Dear Left-Wing, Evangelical Christians

It’s good to speak to both of you again.

Ohh, I’m just kidding, stop getting your knickers in such a twist. I’m writing because I want those of you who live in NSW to use your powers for good.

This whole scripture vs. ethics thing – it’s a bit of a shambles, I’m sure you agree. I’m writing to you because I think we, as Christian left-wing voters have a unique part to play in this whole debate.

I’ve now sent the letter below to Greens NSW Upper house member Dr. John Kaye (twice) and I’m yet to receive a reply, I’m going to be posting it the old fashioned way tomorrow. But I think it’s time we sent letters like this to all our Labor MPs too, particularly those in the left Labor factions (find a list of some of the members here). Get typing people. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Dr Kaye

My name is Steve Boxwell, I’m a former State school teacher, now studying theology. I’m a long time Greens voter (we actually met at a meeting in Wagga some years ago organised by a mutual friend, Ray Goodlass). I’m writing to you about the SRE/SJEC community debate (or lack thereof) that’s going on at the moment.

I was a concerned when I read on ABC Online and then from your media release your stance on this issue. A few of my thoughts:

– I feel you may have misread malice into the intentions of Glen Davies, Peter Jensen and others. Though I myself am not an Anglican I have received their literature before and for years they have been encouraging parents to be involved in the community – in P&Cs, sporting clubs, etc. because Christians should be loving participants in their society. Your Labor-right analogy overstates your point. The truth is all kinds of organisations encourage their members to be active citizens. Wouldn’t it be great if every single parent was a member of their school’s P&C so that they were truly representative of the community’s views?

– As a former high school teacher I was appalled when, under the Howard government, Brendan Nelson the then Minister for Education, Science and Training waded into the waters of “values education”. I found it deeply insulting at the time because they had the cheek to call our classrooms “values neutral”. It suggested a 19C view of education where learning is somehow amoral and needed to be supplemented with a poster and a flag pole. My concern is that with your support of this “ethics” trial you are no better than he. My classroom was not ethically anemic, we had full and rich discussions about social and current affairs; right; wrong; meta-ethics. This ethics programme sends the message to parents that, just as in SRE students are receiving something they are not receiving in the rest of the school course content, ethics is not being taught in the classroom and needs to be given in a special supplementary class. I feel this is deeply offensive to teachers and as a Greens voter I am dismayed by your stance on this issue.

– (I’m growing increasingly used to saying this with our current State Labor government but) Due process has not been followed.  This is not a real ‘trial’, this is a ten week opportunity to showcase the programme to the State without the due process of, say, a public inquiry regarding a change of practice. The cart has been put before the horse as it were.

– Finally, the ethics programme, should the ‘trial’ prove successful, will not fix the problem of student non-participation during the SRE allotted time. There will always be students who need to be minded during the SRE time, this may scoop up a few more students but it ultimately won’t solve the problem.

John I’m asking you to soften your rhetoric on this issue. This debate is nuanced and complex and it’d be nice to think that public discourse on this issue could be something other than a screaming match for the middle ground.

I’m happy to talk with you more about this, thank you for your work.

Very kind regards,

Steve Boxwell

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9 Comments

Filed under church, Politics

9 responses to “Dear Left-Wing, Evangelical Christians

  1. Ben

    Steve, you’re a long time Greens voter and his rhetoric surprises you?

    • steveboxwell

      Yeah it does Ben, the Greens are usually a lot more careful. It’s no secret that their is a general anti-theism in their ranks, but they usually cover their tracks so that if you were to press them on their anti-religious stance it’s actually hard to pin it down.

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  3. Benjimin

    Hadn’t heard of this. So all NSW “secular” public schools allocate some time for (by default) scriptural lessons; these lessons can be segregated if preferences to approved alternative religious groups have been received, and also children may individually be opted out entirely.

    Now, why is it that you think it is a bad thing if the option of an ethics lesson (instead of having no lesson then at all) is offered to those already deliberately choosing to abstain from the presented religious instruction?

    • steveboxwell

      Hi Benjimin

      Thanks for your question, it’s a good one. I should make it clear that I’m not against ethics or philosophy – this is what I did in my undergraduate degree. What I’m concerned about is that this program is being offered in competition to Special Religious Education (SRE) instead of being integrated into the curriculum to ensure all students can learn from each other. It sends the wrong message to parents – that classrooms are otherwise amoral.

      As to your specific interest in offering a program for students who don’t participate in SRE, I answered that concern in shorthand in my original post but let me extrapolate a little.

      The ethics course is not intended to be a net to scoop up all the ‘left-overs’ who don’t attend scripture. It is another option thrown in to the mix. It is taught by volunteers, like other SRE programs. As such, students are just as likely to attend no program and so required to read in the library or whatever else the individual school chooses to do with students not attending scripture. The problem it is set up to address will remain.

      There are a few more problems: calling a program ‘ethics’ is in itself a bit illusive. If you have a look at the program it is something more akin to relativist ethics. That’s fine – but badge it that way. Give parents an idea of the kinds of ethics their kids will be taught. You might choose to call the course “atheistic ethics” or “secular-humanist ethics”.

      I’m also concerned that students could go their entire schooling and not learn about religion. Whether we like it or not our Western Democratic society has Christian footings. To not learn about that is to not learn about a huge chunk of what it is to be us. This saddens me as a history teacher.

      Oddly enough there was a comparative religions program run in the NSW town of Bungendore which was designed for students of no religious background during the scripture time and it had wide support from the school community but it was stopped by the government several years ago.

  4. Benjimin

    I must say if there was a cause that presently warranted such singular attention from the leftists who are in Australia and follow Jesus, I think it has to be the treatment of refugees (and not some complaint over families having more choice in public education).

