Christendom is over: the end of Bible classes in schools

26 February, 2014 — 55 Comments

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.

Letter-to-the-editor-Christendom-is-over-Bible-in-schools-570

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.

Christendom defined

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

Post-Christendom defined

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.

The solution

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.

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Notes:

  1. McLeod, H. (2007). The religious crisis of the 1960s. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  2. Murray, S. (2004). Post-Christendom: church and mission in a new world. Milton Keynes, England: Paternoster. Page 19.
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  • not a wild hera

    Yes! I do feel strongly about this!

    Thanks for this very clearly thought out post, Mike.

    This is the key task for me: ‘to help and resource these families in their modelling of love, joy, peace, etc’.

    I’d love all ministers, church leaders and church members to look at their church teaching programme for 2014 and ask how well it equips their church members to do this.

  • Jeannie Cochrane

    Thanks for your thoughts on this topic. I enjoyed seeing the “Dr” before the “Mike” in the letter to the paper. My thoughts have been similar to yours though not nearly so well articulated. Yours seems to me to be somewhat of a lone voice among Christians but a really important perspective that will hopefully contribute to some more robust discussion on the topic and an openness to see things from another perspective.

    • Hi Jeannie! Yes, some of the Christian voice seems agitated and defensive on this topic – which I don’t think we need to be.

      • Dan

        Hi Mike,
        The discussion ongoing on the Religion in Schools website, and the Keep Religion out of Schools Facebook page is quite heated. Emotions do run high at times. It’s hard not to when your belief system is being targeted.
        This is why I would like to find a solution that doesn’t involve simply reversing the ‘discrimination’ (although I don’t think that is the right word)

        • And my out-of-school-time solutions require the church to give up “prime time” (classroom time), which once lost might never be gained again. I can see why this is hard for some church people to feel ok about.

  • Stu

    There are basically two ways we can lead; By influence or by force.

    Those who fail to influence often fall back on finding some sort of power position to enforce what they want. Is it possible that we have lost influence in society, and are gripping on the last legal strings to gain some foothold in society. Maybe like you have said,it is time for us to reflect on our level of influence in society? Perhaps we should look back at the teachings of Jesus which described the coming Kingdom of God as a Kingdom of influence fuelled by Love, Compassion, Justice, Care and Grace?

    Perhaps too we need to think about the influence our own kids can have in schools if we correctly model and influence them?

    One day, can we imagine a society so enamoured with the Gracious (as opposed to judgemental) teachings of Jesus as evidenced by influential practices of his followers, that schools hunger for such teaching?

    • disqus_aUV4kk8nVj

      Stu – I’ve taught CRE in our local primary school for about 18 years and do not do it to “find some sort of power position to enforce what I want”!! I’ve just written a long response to Mike’s blog but, as you’ll read above, I lost it and simply do not have the time to re-write it. Just wanted to respond to your post before I go and prepare my evening meal.. Kate

      • Stu

        Yes, and you have one of the most loving attitudes of all the people I know Kate. So I would hardly think that this comments was aimed at you!! But there are some people who do come from this position…

        • disqus_aUV4kk8nVj

          are you the Stu of “Stu and Ruth”!!!

          • Stu

            Maybe….

    • Hi Stu! And thanks for your inspiring comments. What you are asking us to imagine is one way to describe what I would call from my research a “connected church” (as opposed to a “disconnected church” – which society is not enamoured with…).

  • disqus_aUV4kk8nVj

    I don’t believe it!!! I just wrote the longest response and it doesn’t appear to have been posted! Maybe I hit the wrong key – I just cannot write it all down again, though. But YES Mike my short answer is YES, I do feel strongly about what you wrote!!

  • disqus_aUV4kk8nVj

    Just a quick comment (before I finally go and get my evening meal prepared!). Re your letter to your local newspaper, State schools do not “have to teach Christian spirituality”, Mike! Those schools and parents who opt in their children for CRE (parents at our school have to opt in or opt out at the beginning of each school year) have volunteer CRE teams, all of whom give up their precious time to take the short half-hour session, not forgetting preparation time and marking children’s work books. All at no cost to the school in finance or time. A local church funds our programme to the tune of $1,000 p.a. which they’ve been doing for many years. I personally buy small birthday gifts for children to have a dip in our birthday bag on their birthday and also create and print on fairly expensive coloured card series of certificates to give to the children for behaviour and work throughout the year. All children receive at least five or six certificates and seem to enjoy and appreciate them. In the past, I’ve been told by parents that their kids treasure the certificates! Maybe birthday gifts and certificates will be seen as bribery by some!!
    Please let the schools and parents who want their children to enjoy CRE each week do so – there’s enough opposition from SEN without the “church” joining in. Kate

    • Hi Kate and thanks for putting your thoughts here. Yes, I think I read somewhere that about 40% of schools have Bible classes in schools.

