Tag Archives: Religious education

Cynical evangelisation of children

All parents are concerned when they send their children out into the world. We all hope that our schools, and other places our children go, are going to be safe. We are rightfully shocked when we find adults entrusted with the care of children have actually been preying on them.

Sexual predators get the headlines. But children can also be subject to unhealthy interest of adults who interests are more political or ideological than sexual. I am beginning to think we should look at the way religious instruction operates in our public schools as an example of this unhealthy interest.

There has been a lot in the media lately about “bible in schools” and similar programmes. Simon Greening, the chief executive officer for the main provider of these religious instruction programmes (the Churches Education Commission),  has been assuring everybody that their interests are not evangelical. They are not trying to convert children – just educate them about values (see Their mission – values or advancement of religion?). It hasn’t helped him that other spokesmen for his organisation have presented a different story – admitting that they see religious instruction in public schools as a great opportunity for their religious mission. There has even been talk of creating disciples out of children in these religious instruction classes.

George Higinbotham (@streligionVIC) a recent commenter here pointed me to a document which is very relevant to this issue. Partly because one of the drafters of the document is Mitch Jordan who is currently Chairperson of the CEC board. But also, and more seriously, the document outlines a cynical programme for the evangelisation of children that seems to actually now be in place in New Zealand.

The document is Evangelisation of Children.” Prepared several years ago, it’s seen as part of a general plan of world evangelisation. I’ll present some extracts from the document and compare them with what is actually happening here.

Identifying children as a fruitful group for evangelisation

We are all aware of the importance dogmatic religions place on the early indoctrination of their own children. But this document describes the same approach to your children.

“Children represent arguably the largest unreached people group and the most receptive people group in the world. ”

“Children are more open and receptive to the gospel than at any other time in their lives.”

„ “Between the ages 5 and 12, lifelong habits, values, beliefs and attitudes are formed.  Whatever beliefs a person embraces when he is young are unlikely to change as the individual ages.”

„ “If a person does not embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour before they reach their teenage years, they most likely never will.”

“The data show that churches can have a very significant impact on the worldview of people, but they must start with an intentional process introduced to people at a very young age.  Waiting until someone is in their teens or young adult years misses the window of opportunity.”

“Unevangelised children generally become adults who see no relevance of Christian faith to real life, make no contact with a church, who live and die without knowing that Jesus offers eternal life.  Ineffectively-evangelised children in our churches become ‘well-intentioned, inadequately nurtured, minimally equipped secular people who dabble in religious thought and activity.”

The organisations currently operating religious instruction classes in public schools all seem to express the same belief in the importance of reaching young children.

Evangelisation of children, by children

The document cynically advocates to: “invite children to be active participants in the task of evangelization:”

“The focus of mission and the call to mission do not have any age limitations.”

“The work of mission can be shared by a generation of children equipped to be faithful witnesses for Jesus”

“peer evangelism among young children – one kid leading another kid to the foot of the Cross for a life-changing encounter with Jesus”

“Children bring unique gifts to the task of evangelization.  For example, they have access to thousands of children outside the church – and are often the only means of reaching these children.  They have a simple faith that is attractive.  They put their whole heart into reaching out.  Children will do the job of evangelism in simple obedience.  Even adults will listen to children because they are perceived to have no hidden agenda.”

“Challenge children to be witnesses and challenge them at an early age”

“Marketing companies have recognised that children have the power to enthuse others. Imagine if the church worldwide could harness the enthusiasm of children and encourage them to tell their friends and get them involved as well.”

“existing worldwide initiatives that focus on child evangelism could encourage children who are already churched to take ownership of the event – be trained to share their testimonies, invite their friends and do discipleship.”

What a horrible task to place on children – that their friendships be destroyed by the need to evangelise.

Action plans for influencing children

The action plans advocated in this document are very similar to what is occurring in New Zealand:

“ACTION PLAN for the local church: Think about how a values-based programme might give unexpected access to local non-Christian communities (e.g. schools) and become a vehicle for evangelization”

Provide “Quality interactive websites for children” and  Email, chat-rooms and ‘mailbox clubs’ which are tools to help children to follow Jesus.”

