The issue of Bible classes in New Zealand state schools has been in and out of the media for several years. A week ago parent Roy Warren, through the Human Rights Commission, got religious education classes removed from happening during school time in his son’s Auckland school. I felt the “Christian” viewpoint in my local newspaper last week was inadequate, so I sent in a letter which was published on 22 February.
I think Roy Warren’s views are fair and reasonable in a post-secularised country that has never had an official religion. While I acknowledge the historical significance of the Christian church in New Zealand, with only 10-15% of the population being active church participants, it is unreasonable to expect society to remain the same or hold to the past to please such a minority. To think otherwise is to maintain a Christendom mindset which I believe is unhelpful in this post-Christendom time.Firstly, my letter:
Christendom is over, the New Zealand church is disconnected from society and expecting state schools to teach Christian spirituality is out of touch. I support the holistic education of Christian spirituality to children, but in an opt-in way that removes the tensions in the current debate. There are plenty of out-of-school-time options for this kind of exposure and education from churches that value children, as well as from families that model Christian values through their lifestyle. If these other “Christian” things don’t educate or communicate positively; Christians have more to worry about than Bible classes in schools.
I realise I’ve mentioned Christendom in passing on this blog but never written a post about the topic – I plan to do that soon. In the meantime one brief definition of Christendom as a paradigm:
Christendom can be described as a society where there are close ties between church leaders and secular leaders, where laws appear to be based on Christian principles, where Christianity provides a common language, and where most people are assumed to be Christian. 1
Alternatively, post-Christendom can be defined as:
Post-Christendom is the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian conviction decline in influence. 2
Chapter 2 in my PhD thesis is called “Something is different now” where I unpack the Christendom/post-Christendom paradigm.
The Churches Education Commission
As stated in my letter, I support Christian education for children, just in an opt-in form. This means I support the Churches Education Commission who provide most of the current programmes run in primary schools, to continue doing this, but during lunchtimes of after school where children’s parents opt-in to this education. I think the Churches Education Commission are currently seeing the world through Christendom eye, as shown by their Policy Statement:
…While acknowledging that there are other views of life that would have a place in religious programmes, we believe it is appropriate in New Zealand to give particular emphasis to the Christian faith, the Bible, and the life and teachings of Jesus, because of their pervasive influence through our cultural heritage and history, and their continuing power and relevance.
I suspect the majority of people in New Zealand society wouldn’t see things Christian as having “continuing power and relevance”, in fact, my list of how people outside the church perceive the church shows the opposite. These differing perceptions between Christendom-thinking Christians and people like Roy Warren add to the creation of the “disconnect” my own research has exposed.
In my letter I signal an ideal that when fully realised would make the need of Bible classes in schools redundant: Families that model Christian values through their lifestyle. While I think the 10-15% of active Christians in the population is too small a group to insist the state follows Christian rules and provides Christian education in a country with representative democracy. I do, however, believe 10-15% is significant enough to show radical transformation caused by the following of Jesus.
Showing, demonstrating, modelling: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
It is these things I am thinking of in my letter when I say:
If these other “Christian” things don’t educate or communicate positively; Christians have more to worry about than Bible classes in schools.
The statistics I am using would suggest 10-15% of families with children at primary schools are active Christians. I think it would be much more significant to help and resource these families in their modelling of love, joy, peace, etc than to worry about formal Bible classes in schools.
How is the church going with this?
I can think of some excellent examples of Christian family role models.
I can also think of some who seem to be wearing a cloak of invisibility when it comes to living their faith in the real world. If we are going to worry about something, it should be this.
I wrote the letter so The Press reading public might see a glimpse of a post-Christendom-embracing Christian voice.
Do you feel strongly about any of this?
Image: Part of the “Perspective” page in The Press, Saturday 22 February 2014, Mike Crudge.