    I can’t see how concern for Christian footings would justify a position of protesting to ethics but not to specifically non-Christian replacements. Are you being honest with yourself?

    (That’s leaving aside: your anglocentric historicism; your prescriptivism toward society; the fact that outside of SRE schools already explicitly teach all students about Christianity and what Christians believe and how that affects peoples lives; you seem confused as to whether or not the ethics is intended to “scoop all the leftovers” and thus whether or not it would be a failure for it to go part way towards doing so; the bias in asking for the St James Ethics Centre’s course to be labelled “atheistic”..)

    Would it be cynical to suggest your interest in this is Christian evangelising? That you aquisce to non-Christian SRE options for the extent they appear to legitimise this entire program – by which the most common Christian denominations demographically are significantly overrepresented (and less common faiths are further marginalised, being less capable of supporting enough SRE volunteers). Are your certain your objection here isn’t simply that a major portion of families desire to opt away from this status quo as soon as a credible sounding alternative presents? (Would you really rather let someone else try to indoctrinate your child in a scriptural interpretation you take some issue against, than to try for that time to be spent in this ethics class? By the way, where do you stand on theocratic versus secular government?)

  5. steveboxwell

    Hi Benjimin

    I’m sorry, I’m missing the “either-orness” of your argument. I think we should be speaking out about our nation’s deplorable treatment of refugees. Jesus himself was a refugee in his youth. My intention was merely to highlight that this is also an issue, not that it’s the only issue. Nor, might I add, is the issue of refugees a state issue.

    Ben, I’m obviously not making myself clear enough so let me take another run up.

    When you say, “I can’t see how concern for Christian footings would justify a position of protesting to ethics but not to specifically non-Christian replacements. Are you being honest with yourself?” I think what you’re saying is “you’re not happy with ethics, but you are happy with Muslim/Hindu/anything-other-religious-scripture” and you’re challenging whether I’m being honest with myself.

    My quick response is yes I am. My longer response is that I revel in the pluralism of our society. I am staunchly of the opinion that as light is shone on ideas, they are shown for what they are. So I welcome ideas contrary to my own being presented in schools, provided they are badged as what they are.

    I feel a bit boxed in by your comments Ben, it’s almost like you’re suggesting that I’d be happiest in a Christianised version of the Shariah system. I wouldn’t, so before it gets said explicitly we’ll just put that to one side. I think it was a good move to allow other religious groups to hold classes in the SRE 1/2 hour time slot. My problem (as I mentioned above) is that the SJEC program does not teach objective, unbesmirched “ethics” (there is no such thing). It teaches western, secularist, relativist, utilitarian ethics. It would be akin to a Christian group coming into a school and offering “ethics” but actually explaining the gospel and the transformative power it has in the lives of every believer. See my problem? I think atheism should have a place in the scripture program (as it is, in a sense, a form of religious position). All I’m asking is that if it’s going to occupy the SRE time-slot it gets referred to as such.

    I do so love it when people call me anglocentric and imply that I am unaware of my sociological biases. I want to encourage you Ben to be slightly more cautious with the ad hominem. I wish it were true that all students got taught about other religions outside the SRE timeslot but this is also not the case. The curriculum has provisions for GRE (General Religious Education) but a tiny fraction of schools actually teach this in any part of their yearly program.

    Finally, I’m not going to apologise for the fact that Christians seem able to raise up a huge volunteer base for teaching scripture. Travel to most primary schools in Sydney and you’ll find a smorgasbord of scripture options – far from being “further marginalised” I would argue that some religions that have a smaller representation in society, say Islam for example, are in fact over represented. Not that I’m complaining, I’m merely suggesting that we don’t need to fear the big, bad hoard of Christian scripture teachers.

    • Benjimin

      I think the issue of refugees is both timely and more important than this one. The west is recently spending vast resources on a rather questionable means of intervention in some less developed parts of the world. If we adopted the attitude of “first, do no harm” I think we’d be hoping for long term mutual improvement through accommodating several million of the persecuted. Perhaps I was wondering how you came to campaign here on one issue over others?

      I guess the main point I wanted to make here is that a large segment of the population would prefer something else than the present options of SRE. It’s not just the people who dismiss each of today’s religions as “about as probable as the ancient Greek’s”. There’s the vast masses for whom religion is simply not that important to their weekly life (though they still might ostensibly identify with a particular faith). And there’s people who are deeply spiritual but still don’t support the SRE options at their local school (related to the principle which in the recent British election gave about a third of the people nearly half the representation whilst giving a different third of the people only a seventh of the representation – do you see what I mean by this?). Consequently, I think you agree this ethics course would be a very popular use of the SRE period. So I’d like to be able to understand a clearer justification of why you want to stand in the way of this.

      So I’m trying to grasp your core problem. Would you be opposed to the introduction of any new SRE option that exclusively focussed on “ethics”? Or is your complaint only with this SJEC-designed course? Is your main objection the relationship between the course content and title? (This seems superficial, but if so, would you be happy if they kept the title but adjusted the content to match, as well as vice-versa?) Do you agree ethics means “the study of right and wrong based on reason”?

      What do you see as the role of SRE? (I’m supposing part of it is to teach the facts of scripture/doctrine, part of it is to instil moral virtue, part of it is for group to have their faith nurtured and be led in worship. The first is also covered in GRE, the second permits relevance of ethics, the third is what I think many find objectionable.)

      I’m a bit confused as to your suggestion that atheism should have a place in SRE. They share no particular beliefs (considering a good method for uncovering truths about the world to be that which is already covered in science class, and treating no scripture with more privilege than other historical literature). Their scepticism says nothing in particular about morality. What would they teach? But you seem to be saying that any form of ethics is automatically entwined with atheism unless it is specifically grounded in a particular religious dogma?

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