“Going to where the children are in their world.  In every continent, there are more children outside our churches than inside: we dare not be content with hoping that children will come to visit a strange place with strange rituals and unknown people.  Many children require stepping stones before they can cross the cultural barriers represented by church as it is now.”

It advocates “specific application to the evangelization of children in different social contexts.” And “Working within the web of relationships to which the child belongs – friends, gang, family.’

Church groups in New Zealand are forming special relationships with public schools as the document outlines. These also include web sites and email clubs for children who are initially contacted through the religious instruction classes. the Cool Bananas Kids Mailbox Club operated by the Cool Bananas group in Tauranga is one example. The same group offers an Annual 5 day Adventure Camp. Other local groups do the same.

There is a video in my post What really happens in religious instruction classes? describing how Pentecostals in Australia use such camps to further indoctrinate children attracted through religious instruction classes at school.

Tactics – winning the cooperation of care-givers

“For the local church to plan evangelism that minimises offence and maximises effectiveness, it must:  1. Commit to long-term effort, preferably involving a partnership of interested people such as teachers or health care workers”

“6. Be prepared to work within the limitations while taking the opportunities”

“1. Use the window of opportunity  Parents may well have an interest in introducing values, ethics or belief frameworks to their young children.  The church will be one option they may consider.  Make it an attractive one!”

„ “Church members join school boards, volunteer for sports coaching”

This is a cynical agenda for the infiltration of places our children attend with the sole purpose of evangelisation.

Confidence of their plans for your children

“We can bring about a transformational shift even through the timespan of a single generation if we seriously address the challenges and opportunities that face the evangelism of this generation of children.”

This document reads like a cynical action plan for a political/ideological group wishing to carry out a political/ideological change in society. And they are concentrating on our children because they see them as the group most easily captured or evangelised. And as a group which itself can further evangelise others.

When we send our children to public schools with a legally prescribed secular curriculum we do not expect they should be preyed on, evangelised, by such groups.

It’s time this was stopped.

Image credit: God Discussion

See also
Human values are secular


Mixing values and Jesus in secular education
What really happens in religious instruction classes?

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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

Similar articles

Human values are secular

As is public education in New Zealand – by law.

But some people are unhappy with this fact. They attempt to argue that values need religious belief – that you can’t be good without a god. And they work hard to create the illusion that religious instruction is required to instil values into our children. But if we are to believe today’s NZ Herald story – Schools drop Bible as interest falls – the influence of such attitudes is declining.

This reports that a number of Auckland schools are dropping the “bible in schools” programme run by the Churches Education Commission. And the opt-out, or withdrawal clause, is being used by a growing number of pupils and students – which creates problems for schools of providing supervision for the opt-outs. (The schools are theoretically closed while religious instruction takes place to get around the legal secular requirements).

Some parents are also complaining because schools have not kept them informed of the programme. Sometimes the first hint they get is when their child comes home talking about sin or creationism. One parent, who complained to his school board, managed to get the opt-out permission slip changed (see below). Last year there was no hint the programme was religious – now, at least, the school includes “bible-based” in their description.

The Churches Education Commission are being somewhat deceptive in the promotion of, and description of, their religious instruction programme. They are at least taking advantage of a popular illusion that there is some sort of inevitable link between religion and human values, and that religious organisations should have some sort of privilege in the teaching of values.

But that is a misconception, recognised as such by our educational authorities. After all, our public schools’ curriculum requires the teaching of values – and by law that curriculum must be secular.

And school boards who promote the illusion that the religious instruction programme (when schools by law are closed) is somehow fulfilling a curriculum requirement of teaching values are also being deceptive. It isn’t, and it should not be presented that way. The Churches Education Commission curriculum is aimed at promoting belief in supernatural beings – that is their interest, and they see values as simply a tool for promoting that belief. Have a look at how their own literature describes their teaching aims. For example:

Purpose Values
For the children to understand that God watches over and cares for His people Care and compassion; Love
For the children to understand that God made everything in the world and loves us Inquiry; Responsibility; Creativity
For students to understand that God raised Jesus to life, so people could be friends with Him Perseverance; Excellence; Love
For students to understand that God does not want us to be greedy Care and compassion; Integrity; Respect

Clearly they are simply using the human values part of the school curriculum to attach their real purpose – the promotion of supernatural beliefs in young children.