      What do you think about CRE becoming “lunchtime clubs” or “after school clubs” so kids like Roy Warren’s son aren’t effected in school teaching time and all parents who want their kids to participate can opt them in?

      • Dan

        St Heliers School provided parents with information about the school calendar in advance, including the Bible in Schools Class. The option for parents who did not want their children to attend was available. Several children were opted out of the class. I did not see any evidence of these children being ostracized or in any way bullied for not attending – although I admit I am not a child psychologist, nor was I present in the classroom during school time; but if present, wouldn’t this manifest outside the classroom as well?
        I believe this issue is one experienced by the parents, and not the children.
        The debate for continuing CRE classes in school, or changing this system may be valid. However, I feel the tactics employed in the situation at St Heliers School (described by David Hines as a Tag Team) have damaged the school environment, and this does impact our children.
        Do the ends justify the means?

        • Starting from a neutral position though, what argument can be made that would support the idea that one religion should be given a special and unique opportunity to effectively take students from their classrooms for 30-minutes a week to offer instruction in that religion?

          If parents believe that strongly that their children need that foundation of the Bible, then surely their home and/or church is a better venue anyway?

          • Hi Dylan, and thanks for all your input today. One argument to support Bible classes in school time is NZs cultural heritage and history, which sits ok with me in what some people refer to as ‘Christendom’ times. But the fact is, Christendom is over and 21st century NZ is better described as ‘post-Christendom’ (as briefly defined in my post).

            I think we’re both on the same page here: at this point in time in NZ all religions/faiths should get equal opportunities outside of school time.

          • Dan

            Christianity does have a strong heritage and foundation for NZ. The number of other cultures and religions growing. As I understand the Education Act, the sections that enable Christian education, also enable any religious education, as long as the school board and community, and the Minister agree. So the opportunity exists already – I believe?

          • Hi Dan. I haven’t examined the Education Act, but I suspect you are correct in suggesting the opportunity exists already for any religion – but that historically Christianity has a strong bias or head-start.

            Another thing that comes to mind with your comment is my experience in Christchurch where I have lived for the last 5 years: Christchurch was one of two church sponsored settlements in NZ, Christchurch by the Church of England (Anglicans) and Dunedin by the Scottish Presbyterians.

            When I first moved to Christchurch in 2009 I was surprised by the explicit Anglican presence in the city, mostly in an historical sense, compared to other cities I had lived in (Wellington and Auckland). In Christchurch (pre-earthquakes) there were more Anglican church buildings in the central area than any other church type, and some of my Anglican colleagues had a sense of belonging to the city that some of my other church colleagues didn’t.

            I mention this here as it sort of fits into my post-Christendom point, and perhaps in some regions in NZ the idea that Christendom is over may take longer to realise, or be harder to let go of(?)…

          • Hey Mike,

            Thanks for your input. Of course the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” and “founded on Christian principles” points are the ones that come up most often, but it’s hard to see validity in those. After all we’d never get anywhere as a nation if we just did things they way they’d always been.

            I think we are on the same page Mike, and I’m pleased to see your eloquent post on the issue.

          • disqus_aUV4kk8nVj

            Being a bit pedantic here, Dylan, I don’t think 20 hours is a school week, at least not in my experience when my children were at school and not in the school where I am a CRE teacher.
            Sorry to hear about your unfortunate experiences with the screaming man on an Auckland street – I’m not surprised to read your views.
            I still think you need to consider that schools which include a CRE programme for opt-in children do so in consultation with parents and with approval of their BoT. The CRE programme we use teaches values from a Christian perspective which seem to sit well with the school values.
            The children in our class this morning were obviously excited about CRE – the children whose parents have opted them out go to the library for a structured alternative programme, from my understanding.
            It seems very unfair to my way of thinking that the children whose parents wanted them to have CRE are missing out now in the school because of 3 or 4 parents who complained about CRE. I don’t understand that at all – but it’s similar to other situations in NZ where a vocal minority can affect the majority.
            You and I will have to agree to differ – I’m a simple soul and cannot really put up a clever intellectual argument but I do believe that what I try to do is helpful and of benefit to the children in our class. For me, it’s not just 30 minutes out of of my rather busy week as there is a fair amount of preparation time and effort and also marking workbooks at home, which I’m happy to do, by the way.
            Over and out!

