‘be prepared to die for God’: Misleading headline of the year award

Perhaps you saw the article on SRE “contributed” to the Norfolk Islander last weekend? 

In my opinion, The Australian newspaper has resorted to the worse kind of sensationalised journalism in the piece, ‘Be prepared to die for God’, kids told in state school classes (October 17th).

It is worth mentioning that the story was actually discussed in the media several months ago, and the issues raised were then adequately dealt with by the NSW Government and the providers of SRE (it all started with a group of atheists in Victoria. Read more here: http://australia.thegospelcoalition.org/article/banned-an-interview-with-john-dickson).

It’s also worth mentioning that is a non issue for Norfolk Island Central School too – we don’t run high school scripture and there are no plans to do so!

I suspect this article was “contributed” as a parting shot by a participant in the P&C debate about whether or not to pursue a “Chaplain” at Norfolk Island Central School (as I’m sure you’re already aware, the P&C voted against employing Mitch Mahaffey as Chaplain). This was probably an unhelpful article to “contribute” given that a high school SRE class wasn’t the subject of the debate and also given that the law requires a Chaplain to be religiously neutral (the best way to think about the role that the Federal government funds is to think of a Chaplain like a youth worker or mentor).

So why did The Australian choose to regurgitate a non-story from months ago? I can only assume it follows the dreadful murder in Parramatta of Curtis Cheng by schoolboy Farhad Jabar. These are genuine concerns for Australia, but sadly there are Australians who are distastefully seizing upon this issue and using it to try and remove Christian teaching and presence from schools in NSW.

Yes, the teachings of Jesus really are radical in their own unique way. But let’s face it: there’s a world of difference between an Islamic radicalism that beheads enemies, and Jesus’ radicalism that forgives enemies.

Why our secular intelligentsia can’t or won’t publicly admit this obvious difference simply baffles me. Why would anyone want to prevent students from following in the footsteps of the Nazarene?

All of the extreme ideas cited by Natasha Bita, are of course nothing of the sort. Michael Jensen’s book, You: An Introduction, is designed to start a conversation. It certainly holds a view of God who is holy and love, and of a world that is simultaneously amazing and broken, joy giving and painful, but all this fit perfectly within orthodox Christianity. And far from being dangerous, read further and you’ll find that is no inciting to anger and hate, but there is much encouragement to love and respect, and to think deeply about life and biggest questions of the cosmos.

And in response to the criticism given to a letter that was written by Bronwyn Chin, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2013, is it not appropriate to share stories of hope in the midst of suffering, or should our teenage children only have access to stories where the narrative is hopeless and meaning allusive?

I think it’s actually pretty shabby that The Australian decided to run the article at all. Not just Christians, but Australians in general understand that aligning Christianity with Islamic extremism is absurd and bordering on slander.

Bottom line – it’s fine to not like SRE. It’s also fine to not like the fact that it remains in NSW State schools, and it is fine to argue for its removal, but it is not fine to harness public fears about real issues and to suggest that SRE is somehow akin to or might lead to the kinds of evil ISIS are perpetrating around the globe.

Finally, it is important for us to understand three basic points that Natasha Bita failed to mention in her article:

1. Along with John Dickson’s book, ‘A Sneaking Suspicion’, You: An Introduction, was temporarily banned from NSW schools earlier in the year, but they were quickly re-introduced once the Education Minister was made aware of the situation and no issue found with them.

2. SRE classes are not compulsory. No parent is forced to have their children attend the classes. These classes are for families who want their children participating, and clearly there are significant numbers of families who do want these classes.

3. There is not a state endorsed or supported religion. It would be closer to the mark to say that the religion of atheism is calling for support from the state to ban religions from kids! FIRIS’s desire for the removal of SRE is because they see SRE as being part of an archaic legacy, something which no longer belongs in schools. The problem is that by the removal of SRE, this would in fact infringe on the rights of parents who do actually want their children to attend SRE. Yet, FIRIS would rather infringe on the rights of these parents in order to have their agenda achieved, something which goes against their supposed ethos of caring about the ‘rights of the parents’. The only parents that FIRIS really cares about apparently, are those parents who share in their aim of the removal of SRE.

Are our SRE teachers on Norfolk Island dangerous? Only about as dangerous as the kind mum or grandma  who taught you when you were at school! It was probably someone you knew, and they probably cared about you too! No one was forced to believe the views they presented or to even attend their classes, and yet the ideas and the stories you learnt there are the ones that have profoundly shaped our nation. Even if we disagree with them, is it not valuable for our children to have the opportunity to at least read and engage with those ideas for themselves?

I hope that last weeks article hasn’t left you confused and I would encourage you to contact you favourite SRE teacher if you have any questions about the programme.

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