of the year award last night.

Michael Bachelard reports © The Age today:

AUTHOR and campaigner Leslie Cannold has called on atheists, humanists and religious people who believe in the secular state to unite and kick religious education volunteers and chaplains out of public schools.

The campaign should be modelled on the push to decriminalise abortion in Victoria, she said, which involved a coalition of dozens of different groups working together.

[….]

In Australia the risks from this [violently intolerant ideologies] ”emanate primarily from evangelical Christian fundamentalists, not jihadist Muslims”.

Full article

Dr. Cannold co-hosted The Conversation Hour with ABC’s Jon Faine on April 14th this year. Audio may be

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

[43 min, 20 MB]

Teach children about all religions: Father Bob Maguire

I like Father Bob Maguire. No doubt part of this may be attributed to what he doesn’t do as he goes about applying Christian values as he sees them.

A visit to his website is rewarding. No more us and them. Just we is the subtitle. As we approach Easter his blog outlines Stations of the Cross under the heading, Way of the cross with Jesus, and all suffering victimised women. It continues;

FIRST STATION:
JESUS IN CONDEMNED TO DEATH

We remember and pray for:
Faceless women condemned to death for their religious beliefs, their culture, colour or creed.

SECOND STATION
JESUS ACCEPTS HIS CROSS

We remember and pray for:
Women who carry the cross of terrible atrocities through the misuse of power and abuse.

THIRD STATION
JESUS FALLS THE FIRST TIME

We remember and pray for:
The women of East Timor who yet again fall to the burden of being displaced.

FORTH STATION
JESUS MEETS HIS MOTHER

We remember and pray for:
Women who have mourned the loss of a child through drug or alcohol abuse

…. etc, etc…..

This strikes me as exemplary application of a pinnacle in Christian teaching. Not only can these values be identified with, but presented this way, help to educate about our contemporary world. One imagines this is the type of image Evonne Paddison hopes to convey to the Victorian public when she speaks of “Christian values”, not proselytising, dominating primary school classes.

But we know that this Easter the familiar solemn reminder of Jesus dying for our sins will be the message from ACCESS Ministries. The graphic betrayal, torture and death of Jesus will be explained, followed by the supernatural feats of rising from the dead and ascending into heaven.

This will be taught as fact, as is the case with Christian education. I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering – perhaps worrying – about the appropriateness of this lesson in contemporary Western society. As an Aussie I feel a responsibility to acknowledge and understand as much as I can about the culture, beliefs and traditions of the children who come from the homes of those we welcome as immigrants. Those Australian children who speak one of the over 300 different languages than English as their native tongue.

For many, the Easter message of Christ’s sacrifice may challenge the spirituality that fits with almost all they know. For others the solemn, stern, silent tone that descends upon us (or is demanded of us) when we discuss “the meaning” of Easter is unsettling, unreal and perhaps unfathomable.

Father Bob seems to straddle 2,000 years and an entire planet with his customised Stations of the Cross. His values appear universal, non-divisive, compassionate, generous and inclusive. Today The Age ran a piece on Father Bob’s views on Religious Instruction in Victoria. And yes, those values of the Maguire I admire, shine through;

Call to teach children the ethos of all religion © The Age

CATHOLIC priest Father Bob Maguire has called for a review into the way religion is taught in schools.

The priest and community worker said he believed religious education should be broader than instruction in one belief system.

”Children can have religious instruction in parishes, mosques and ashrams.

”At school, there ought to be a general religious curriculum to introduce children to the ideas and motivations and rituals – in a word, the ethos – of all the religions,” said Father Bob, who is the parish priest in South Melbourne.

[…..]

Although other religions including Judaism, Islam and Baha’i, are also accredited to run courses, 96 per cent of special religious instruction is provided by Christian education provider Access Ministries.

Access Ministries insists its volunteers do not proselytise, but some parents say their children come home from school saying they were taught they must believe in God.

An army chaplain during the Vietnam War, Father Bob said the importance of teaching soldiers about honesty and truthfulness, without infusing religion into character training, had been impressed on all the chaplains.

He said religious instructors in schools should lead open-ended discussions that drew no conclusions.

”It should be mum and dad who help children come to conclusions, not the instructor in religious class,” Father Bob said.

[…..]

‘You have to get to learn about one another before you can live with one another.”If you keep separating and dividing you are going to foment distrust, dislike and fear. Fear is the killer.”

Father Bob is the patron of InterAction, a multi-faith youth network that includes Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs, a pagan, atheists and agnostics.

[…..] – Read more

The case against Special Religious Instruction: 7:30 Report

“Religious Education Challenge”, aired on ABC’s 7:30 Report last Friday April 15th, 2011.

FIRIS Parents tell their story about the discrimination they’ve experienced because of the Special Religious Instruction in Victoria.   ACCESS Ministries CEO, Evonne Paddison, denies that her volunteers are to blame and repeats the false claim that ACCESS is not doing missionary work in the schools. The case is now headed for VCAT – the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Parent Sophie Aitken believes the current model and it’s mode of application may be;

– Discrimination on the grounds of religious belief

– A breach of Education and Training laws

– A breach of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights

Lawyer Andrea Tsalamandris outlines reasons for taking the case to Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

The 7:30 Report has obtained emails from June 2007 over which an anonymous principal voices significant concern, that ACCESS Ministry is threatening his school if he enacted any changes to the say SRI was handled at the school.  The principal says that at his school 90% of the parents opt their children out of the class.  He further alleges that the predecessor of ACCESS ministries, CCES – The Council for Christian Education in Schools – alluded to making an example of his school. The Education Department told the principle to allow CCES to run it’s course.

Victorian Education Minister, Martin Dixon earlier offered his view on the obligation of schools;

If a trained RI person, who’s properly accredited approaches a school… and offers their services and says they would like to offer religious instruction at that school, the school is obliged to accept that offer.

© ABC 7:30 Report – Religious Education Challenge. Reporter James Bennett.

Segregation, Racism and Discrimination: today’s lesson, tommorrow’s Christian?

Catherine Byrne* examines the situation around Special Religious Education in NSW. “Scripture” volunteers are armed with booklets Anglican Youthworks Christian Education Publications produce for this purpose. A visit to the site informs us;

“Connect is CEP’s Christian Religious Education resource for Infants, Lower Primary, and Upper Primary students. Based on a three year cycle, Connect teaches students the key components and themes of the Bible and Christian belief while encouraging them to apply the learning to their own lives.”

Developments across the nation suggest problems continue to arise from what seems to be a funneling of childrens awe and wonder into a constricted creed and archaic notions. Notions we’ve taken centuries to break away from. Perhaps most disturbing is that Christianity itself – once so capable of separating the wheat from the whacky – now appears to be a brand name that motivates devotees to greater and greater heights of intellectual dishonesty.

An excellent opportunity for relevant education exists here, but is simply not being met.