          • Dan

            Hi Dylan, I’m not sure that we can say one religion has a special and unique opportunity, the law enables all religions, so I feel the law in this situation is neutral and inclusive.
            The CEC is very organised and structured with a number of curriculum options for schools to utilise existing programs – although, I’m not saying this is easy, it does require scheduling a number of volunteers for each school.
            There is no reason other religions or belief’s couldn’t do the same…? Personally, I’d like to see this diversity in action. I think a better understanding could lead to greater tolerance.

    • There is a cost to children (and the school) in time though – the children are losing up to a week of school per year. The school is technically closed (as that is required legally) during CRE. This is up to 30-minutes per week, 40 weeks per year. That’s 20-hours – one school week – of classroom time removed during the year.

      Those parents who want their children to be educated about Christianity and the bible are more than welcome to do it at home, or have their children participate in Sunday School activities in their church.

      I simply can’t understand why school is an appropriate venue to be providing specific religious instruction to children.

      • Guest

        How do you feel about the

  • Lisa

    Thank you Mike. As a non-Christian who’s child was repeatedly put into Religious Instruction against my wishes, I had lost respect for the Christian viewpoint. You have done a lot to restore some of that respect. I think an opt-in before or after school program would be a good compromise, but also wonder if you would be better to encourage children to attend a program at church. The church next door to my child’s school picks children up from the gate and takes them to an after school program. Wouldn’t this do more to help church attendance?

    • Dan

      One of the local churches near St Heliers School also operate the Oscars before school and after school care programs. These programs provide valuable childcare for working parents. The program at St Heliers is not educational, the church is simply the venue, and provides the staff (which is very kind really). I don’t know what happens in your area.
      I don’t think that Oscars could be considered an alternative to CRE. Particularly, this program is used by some of the complainants from St Heliers CRE, so I’m sure they would not be happy to enrol their children in an after-school CRE program, when they have recently campaigned to remove them from the in-school program?

      • Lisa

        Good point Dan. I am not sure of the exact nature of the after school program at the church next door to my local school and may be assuming a bit too much. When I inquired about the preschool program at the same church, I was told that the preschoolers have one hour of Bible studies every morning and based on that I assumed they included Bible studies in their after school program. If the school stopped running their during school program it would open up an opportunity for the church to fill the gap and possibly bring new families to their church in a way that a during school program couldn’t. I can see that it would not be practical to run two programs and it would have to be up to the individual churches how they want to approach that opportunity.

        • Dan

          Interesting perspective Lisa. Has this been suggested to the Church?
          Just one more question.
          How would you include the non-Christian children who still need after-school care?
          I wonder if there are parents in your area who need to work and require support and help after school, but don’t want their kids to attend a CRE program after-school.
          So are we in a similar situation, and having kids segregated on belief?

          It is quite a conundrum trying to manage a range of belief structures without it being evident what each believes.
          It really does require quite a lot of tolerance, and I hope this is what we teach our kids.

          Here’s a sad story…my child has been told by another child in their class “My dad says you believe in fairy stories, and you are stupid.”
          This is not the tolerance I hope we can achieve.

          • Ultimately kids are not very tactful about the ideas and beliefs of others (although they often don’t realise there is a need to be). This seems like another reason to avoid the issue of religion within schools – it simply serves to highlight these issues.

            We’re always careful to include phrases like “some people believe” when discussing these issues with our kids.

            For what it’s worth, I was told by quite a few kids in my younger years that I would go to hell and burn for eternity because I didn’t believe in god.

            More recently I’ve had exactly the same message screamed at me by an angry man on a Queen Street corner.

