What really happens in religious instruction classes?

In the current public discussion of the religious instruction classes in New Zealand public schools I notice many Christians are also opposing the current system. I had thought “Good on them. They are seeing this the same way I am as a matter of fairness, human rights, and opposing indoctrination of children.” And those letter-to-the-editor writers supporting the current scheme all seem to use rather extreme arguments which are not common with reasonable Christians.

However, I came across this video recently which makes me wonder if another motive for Christian concern about religious instruction in our schools is the way the more extreme religious cults can make use of it for evangelism. It’s one thing to know your child is being tutored by a kindly old Anglican woman – but the thought of a strident Exclusive Brethren having access to your children is a worry.

The video is of a talk by Joel Pittman, a former Pentecostal religious instruction teacher in Australia. They call their classes Scripture Classes or Special Religious Instruction (SRI), but essentially they have the same system as ours with the public school theoretically closed and instruction provided from an outside provider.

Religious Education and the Pentecostal Movement – Joel Pittman, Skepticamp Sydney 2011.

Joel describes how evangelicals use SRI for evangelism, how they frighten children into “giving their lives to Christ” and then encourage them to attend youth camps where they can be further indoctrinated.

I am sure many moderate Christian would be concerned if this was happening in New Zealand. And I am not saying it necessarily is. After all, the video describes the Australian situation. But it is obviously possible. Some of the more fundamentalist churches do recognise the possibilities religious instruction offer them in New Zealand. And it’s not as if school boards or the Ministry of Education vets the curriculum used, or the tutors. (After all, the school closes during the religious instruction classes).

The Trust Board of the Churches Education Commission (CEC) (which is one of the main providers in New Zealand) has representatives from many Christian denominations. It also has a rule to “ensure that no more than 40% of the total number of trustees at one time are from any one Member Denomination.” That seems good, but doesn’t necessarily ensure that extremist denominations have no influence. And the fact that some parents report their children being taught creationist stories does suggest they do have some influence.

The current CEC board includes representatives from Methodist, Assembly of God, Anglicans, Open Brethren, Presbyterian and Salvation Army.  And their last financial return shows donations from Anglicans, Associating Churches and Ministries of New Zealand (self-described as “fundamental, evangelistic and Holy Spirit honouring”), Baptist, Christian Brethren, Methodist and New Life churches.

Joel Pittman makes the point that the fundamentalist churches in Australia have the cash and can often override the less financial but more moderate churches with provision of SRI tutors and resources. It would be horrible to think this may also be true in New Zealand. I am sure most Christians would be concerned if this were so.

Perhaps its time for a bit more transparency. Who are the teachers supplied for teaching religious education in our schools? What are their denominations, beliefs and agendas? And how do they really run the classes?

Thanks to Chrys Stevenson at Gladly, the Cross-Eyed BearWhat REALLY happens in your child’s Scripture class – and beyond …

See also
Human values are secular

Mixing values and Jesus in secular education

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13 responses to “What really happens in religious instruction classes?

  1. Dear Ken:

    Kiwi’s are so far overlooking a few important things:

    1. CEC teaches out of ACCESS’s “Religion in Life”. This curriculum it self is evidence that the program is evangelizing. Evonne Paddison is the editor of the curriculum and it has been updated to reflect her agenda, which is of “discipleship”

    so it isn’t really open for debate – the curriculum has a purpose and the purpose is to put the gospel message into the terms a child can understand and “respond to” – this is what Evangelism is.

    2. The Chairman of CEC – is Mitch Jordan, who was an author of this:

    Click to access LOP47_IG18.pdf

    Along with the Aussies who edited it.

    So far, for reasons that aren’t clear, the parents in NZ have not caught onto the key issue here – which is that the curriculum itself demonstrates that these groups “are evangelizing children” … not “teaching about values”.

    For instance:

    Click to access quest_sample.pdf

    it says right here on the curriculum “letting Jesus take control of your life will help you make a new start”.

    So far, the CEO of CEC continues to dissemble about a key fact – the curriculum is what it is – and it is dedicated to moving children into a relationship with the lord Jesus Christ.

    There are different churches and different kinds of Christians – but there is only one “curriculum” – and it says what it says, and the lessons mean what they mean. This has not been brought out in NZ yet.


  2. Thanks for the useful links, George.

    I agree that the curriculum used by CEC sort of exposes their claim that they are not pushing religion. But it is interesting that in the public discussion here more and more people are seeing through this and their claim to values.

    While CEC seems to be the main provider here there do seem to be other set ups. Really depends on who gets to the school board because no organization has official sanction.


