As the debate rages over the trial of ethic classes as an alternative to Scripture in state schools, those in favour of the new program ask, in a smugly reasonable tone, ‘Why can’t the churches respect parents’ right to choose?’
As if that is all that is really at stake. As if this is really just about a choice between your child going to Scripture, ethics or having a half-hour break.
What it is really about, and why some churches are fighting so hard, is the final and complete secularisation of public schools, fueled by the rampant new atheism which views religion as poison.
No matter what politically correct sounding arguments emerge from both camps, at stake is the privilege of access to public schools.
The goal of the new ethic classes is to so threaten the status and viability of Scripture that it will eventually disappear.
Of course the Minister for Education will never say that, in public, nor the proponents of ethic classes. But you can hear it slipping through in an odd angry shot at the Anglicans or the Catholics during media debates, and it is rampant in the unofficial grassroots commentary.
My children attended a school that did not have Scripture, in which recognition of Easter and Christmas was completely secular. Christmas carols were out, ‘seasonal songs’ were in.
Parents of faith often felt under siege and so desolate was the atmosphere of the place, I eventually pleaded to be allowed to organise an assembly that in a light-hearted way, told the real Christmas story. One half hour in an entire year…
So what is at stake is not so much the to and fro over Scripture and ethics. It is the choice between a completely secular atheistic system or one where there is some decent recognition that people of faith exist.
But we shouldn’t be surprised by these battles. The secularisation of society has been raging for many years and, in reality, the institutional power of the church (which gave it the right to Scripture classes) has long been in decay.
Christian commentators such as Joel Edwards of Micah Challenge have said that the church needs to accept the demise of institutional power, and take up the opportunity of grassroots influence.
Newer churches, such as the Pentecostals, have never had institutional power which is why they have been so much better at grassroots influence.
Maybe the way to win the current battle, is for Scripture and the Christian communities of inner city to be so vibrant, so alive, so full of grace and power, so full of kindness and generosity and love, so authentic in relationships across dividing lines, that instead of relying on ancient privilege, they benefit from a new invitation to participate in schools, organisations and communities… PH