          • Hi Dylan – your “angry man on a Queen Street corner” story has just given me an idea for another blog post, something I referred to in my recent PhD research: Cringe stories of the church in public…

          • Yeah, that guy has been doing his thing on the corner of Queen St and Wellesley or Victoria Streets for ages. It’s probably been a year or two since I’ve encountered him, but he will actually point at people who walk past a scream at them that they are going to burn in hell.

            I find if difficult to believe he’s getting a lot of converts. A Christian friend who was with me once got really upset by him – I can’t blame them really.

          • Hi Dylan – I’ve just started a new series exposing cringe church communication:

            http://mikecrudge.com/2014/03/14/cringe-communication-1-student-survey-tricksters/

          • Dan

            Hi Dylan,
            Sounds like we have a similar approach. Like you, I encourage my kids to be accepting of others. I also position my belief, as being about me, so they know they are free to make up their own minds. And I like to give them an opportunity to see what else is around. Would be great if we could encourage this more widely ;)

          • Lisa

            At our school, like most, there are a number of options, for after school programs. If parents want their children to get CRE then they would choose that program.
            I don’t think you can compare the bell ringing and everyone going off to separate activities in their own time to children being asked to leave their classroom during school hours.

    • Hi Lisa and thanks for engaging with this topic. I think you’re right in terms of thinking there are plenty of options for churches to encourage engagement. The church I’m part of runs the local primary school’s after school care programme – which contains no Christian education component, but [hopefully] role models things like respect, equality, caring for one another. The same people run holiday programmes and fun things for kids from church that do contain Christian content which we are transparent about.

      One of my interests is the relationship between church and society, do you have any other thoughts about the church or Christians in New Zealand that you think I might find interesting?

      • Lisa

        I think Transparency is the key here. My child’s school is reluctant to admit that their “Values” program is Religious Instruction, which makes me wonder what they have to hide or be ashamed of. The experience has done a lot of damage to my view of Christianity.

  • Broose

    Hi Mike. I just wanted to point out a couple of things:
    1. The legislation which allows for these optional religious classes to take place in our public schools requires that the classes be optional. It also leaves the classes open to any religious viewpoint. Opt-in or opt-out, informed consent of parents is a requirement of the law.
    2. The legislation makes it the decision of each School Board as to what, if any, class is available as an option. In other words, the providers (such as CEC) do not decide if they are at any given school, or if they are, at what time.
    I do not think it is necessarily fair to suggest that there is any force involved at all. The School Board of a school is obliged to listen to its parental community and make fair decisions based on that feedback. The Bill of Rights should guide them (if they need such guidance!) in ensuring that any decision made does not discriminate eg treat some children in a negative fashion when their parents opt them out of a religious class. There are options for this in terms of activities for the opt-outers, or even alternative values-type classes which I understand occur at a couple of schools in Auckland.
    I guess what I’m saying is that the providers fill the space that the school opens up to them – they do not force their way in!
    From what I understand, the CEC also works with schools to best try to meet their community needs. If that means a lunchtime club, that’s great! If parents want it in place of standard curriculum time, that’s great too.
    The opponents in this debate want those choices removed. They want a blanket prohibition in the law (by repealing the relevant sections 78 and 79 of the Education Act 1964), or at least the classes to take place outside of the school day. In other words, remove religion entirely to the private sphere (I note one of the comments on this page refers to before or after school classes as being a ‘compromise’). I am sure you will now be cited by them as being a supporter of that move. The Secular Education Network is keen to get as many Christian supporters on their side of a campaign they have started. So far their ‘Christian Atheist’ public relations officer is the one they put forward as an example. He is a Christian who does not believe in God, or that Jesus was God….
    Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that I really do not know of any Christians who are trying to be there by force! The ones I know could think of nothing worse than to be in a school where they were overwhelmingly unwanted, or to go against parents wishes (those parents having dominion over their own children). Many/most are parents or grandparents themselves! I think there is a lot of misinformation out there about how these classes actually come to be, what they contain, and the hearts and intentions of the amazing volunteers that turn up to teach at the time they are told by the school.
    That’s my perspective on it all anyway. Thanks.

    • Ultimately it’s hard for me (an atheist parent of three) to see any reason that a religion should be allowed to take children from their classes for 30-minutes a week to offer religious instruction.

