School Chaplains – Making Disciples

make-disciples-textIn last night’s budget, the Abbott government commited a further $245 million to fund the presence of religious chaplains in state schools for the next five years.  This, despite the High Court having already ruled once that such funding is illegal and another decision pending,  following plaintiff, Ron Williams’ return to the High Court last week.

It is not for the High Court to decide on the value or otherwise of placing religious practitioners into schools at the expense of professionals with tertiary qualifications in psychology, counselling and youth work. The Williams decision will be made on the basis of whether the funding arrangements are permitted under the limited legislative parameters placed on the Federal government by the Constitution. 

The argument about whether chaplaincy is a wise or responsible use of public money must take place in the public square, not the High Court. It is for the Australian public to decide whether that money could be better spent on, say, disability services in schools, text books, better IT equipment, airconditioning, swimming pools, or, God forbid, tertiary trained, welfare workers with no particular religious axe to grind.

It is up to the Australian public to exert pressure on their political representatives – both Federal and state –  to end this cynical attempt to purchase the votes of an imagined ‘Christian constituency’.  At its worse, it is outright pork-barreling. At its best, it is pork-barreling combined with an ideological agenda to ‘re-Christianise’ a nation which is moving rapidly away from religious faith by infiltrating the educational incubators of our next generation of workers and leaders. 

The evangelistic tendencies of the mostly fundamentalist, Protestant, religious evangelists who profit from the National School Chaplaincy Program are inexplicably talked up as representing one of the key benefits of the program, while, at the same time frantically obfuscated to deflect criticism.

Chaplains are unashamedly in schools to inculcate ‘values’. They are religious chaplains for a reason: (there never were many truly  ‘secular’ welfare workers’, and the new budget provides only for those of a religious bent). 

John Howard said when he announced the program in 2006 that he was unashamedly calling them chaplains:

“Yes I am calling them chaplains because that has a particular connotation in our language, and as you know, I am not ever overwhelmed by political correctness. To call a chaplain a counsellor is to bow to political correctness. Chaplain has a particular connotation. People understand it, they know exactly what I am talking about.”

When atheist Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was grilled about her views on the chaplaincy program, she cowered in front of Australian Christian Lobby chief, Jim Wallace and recited a well-rehearsed:

“… my view about the chaplaincy program is yes, it would continue as a chaplaincy program, with everything that that implies.”

And yet, in the face of criticism from various quarters including teachers, parents, psychologists, members of non-Christian religious groups and secularists that the program breaches the spirit of the separation of church and state and compromises the principle of Australian education as ‘free, compulsory and secular’, its advocates stand, hand on Bible, and swear that the religious component is ‘incidental’ because chaplains are expressly forbidden from proselytising in the program’s guidelines.

Confusion reigned in the High Court, this week, when the Commonwealth solicitor-general and the QC representing Scripture Union Queensland made passionate representations about the value of chaplains as counselors – until it was pointed out by both one of the Justices and by Mr Williams’ barrister that the guidelines expressly forbid chaplains from counseling students. 

Mr Williams’ barrister also questioned how the inculcation of ‘values’ – put forward as a benefit of the program –  could be achieved when the specific values associated with religious chaplains (surely irrevocably entwined with the concept of following Christ and his teachings) were not permitted to be proselytised. 

Ron Williams, Hugh Wilson and I, of course, knew the answer to this question was that chaplains routinely counsel and proselytise in a clear breach of the National School Chaplaincy Program guidelines and Education Queensland policy. If they do not, there is really very little purpose to them being in schools beyond running crazy hair days and presiding over sausage sizzles.

So, I was not surprised, this morning, when a Twitter follower sent me a link to a blog called “The crossroad – thoughts on theology, society, justice and discipleship” by Daniel Baxter, a school chaplain who appears to be working in two state schools in Brisbane.

On 12 February, this year, Daniel wrote a blog in which he confessed:

“Discipleship is a journey where we are consistently changed, renewed and restored. It is ultimately a journey deeper into a relationship with Jesus, and to becoming more effective at seeing and establishing the Kingdom of God in our world. It’s a journey I am very passionate about personally, and it is my mission to disciple others, including kids and their families in the schools I work in, as well as those around me in church life. ” [Emphasis added]

I’ve taken a screenshot because experience has shown me that, once spotlighted, these kinds of frank statements tend to magically disappear into the ether.

Baxter Blog

Baxter’s words echo those of Evonne Paddison, whose organisation, Access Ministries, receives millions of taxpayers’ dolars to place chaplains and religious instructors in Victorian schools:

“What really matters is seizing the God-given opportunity we have to reach kids in schools. Without Jesus, our students are lost”.

“It’s important that the church recognize its commission is to make disciples. Our young people need Christ”.

“What a commandment, make disciples (of school children). What a responsibility. What a privilege we have been given. Let’s go for it!”

