Churches have probably lost the fight against the NSW Government’s plan to introduce ethic classes in public schools at the same time as optional special religious education.
Education Minister Verity Firth is glowingly positive about the review of the classes and while there are no plans to remove SRE, the once ‘sacred’ right to offer Scripture without competition in NSW public schools will soon be a thing of the past.
Of course this is a manifestation of a wider truth that the church has lost much of its institutional power and perhaps in the future will lose even more.
There are positives though and the main one is that if churches and Christians learn they can’t rely on a privileged institutional role in society, they may finally revert to the ancient source of Christian vitality – personal and community transformation through offering real life encounters with a living God.
This of course can’t be done any other way than through authentic relationship and engagement with people of all kinds.
Grassroots influence verses institutional authority – which one sounds more like Jesus?
A good place to start might be to listen to what non-church goers think about the church. Some have very sincerely sought to engage with the church, only to walk away for a range of reasons, such as being bored out of their brain…
Claire Harvey writes in today’s Sunday Telegraph: ‘I’ve never really been a churchgoer but during my 20s I started going to church just once a year at Christmas… It was a chance to think about my own complex feelings about faith, and to see all the other people enjoying the mood… Then a few years ago I went to an 11am Christmas Day service… It was awful… dull tedium… sanctimonious… obscure… a lecture about self-restraint, then ponderous hymns. I haven’t been back to a Christmas service since…’
I have left the identifying bits out, but many of our churches could plead guilty to these accusations.
She says that rather than attacking the ethics classes in schools, perhaps churches could learn from their success – ‘Students appeared excited by the issues the scenarios raised, readily articulated their views and backed those views with reason,’ Harvey writes, quoting a report on the classes. She continues, ‘The ethic classes should make the churches jealous. This is what they should be teaching – real-life lessons of how to make good decisions.’
The sad thing is that many churches (and scripture lessons too no doubt) are very relevant, practical, deeply spiritual and far from boring but we are losing the battle of public perception. Until we have communicators who can utilise the media, in much the same way that Claire Harvey has, even the best examples of the church in action will be relatively unnoticed.
Still, if grassroots influence is underway through real-life individual and community transformation, it won’t matter what the media says.