      I absolutely do think Sections 78-80 should be repealed. It simply seems inappropriate that state schools (defined as being “entirely of a secular character” in Section 77) should have any part in the instruction of any specific religion.

      If, however, schools are able to offer such programmes during non-class times (before or after school, or at lunch times) then those opportunities should also be equally offered to any other suitably organised community/cultural programme.

      I’ve yet to see an argument offered that seems to offer any reasonable justification for allowing these programmes to be run the way they are. I can only see it as an exercise, basically, in recruitment… The classes I remember from primary school certainly were – it was made very clear that we should become Christians and join the local churches.

    • I’m a couple of years late, but in answer to your points…

      1. Parents are rarely, if ever, informed on the facts. Such as the school being closed and the classes teaching faith in Christianity, not about Christianity. Also, I’m not sure how a class can be “optional” when there is actually no requirement for the kids to be even in the school while it is running. Most are opt-out when the school isn’t even open.

      2. This is true but only half the story. School Boards have the power to choose a religion for the school. It’s crazy and shouldn’t happen. The CEC put out a call in 2007 for their members to join school boards so that they could influence these decisions… guess what happened!

      Parents who disagree with these classed are “forced” to take action for their kids to avoid them. They are “forced” to declare their religious beliefs, with their kids as pawns or allow their kids to go so that they fit in with their peers. I know people that allow their kids to go, hoping that they are not going to absorb the faith being taught because they feel that the impact on their kids of taking them away from their friends will be worse.

      The original 1877 Education Act actually states that schooling should be secular. The later amendments conflict with that, which is why the schools have to close for the classes to be taught.

      You are right, there is a lot of misinformation about these classes and perhaps force” is the wrong word. “Manipulation” would be more accurate.

  • Thanks Mike for your great post.

    My oldest child has attended three schools (we move a couple of times when he was just starting out) and it’s only at his most recent school that this has become an issue for us. Until he started there I’d almost entirely forgotten that Bible In Schools was even a thing (but suddenly my memories of primary school came rushing back).

    The new principal at our school (a Christian himself) has recently started to open a dialogue with parents about the programme and appears to have found some surprisingly reactions from parents supporting the programme – one apparently threatened to remove her three kids if the programme were removed or changed substantially.

    That sort of strong opinion combined with apathy from others means that overall the programme is unlikely to change. I find this frustrating. While my kids haven’t noticeably suffered the embarrassment or feelings of exclusion that some opted-out children report the whole thing just feels frustrating and unnecessary.

    Personally I can’t help feeling that the debate would be very different if a state school began offering an opt-out Koran In Class programme. It seems to me that religious instruction, no matter what religion, has no place in the school system.

    Offering some sort of lunchtime or after-hours programme seems fine, but it should then be open to any suitable group (currently programmes must be specifically allowed by a school’s board – I’m not aware of any non-Christian ones having been approved anywhere).

    Ultimately religion is a very personal thing, and I can’t understand why people concerned about their children receiving basic Christian instruction and Bible study don’t do that at home, or within their church.

  • Broose

    Sorry, in case it wasn’t clear (I don’t think it was!), I agree that lunchtime classes and opt-in processes could both be good options to relieve some of the tensions. But some schools already do these things. The flexibility is already there in the legislation and with schools listening to their parents. I think more schools will be surveying parents on these things than used to be the case – which is a good thing.
    I just don’t think we can ever fully relieve the tensions though when there is such a strong agenda against religion in the campaign to remove religion from schools. I don’t think it is necessarily any ‘force’ on the part of Christians which is giving rise to the tensions, but rather School Boards following less than ideal processes in some cases (not listening to parents) and, more importantly, a media-focussed campaign to remove religion from schools which is backed by the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists and supported by Atheism New Zealand.

    • Hi Broose and thanks for this and your earlier comment today. What you’re saying makes sense (and is clear). I particularly like your point about School Boards and the roll they have in this issue – I imagine it might be hard in some contexts to please all parents, and I suspect in time, in some locations, the Christian proportion of parents will become a smaller minority – just because this is the “state of the nation”. My hope is that churches and Christians will find other ways to offer Christian education – I expect this will involve some of the current volunteers who give their time and are passionate about educating children.

      • Carol

        Hi Mike,
        Do you have any ideas as to how the Church can support and engage the community, in a way that encourages tolerance?

