As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of the current system whereby the State funds underqualified faith-oriented workers as the only dedicated emotional support person provided to students in public schools. In fact, it seems an increasing number of parents of all sorts are pretty tiffy that tax dollars are being used to pay religious workers to evangelise their kids.
This proselytising is not officially sanctioned. The Department of Education, Science and Training’s National School Chaplaincy Guidelines (p. 25) states:
“While recognising that an individual chaplain will in good faith express views and articulate values consistent with his or her denomination or religious beliefs, a chaplain should not take advantage of his or her privileged position to proselytise for that denomination or religious belief.”
Scripture Union Queensland is the largest supplier of chaplains in this state. Their Support School Chaplains website, which appears designed to allay the fears of secular parents and, perhaps, state Education Departments, apparently agrees with Education Queensland guidelines:
In accordance with Education Queensland guidelines, SU QLD chaplains are trained not to take advantage of their position to proselytise for their denomination or religious belief.
However, Scripture Union Qld’s main website lists the aims of the organisation thus:
It’s no wonder secular parents are concerned. Indeed anyone who is familiar with the Great Commission would find assertions that evangelism is not what chaplains are about hard to swallow. For those who don’t know, according to the Christian Bible, this primary directive was among the last instructions given by Jesus to his followers before his ascension to heaven. It runs like this:
[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)
Indeed, Scripture Union’s stated aims (above) are a fair explanation of how Christians generally understand this central command should be played out in real life.
Frankly, I’m disappointed Scripture Union and other groups are being so disingenuous about their motivation for involvement in school chaplaincy. Scripture Union Queensland CEO, Tim Mander was recently quoted in The Courier Mail as saying,
I call chaplains the Salvos of the schoolyard. They serve without judgement and show their faith by their love, not what they say.
For non-Australian readers, by ‘Salvos’, Mr Mander means members of the Salvation Army, a once-evangelistic but now social welfare-oriented body that is generally well-accepted and even broadly supported by ordinary Australians. Tim, apparently, wants us to believe that Scripture Union is a purely nominal religious organisation populated by harmless do-gooders with no actual agenda.
Funny, that’s not what he says when he’s preaching to the converted. In an article in Christian Today Australia, Mander was more frank about the role of school chaplains:
Chaplains are making sensational inroads in bringing young people, their families, and entire communities, into a closer relationship with God,” he said.
That’s more like it. And, indeed, if Tim really believes what the Book says about the judgement that awaits the unbelievers he purports to love, his stated desire to share his beliefs with others are appropriately consistent.
What I find really disappointing is the dishonesty with which Tim Mander’s Scripture Union and other Christian organisations are handling the recent scrutiny of parents and the public. Facing the first serious challenge to their State-funded presence in schools in a century, groups like Scripture Union are scratching around to find plausible justifications for their continuing to enjoy the privilege of almost exclusive access to our children. They’ve realised that ‘ours is the real God’ and ‘we were here first’ no longer cut the mustard. But instead of fessing up and coming clean about their agenda – and thus allowing the parents and educators of Australia to put SU services on the table with other options and make an informed choice – Scripture Union et al have gone for a smoke and mirrors strategy. If there’s a name for ‘insisting something is true when it isn’t’ that isn’t a synonym for ‘lies’, I’d like to know what it is.
Frankly, if I were Tim Mander, I’d be ashamed of myself. And I might be wondering how much further I could go before I’d have crossed the line and have committed a frank denial of Christ. Indeed, I’d like to hear Tim explain how his denial that the reason he is the head of Scripture Union is to lead others to Christ doesn’t put him in danger of sharing the same eternal hotel suite as the ‘militant atheists’ who are buggering around with his heretofore unassailably secure job.
It’s time for Christians to tell the truth about what they are really doing in our schools and let parents and educators decide if they want them there. Then, fully informed, if a majority of parents in a particular school community decide that’s what they want for their children, well and good. But this sneaky underhandedness is not becoming for folk who profess to be ‘positive role models for students‘. And I, for one, am thoroughly disgusted by it.