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Scientific knowledge should trump “belief”

I have listened to a few discussions on the Christian Radio Rhema recently. Unusual for me, I know, but I have followed the current controversy around the problem of religious instruction in New Zealand public schools. This issue has been debated (and defended) a bit on Radio Rhema.

My post Mixing values and Jesus in secular education discussed the problem. Basically it involves getting around the required secular nature of public education by closing the school for the duration of the instruction, which is provided by a church-trained voluntary “teacher.” Some parents feel the system is being wroughted by tying this instruction to the values content of the secular curriculum. And although there is a theoretical opt-out provision, parents are often unaware of this, or of the religious instruction, until the children come home with strange stories about creationism or hell.

But back to Radio Rhema. What amazed me about the announcer and the Christian spokespersons he interviewed was their naive use of post-modernist arguments to justify religious instruction and creationism/intelligent design teaching. They rely on the simple claim that inevitably everyone has a “world view,” a belief system. So everyone must be biased. That whatever is taught is only just a belief. And that science has not more access to truth than religion has. One belief is as good as another.

Dragging science down to a “belief”

It’s not the only place I have heard such arguments. In fact this seems to be the inevitable fall-back position when science challenges religious ideas. In this case one spokesperson even said that evolution is just a myth, no better than the creation myths! Another pulled out the old chestnut that any belief system required faith – science requires faith just as much as any religious story! Yet another claimed that both “human caused” and “non-human caused” beliefs about climate change should be taught in schools. Equal tome for each belief – forget about the facts.

In one way these people are sawing off the branch they are sitting on because when they deny scientific knowledge, or the epistemic advantage of scientific method, they attempt to put it in the same basket they reside in. But I suppose if you can’t give a reason for your myths to be better than scientific knowledge this may be all you are left with. Dragging science down to the epistemic level of your own ideology.

But those who use such arguments and who treat scientific or historical knowledge as “just beliefs,” having no more support than beliefs derived from magical thinking, show at least a basic misunderstanding of science. Of course, their motives may actually be more malicious. They may consciously be attempting to misrepresent science. to advance their own beliefs

In contrast to the beliefs comprising religious “knowledge,” scientific knowledge is intimately connected with the real world. Scientific ideas and theories are based on evidence, derived from interaction with reality. And they are validated by testing against reality. This does not make scientific knowledge absolute and complete “Truth” – in the capitalised sense. But it does give a picture of reality which usually closely reflects the truth of that reality. Very often close enough to enable practical applications.  It’s a constantly improving picture as we get more evidence and more ways of interacting with reality.

The epistemic advantage of science

But importantly, its basis in evidence and its close connection with reality means scientific knowledge is not a “belief.” It is very different to religious beliefs which may, in fact, bear no relation to reality.

This means that science has an epistemic advantage – an advantage that society generally recognises. That is why concern about possible climate change has caused governments to consult climate scientists to summarise the findings of their science. Governments are not interested in beliefs – they are interested in the facts, or at least the best summary of the facts the experts can provide.

If the naive picture presented by the commenters on Radio Rhema was true then governments could save a lot of money. Instead of all the investment in field work, laboratory analysis and scientific and technical staff we could have solved the problem of cobalt deficiency in New Zealand soils by hiring a theologian. And surely even an interfaith committee of theologians, flash robes and lifestyles included, advising the government over climate issues would have been a lot cheaper than NIWA or our contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Especially if no international scientific research was actually carried out on climate and these theologians instead consulted the writings of their overseas colleagues.

Mind you, after attempting to read some of the post-modernist material produced by theologians I can just imagine how useless the recommendations of this interfaith committee would be. I doubt if they could even agree on anything understandable, let alone specific enough for a government to base policies on.

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