        • Hi Carol, and great question! I can answer in a more general way, as I think the specifics will be different depending on the context:

          The main issue I identified in my recent PhD research was one of connection, or more precisely: disconnection. I believe the church would seem more connected to society, or in other words more accessible and have a more positively received communication, if the church and those with Christian faith could relax in the fact that Christian spirituality is only one spiritual option among many in New Zealand. We should have confidence in Christian spirituality in a way that does not require defensiveness or a reliance on historical dominance that may have once existed. Science cannot fully explain faith and belief, and Christians should have confidence in and embrace the mystery, having security in our distinctiveness.

          I think church people should relax into our Christian-ness when it comes to expressing who or what we are, so long as we are confident our lifestyle and actions reflect the expectations given to us as the Christian-faith-community in the New Testament of the Bible, a specific example being how Christians are to care for people. This is not easy, straightforward, or without sacrifice and hard work. Then alongside this, Christian people should take responsibility for the image we (the church) present, not being content with how we are currently perceived, and mixing creativity, intelligence, and self-awareness into any future responses and planned action, all of which form part of the communication of the church (the topic of my recent PhD research). This, in my opinion, would begin to address the disconnect identified in my research: the disconnected church, and would facilitate expressions of connectedness: the connected church.

          Do you have any ideas as to how this might look for you in your context?

          • Carol

            Hi Mike,
            I wish that I had some revolutionary thoughts…I’m not broadly educated in theology, and have taken quite a number of years to become comfortable with being open about my own beliefs.
            Our Minister this week discussed the ‘need’ for a steeple and stained glass windows to make a church, and the origins of those first few hundred years AD existing through persecution. In society today I find this interesting. We are all so busy, and many who do have Christian faith simply don’t make it to Sunday worship, but does that make people less Christian? I understand some Churches offer service on other days of the week, and different times of the day, which does provide some flexibility for busy lifestyles. But this doesn’t align with the scriptures, so is it okay? I also know this is why some parents value the Bible in Schools program, as it enables them to include a program educating about Christian beliefs and concepts for their children without depriving them of the weekend sports and activities with their friends. Is there a better way?
            Finding new opportunities to fit Christian life into our busy society is a challenge and a balance.
            I also find talking about the collective church rather interesting, given that there is quite a variety of flavours even within Christiandom (is that the correct use of the word?). Do we need to unite? Through a process of unification, do we engage other non-Christian beliefs which share common values, and in some cases similar accounts of historic events? It may not be acceptable to blend ideologies, but can we at least accept diversity?
            I feel some events already take us part way there. The Carol’s by Glow Stick is a wonderful event each Christmas, and the Parachute music festival. Music does well to bring people together.
            I miss Ian Grant, as an icon supporting Christian Youth.
            I don’t have many ideas, but I do have faith. And I hope that New Zealand society can engage in a positive communication towards tolerance.
            I worry that this drive toward a secular state may mean a society ‘without’ rather than living with acceptance and tolerance.

          • Hi Carol, and thanks for taking the time to engage with this.

            Your point of busyness is a good one. I personally think most people spend their time doing what they think is important: work-for-money, career advancement, recreation, education, family, hobbies, etc, and some of these things for some people are more out of necessity than choice. I don’t like the thought that being Christian adds to the busyness of life – as in being another add-on that may create pressure or guilt, but rather that being Christian creates a way of living or seeing the world that impacts on all of these other things. I believe it is important for Christians to be engaged in expressions of Christian-faith-community (‘church’) for the purposes of support, worship, teaching, serving, hospitality, generosity, etc, but this needn’t be Sunday morning church services. I also think the concept of ‘sabbath’ is important, for re-creation, but I’m pretty relaxed about how and when ‘sabbath’ is observed (I think the point is regular re-creation rather than law and tradition).

            It is a bit disappointing the church collective isn’t one big unified group, I think this would certainly help our public relations at times. What we have is the result of an organisation that has evolved a lot over nearly 2000 years with lots of human input.

            I think one outcome of a more secularised society is the general acceptance of more diversity, so when it comes to spirituality, Christian spirituality is one among many. I actually think this greater general acceptance of diversity can be an advantage to the church but only if we embrace the post-Christendom context and let go of the sense of entitlement that the church had during the time of Christendom. I think it is expressions of this false sense of entitlement that a secularised society can’t tolerate, rather than humble expressions of Christian spirituality…

    • The campaign to remove religion from school is really just a campaign to stop class time being handed over for the instruction of religion.

