Hon. Simon Crean
Member for Hotham
Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
PO Box 5295
CLAYTON, VIC 3168
10th August 2010
As a long time Labor member in Melbourne Ports, I have to tell you I was outraged at the extension of funding for the National Schools Chaplaincy Program. It's a decision that has brought me to the verge of resigning from the Labor Party and I believe it is simply driving members like me - those who believe in progressive social policies, not insidious evangelism with a smiley face - into the hands of the Greens.
I attach a submission (PDF 143KB) put forward to the Review of the National Schools Chaplaincy Program by the Rationalist Society of Australia, of which I am Secretary. It's a considered, and I dare say, rational argument, based on the sort of fundamental values I would have thought the ALP should support.
I don't deny that children are in need of pastoral care. If individual religious chaplains provide such care, then I do not object as long as that's all they do. But, the evidence from the organisations (Scripture Union, Access Ministries etc) that provide these religious chaplains gives their tactics away. You know and I know that they are in the business of “recruiting for Jesus”, no matter what they may say publicly. For example:
- In the forward to a book on school chaplains, Scripture Union’s CEO, Tim Mander admits “To have a full-time Christian presence in government schools in this ever-increasing secular world is an unbelievable privilege. Here is the church’s opportunity to make a connection with the one place through which every young person must attend: our schools.”
At a time when we desperately need more rather than less scientific literacy, these organisations hold to a literal interpretation of the bible. For example:
- The Scripture Union believes and expects its chaplains to believe that “… the Old and New Testament Scriptures are God-breathed, since their writers spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit; hence are fully trustworthy in all that they affirm; and are our highest authority for faith and life.” (Scripture Union - Aims & Beliefs.)
How can the Government support a program - no, more than support - fund a program that is staffed by people whose organisation thinks the Old and New Testaments are "fully trustworthy in all that they affirm"! Does this include, for example, the possession of slaves (Leviticus 25:44), selling daughters into slavery (Exodus 21:7), or killing anyone who works on the sabbath (Exodus 35:2)?
Unlike in America, religion has not until recently been a major political force in Australia. But with the strength of their partisan lobbying growing by the day, one has to ask "Where are they getting their funding?" Some of these religious bodies are international organisations, with explicit mandates to recruit young impressionable minds. For example:
- A directive from a Scripture Union International says “We believe that our mandate is to bring children and young people into the life of established churches by programs that serve them in environments in which they feel comfortable.” And
- “We believe that, in the case of families that are not Christian, the evangelism of the whole family rather than of children in isolation is still our objective. However, if this cannot immediately be realised, we believe that God still calls us to evangelise children themselves.” (Scripture Union International, 2005, p5 (PDF 130KB))
In Australia, NSCP guidelines proscribe proselytising, but it's hard to know what actually goes on. Scripture Union encourages their chaplains to get kids into out-of-school activities, where they are removed from teacher or parental scrutiny. For example:
- “The good news is that God is doing some incredible work through the ministries of SU Queensland. School chaplaincy, camps and missions are exposing thousands of young people and children to the good news of Jesus every year.” (SU News, June 2006);
- “We intentionally make opportunities to present life-giving messages that invite children to respond positively to Jesus. Our approach is urgent because children will, by their nature and because of the world in which they live, turn away from God unless they are evangelised and nurtured.” (Scripture Union International, 2005);
- “Last year alone, over 2500 kids went on SU Queensland camps where many committed their lives to Jesus for the first time.” (2006 Scripture Union newsletter).
As the Rationalist submission points out, most chaplains are not qualified for much of the counselling work they do. In their submission to the Review of the NSCP, the Australian Psychological Society expresses severe concern (PDF 330KB) about this: "When chaplains work outside this role [of spiritual and religious guidance], the risks to both students and schools are immense and will ultimately result in significant costs both financial and human."
The Society also says there is "clear evidence schools chaplains are engaging in duties for which they are not qualified ... that church organisations and ministries are supporting school chaplains in their boundary violations ... and that the government is complicit in encouraging dangerous professional behaviour by funding school chaplains independently of other services carried out by professionals who are both qualified and registered."
This can get serious when they deal with kids at risk of self harm. For example, one chaplain reports:
- "in the last week I've got two grade 5 kids on suicide watch (ACCESS Ministries, 2009)
Perhaps the most vulnerable group is teenagers wondering about their sexuality. In a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee regarding the Marriage Equality Bill 2009, GenR8 Schools Ministries says they “utterly reject and repudiate” the assumption that homosexuality should be regarded as “acceptable sexual behaviour”. One can only wonder what sort of counselling chaplains provided by this organisation would provide.
Simon, as a party we should not be naïve about this move by a well organised, well funded, international organisation to get to the hearts and minds of young Australians. Individual chaplains may be well meaning themselves but the movement is contrary to a progressive values such as tolerance, separation of church and state, and commitment to reason and evidence rather than the superstition and bigotry of a bygone era.
I implore you to take a stand against the creeping social divisiveness that organisations like these are seeking to bring back in Australia.
Yours in despair,
Dr Meredith Doig
Member, St Kilda branch
1/6 Pilley St
St Kilda East 3183