Similarly, ‘Sunshine’ who spoke for the ‘value’ of Hillsong’s ‘Shine’ program – which was (perhaps unwisely) touted by Scripture Union’s QC as one of the beneficial offshoots of chaplaincy – candidly reveals its real purpose of religion-in-schools in this video:

“This program’s important to me because it gives me an opportunity to connect with the girls out there; it gives the Church an opportunity to have a foot in the door … and to give them those principles that my mom gave me that I know they might not get if they’re not in a Christian family. I want to see these young girls come to knowledge of Salvation; to get to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.” – Sunshine Wretham, Shine promotional video

For those chaplains who might be a bit squeamish about openly flouting the rules the solution is easy – and we know it happens routinely; find vulnerable, unchurched kids and encourage them to attend a Scripture Union Queensland camp on the holidays, where the evangelising gloves can come off. It helps if you can encourage their friends to exert a little gentle peer pressure – “Oh come on, we’re all going! It’ll be fun!”

It is well meaning. I have no doubt of the sincerity of these ‘fishers of children’. But at its heart it is predatory behaviour and completely ignores the rights of parents – of all faiths and of none – to maintain control over this aspect of their childrens’ education and philosophical development. 

There is no doubt in my mind at all that the majority of chaplains see their role as making disciples of impressionable children. That their overriding mission in our country’s supposedly secular schools is conversion.

I find it offensive, in the extreme, that in a multi-faith, secular nation, our government is spending an obscene amount of money on this fundamentalist, ideological offensive at the expense of programs that would provide real, tangible benefits to our students. Surely they deserve better.

Chrys Stevenson

40 thoughts on “School Chaplains – Making Disciples

  1. Boris Kleiner

    I’d love to be involved, however, I tend not to bullshit, not to adults not to children. You want religion in schools, pick me! I’ll give them “Horrible Histories”

    1. Angela

      Even when I refused to allow my children to attend RE in a regional school, they were made to remain in the class where the indoctrination occurred. I countered by teaching them Monty Python’s “Galaxy” song & Horrible History’s “Natural Selection”… Life of Brian will be next. I thank god for these artists contributions to my children’s education. 😉

      1. Paul

        Well done Angela. Highlighting the irrationality of what they try to force upon the kids as fact, by making fun of it is worthwhile and fun. What a pity that it is necessary and that we are forced to pay for the indoctrination.
        I remember when I was a child I was told “this is true, fact because it is written in the bible”. I didn’t think to ask where the bible came from and no-one prompted me to. Fortunately I was able to tell my son where the bible came from and to explain that “this is what some people believe, you have to make up your own mind. He grew up to be a Monty Python fan too.

  2. Jayel

    Wish I could say I’m surprised but, of course, I’m not. What does continue to surprise me is that when I trot out countless examples of similar admissions of intent – whether by the foot soldiers or the commanders-in-chief (i.e. SUQ CEOs), people seem to go into three-monkey mode and refuse to recognise the glaringly obvious conflict of interest! I think banging my head against a real brick wall is preferable to trying to break through the religion-induced miasma that seems to surround this issue.

  3. Paul

    Dravo Chrys! you put it so much better than I could put it myself. I agree with everything you have said here. I am not an Atheist, I am a rationalist and I hate to see irrational indoctrination and I hate to see the tax I pay used for irrational indoctrination.

  4. Chrys Stevenson

    The Greens have been absolutely useless in opposing school chaplaincy. They flapped about a bit when the government decided to circumvent the Williams (1) decision with a Financial Amendment Act but voted for it anyway. The inability of the Greens to tackle this issue is a huge disappointment. Sarah Hanson Young has said she doesn’t object to chaplains being in schools if the ‘school’ decides that’s what they want. Problem is the ‘school’ is often a P&C which has been stacked with fundamentalists from the local Pentecostal church so it’s not exactly democratic!

    The Greens just don’t ‘get’ this issue and don’t seem to want to.

    1. Paul

      I am very disappointed with the greens on this. I nearly joined the greens but I am a bit too far left for them. The fundamentalist christian lobby is very powerful. I think the greens probably do ‘get’ it but need to “cover their arse”. Votes over principle.

      1. Vance

        The Greens appear to have finally found their principles :

        “We need qualified mental health professionals in our schools. Not more chaplains.”

        “The Greens believe funding for chaplains would be better spent on qualified mental health professionals in school – people who are trained to support the complex needs of students across Australia.

        Let’s send a message to the government that our students need access to professional mental health support at school.

        Take action and sign our petition if you agree.”

      2. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

        Vance, the Greens huff and puff about chaplaincy from time to time but have never found the intestinal fortitude to actually stand up and fight on the principle of secular public schools. Hugh Wilson from the Australian Secular Lobby explains:

        “The Greens have no policy, at the federal level, of support for secular public education.

        Their policy in relation to the NSCSWP school chaplains is to allow schools to decide whether or not to have them, so the Greens do not oppose school chaplains, and they all voted with every other MHR and Senator to undermine the Williams decision in the High Court.

        The Greens, along with the ALP and LNP, have a very long way to go in this area.”