      I’m fairly certain that most of the Christians who are supportive of such programmes now would not be so supportive if a local Mosque were running an opt-out Koran-based programme in place of 30-minutes of class time.

      It feels, to me anyway, entirely improper to allow a church or religion (any religion) a privileged platform within the state school system to offer instruction in their faith — especially to 5- and 6-year-olds who are very credulous and really don’t comprehend the difference between the lesson they are taught by their classroom teacher and those offered by the Bible teacher.

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  • How many different religions do you think the kids should be able to opt-in to?

    • Hi Dave, and thanks for your comment.

      To answer your question: I think as many religions that are willing to provide suitable educational opportunities for children (with the permission of the children’s parents/care-givers).

      So from a Christian perspective, the Churches Education Commission could be involved partnering with local churches, in fact, many local churches have Sunday School programmes for children which are already available for parents to opt their children into on Sundays. I could imagine Sunday School type classes happening for an hour after school one night each week on school premisses, with other religious organisations providing similar options, and parents can decide what, if any, they opt their children into.

      • Hi Mike,

        I agree with you about classes outside of school hours. However, most of the bible classes are inside normal school hours and focussed on faith teaching rather than objective study.

        There is an inherent conflict of interest for any religious organisation who are supposed to be teaching “about” their religion, when their beliefs tell them to “spread the faith”.

        This was recognised by the founders of the 1877 Education Act when they established it to provide “free, compulsory and secular education”. Note that this was at a time when over 90% of NZ were Christian.

        The Churches Education Commission are a prime example of a religious group whose goal is to evangelise their faith but over time have changed their language to talk about “values and morality” in the face of increasing resistance to their programmes. They have previously described our primary schools as an “un-tapped mission field”. This sort of manipulation by people who tell us they teach “Christian values” is astounding. You will struggle to find any contemporary literature from them that states they are teaching faith, even though it’s obvious to anyone who reads their teaching material.

        Unfortunately, most of their classes take place during the normal school day where parents who don’t want their kids to take part are forced to “opt out” of a class that isn’t even part of the school curriculum. Under current laws, our kids could lose up to 160 hours of teaching time to bible classes before they even reach high school.

        • As a follow up to this, you can read about my experiences of the kind of collusion that goes on between school boards, school administration and biased Ministry of Education advisers on a blog I started because I was so disgusted with how manipulative some of the pro-bible studies people were. View the website: http://www.religiouseducation.co.nz

          • Hi Dave, thanks for more comments! I’ve just had a look around your blog. I have sympathy with your cause.

            Just one thing with your comment about the 1877 Education act and it being set up at a time “when over 90% of NZ were Christian” – I actually think far less of the population were practicing Christians at that time, and the “Christian” tick on census forms would have been more of a cultural thing than any particular connection with spirituality. In another blog post of mine I have a graph showing the difference between Christian Affiliation (cultural association perhaps), and church attendance, which I think is a more accurate indicator of Christian spirituality. In the 1890’s, approx 90% of NZ adults had Christian Affiliation, but only 30% were regularly going to church services – this was the time of peak church attendance in NZ (as a percentage).

            Another line on the graph is “no religion” and I think that option is slowly giving the cultural Christian identity people another way to more accurately define themselves – this is seen by that line coming up to meet the Christian affiliation line – and in time I expect the “no religion” line will be the majority, and the Christian affiliation line will be close to the church attendance line, which will be a more accurate indicator of the amount of NZers actually practicing a Christian spirituality.

            Christianity has had a massive influence on colonised NZ – we can’t deny that, but with the current 10-15% of the population going to church regularly, in my opinion, there mustn’t be a sense of entitlement from the Christian minority with things like holding on to Christian education in schools.

            The post with the graph is here:
            http://mikecrudge.com/2013/07/19/pop-quiz-when-did-regular-church-attendance-peak-in-new-zealand/

          • Hi Mike. That all makes sense to me. I’ve been having a bit of a debate with the NZ Christian Network on facebook and there’s a repeated theme that because Christianity has played a big part in our history, that should somehow give right of access for churches to instruct school children.