  3. Interesting. This actually reminds me of a discussion I have had many times with Christian groups on campus. On the one hand one could say that the chap in the video had a very successful ministry. He had big numbers in his groups. For such people the numbers game is very important. The number in the youth group. The number of people they have preached to. The number of converts etc.

    Some of the groups on Campus (which I won’t name unless prodded) have the same sort of philosophy, seeking quick shallow conversions from as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

    They are of course an atheist dream because the message they deliver is so shallow, and the evidence against it so strong, that within a couple of years most of the converts have become atheists.

    Jesus had a parable about this. I am sure you know the one.


  4. Mark Taylor

    I did a breakdown of the CEC, gathered as much information as was publicly available on their curriculum and looked into the beliefs and churches of every board member listed on the CEC website.



  5. Paul Bennett

    Great work Mark. If you haven’t already done so, you need to share this with the “Keep Religion Out Of Schools” supporters on their website and their FB pages
    And if you’re really keen, I see that they are having a support meeting this Saturday.

    The Secular Education Network will be holding a Parent Support meeting on Saturday 28 July at 5pm at Rationalist House, 64 Symonds Street, Auckland City. We will be taking this opportunity to announce a exciting new direction we are taking, and who will be helping us.


  6. That was some great work Mark Taylor – there should be a saying among the Secular Education Network: “Its the curriculum stupid”

    This cuts though all of the “he said, she said” nonsense and calls out the lies that Greening has been telling everyone.

    The other thing is Lausanne, Lausanne, Lausanne.

    The sooner Peter Harrison learns to say the word “Lausanne” the better.

    Who started Lausanne? You guessed it, Billy Graham – all of the language is the same.

    The editor of the ACCESS curriculm, Evonne:

    See her speech above – you guys can learn from our mistakes and cul-de-sacs in VIC … the curriculum is key – it exposes Greening as either a fool or a liar.

    Also, you have to hit it hard – because the media wears out … you get your stories now, but come back for another bit and it is a different story. Get it right. At this meeting,

    “It is the curriculum stupid”.


  7. Thank you Paul and George,

    after a 10 hour stint (overnight) of coffee and intensive googling, I was a little weary to say the least. Despite having concerns it may not have even been readable, I thought sod it, I’ll make it available anyway.

    I uncovered a bit more that I’ve shared with the SEN. Thanks for making me aware of the group and for the invitation to the meeting. Being in the sunshine state at the moment will prevent me unfortunately from attending.

    The speech by Evonne Paddison, makes it almost undeniable what (at least the evangelical sections) the CEC motivations are. What you have highlighted is unmistakable in intent and @ 21:50 (a bit you missed) adds weight to that conclusion. “We have a huge challenge ahead of us we must develop the right attitude and framework and goals and models in order to see not only Christian ministry taking place but conversion, discipleship and commitment to a Christian faith community.”

    Conversion, discipleship and commitment to Christianity. Pretty black & white by anyone’s standards.

    Thank you for your endeavours also.


  8. It would be good to see a video of an actual RE class rather than a parody of one.


  9. Very interesting. Actually, I think I remember signing something about religion when we enrolled our daughter at primary school. Maybe it was something about it being taught but that we could opt out? It doesnt start for a couple of years (usually commences in middle school) so will see what it is like then. I definitely dont like the idea of any kind of Brethren, AOG or New Life teaching my child anything about God….

    As I am pro God I dont object to my child receiving religious instruction per se, but if it happens in a way that George above suggests then I wont be impressed.

    It also creates difficulties for the kids too as most, I imagine, would remain in class to receive the lesson. If you happen to be from a family that has a different belief system then your child may feel a little ostracized.

    So like anything you have to ask yourself what the pay off is and well, I cant see any advantage. Most people dont go to (Christian) church and even if they do they have different views – what if you are pro faith but pro gay Ministers & marriage and someone teaches your child being gay is wrong? And what about the moral code of the person teaching – how do we know they even walk the talk – not judgmental, sleeping their way through the congregation…

    Ultimately I just dont think religious teaching, especially in a predominantly secular & multicultural society, has any place in our state schools.


  10. Richard Christie

    We really haven’t seen anything yet, wait for the “charter schools” courtesy John “I can’t recall” Banks.

    I expect it’ll be an open invitation to set up Islamic Madrases, Scientology institutions, Ken Ham style retreats etc , all run out of the public education budget.


  11. Excellent. Some real multi-culturalism!


  12. Pingback: Cynical evangelisation of children | Open Parachute

  13. Pingback: Religion in schools – a sensible approach | Open Parachute

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