Farewell institutional power, hello grassroots influence

Sermon on the Mount by Bloch. Image: Wikipedia

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?Read More »

Parents encouraged to switch from scripture

Trial ethic classes competing with Special Religious Education (SRE) in 10 NSW Schools appear to have caused a drop in SRE attendance of between 30 and 70 percent.

Suburban schools such as Hurstville and Baulkham Hills North are at the higher end of these figures with the explanation that parents at inner city schools had long before withdrawn their children from scripture, while in the suburbs it is a new phenomenon.

As an aside, this is another example of how the intellectualism and ideas of the inner city filter through to the rest of society, by one means or another. This is a good reason for the existence of strong, robust, authentic inner city churches that engage intelligently with their community. Not surprisingly, seven of the 1o schools in the trial are in the inner city with three of these in the electorate of Balmain whose local member is Education Minister Verity Firth.

Bishop of South Sydney, Rob Forsyth, said he was ‘not surprised’ by the result, saying it proves that the ethics classes will be far more contentious in the suburbs than in the inner-city.

‘It proves that the P&C and St James Ethics Centre were wrong when they claimed they were merely providing an alternative to SRE for non-religious parents. This course is genuine competition for SRE. We are losing parents who claim to be Christians but are somewhat ambivalent and easily swayed by the directions given by school authorities,’ Bishop Forsyth told Anglican Media.

He said his most substantive concern is that the Department of Education has been using its authority to encourage parents to ditch Christian SRE in order to recruit more students for the ethics classes.

Read More »

Are new ethics classes ethical?

‘Sounds like a serious ethical issue has arisen even before the first class is taught,’ Australian Christian Lobby managing director, Jim Wallace, says of the introduction of ethic classes in NSW schools.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Wallace continues ‘…with the pilot trial due to start next term in 10 public primary schools, it has emerged they are being pitched with the obvious aim to draw students away from Scripture classes, despite the Government’s assurances they would not.’

I posted the following comment on the SMH site in support of the article:

Jim raises important questions that the NSW Government needs to answer. If the ethics course is so important, why not make it available to all students to complement Scripture? If this course is being funded and taught by professional teachers, then should Scripture be given similar assistance? How can you teach ethics and leave Christianity out? It is the ethical base of our laws and institutions and, more importantly, of a huge number of Australian families (not just church goers). Scripture teaches ethics that are beneficial and applicable regardless of religious belief. Ethics classes should be just as balanced.

Last time I looked there were about 150 comments with a good representation of views. Maybe you would like to join the discussion? PH