        Sarah Hanson-Young is particularly wish-washy on her public pronouncements on chaplaincy. About the best we can get out of her is that the Greens are happy for the government to pay for religious evangelists to roam the playground if that’s ‘what the school wants’. Hanson-Young spins it that the Greens just want schools to have a choice. (Let’s all join hands and sing Kumbaya!). That’s not a stand for secular education! As Ron says, if the schools decided they needed more clowns in schools would we pay for that as well?

        If the Greens make any practical effort to block the passage of chaplaincy funding or oppose the new financial legislation purported to allow it to continue, I’ll go off the wagon and knock back a bottle of champers – but I think my calorie count is pretty safe for the forseeable future.

      3. Vance

        I can’t argue with any of that, Chrys.

        Maybe I’m just being overly optimistic, but the removal of the ‘secular’ option might have made the Greens realise that it’s a bad look for them to continue supporting the chaplaincy program. It is possible, though I’m not sure how likely, that Richard Di Natale’s secularist leanings could be having some effect on the party.

  5. Parent

    Here in Tasmania we know what the Scripture Union and some chaplains have been up to, due to the Scripture Union providing a social network chaplaincy blog for chaplains to share with supporters and sponsors. It is called pray pal. Even Leslie Cannold mentioned it in the past and made some comments about its content. Others have complained about its content in the past and new guidelines asking chaplains to not share details about students and their stories were put in place back in 2012. The problem was that this website was launched in 2008 by the scripture union but it appears that schools and parents knew nothing about it, until 2011 when some parents stumbled across it accidentally. It is still live on their site and the guidelines provide a good overview of what was happening online. I can’t believe that the scripture union would not remove this part of their site down after complaints were made.

    1. Chrys Stevenson

      The ‘secular counsellor’ thing was always a bit of a scam, anyway. I won’t say there weren’t *any* genuinely secular welfare workers, but they were as scarce as hen’s teeth. The parachurch organisations were supplying rebranded chaplains in most cases and, they aren’t ‘counsellors’ because they have no counselling qualifications (unless incidentally) and aren’t allowed to counsel. Sigh!

      1. John

        Very true. I wonder if this change was legally wise considering ‘Williams 2’.

        HAYNE J: Let me give the specific example I have in mind. Go back upon the pages we are at to the third dot point, under 1.4 about choice of using either religious or secular persons to deliver the service – that point – and that the choice is committed to the school.

        MR GLEESON: Yes.

        HAYNE J: Is the definition of the program one such that it would not encompass a subsequent decision of the Executive, saying new guidelines under this general program are promulgated by which we the Executive choose, and I do not care which way we go, either they must all be religious or they must all be secular, the persons who are supplying the services. Is that a new program, a different program?

        MR GLEESON: That is new and different and not authorised.

        HAYNE J: I see.

  6. Vance

    I wonder how many parents who read Daniel Baxter’s regular columns in the school newsletters are aware of his intention to “disciple others, including kids and their families in the schools I work in”.

    It seems he regards the ability to “disciple others” as more important than being honest with the school communities he supposedly serves.

  7. Prune

    Thanks! I see Lurchi, further upwards in the comments, had the very good sense to archive the material.

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  9. Damian Rokich

    Chrys Stevenson you are nothing but a liar.

    how do all you MORONS fall for all this load of bull crap.

    There is no reference to where any of this information came from.

    OK Chaplains have NOTHING to do with RELIGION…… and Chaplains are NEVER ANTI-GAY…..I went to a state high school and we had a Chaplain and he had nothing to with religion he was just a guy who would help us out when we needed help, and help with all the events, camps etc… was someone you could go and confide in, or talk to when you had troubles.

    This notion that the Federal government is funding a religious and anti-gay agenda is entirely made up.

    WHERE is the proof what so ever?

    This website?
    A couple of other websites written by who ever wanted to write it?

    IDIOTS check out this one… it appears just slightly more credible

    I found this related article in the same context as the one you are reading now, and it appears slightly more believable.

    More believable due to the lack of “religious” and “anti-gay” being described whatsoever in the $245 million dollar school chaplain funding in the federal budget

    And seems to be an international journalism source, not some lying IDIOTS blog.

    I wish you annoying lying idiots would stop posting such bollocks…..
    And I wish people would not simply believe everything they read and jump straight on the band wagon.

    I am disappointed in most of these people that commented before me on this page, you are gullible idiots.

    And the greens position on this – is irrelevant as the Greens party is irrelevant they are just a waste of space and would do the world a favour if everyone one of them just dropped dead.

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Damian, if they’re not religious why do they have to be … er … religious to get the job?

      This is a short post. You’ll find plenty of evidence here, direct from the religious horses’ mouths:

      And Damian, you’re welcome to comment here with views contrary to mine, but if you’re going to keep hurling around insults and calling me a liar you’ll quickly find yourself on the banned list. Please read the moderation guidelines under ‘pages’ (link at the bottom of the side bar).

    2. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Here ya go Damian, in case the ‘clicking hyperlinks’ thing is a bit too intellectually challenging for ya, here’s a quote from Evonne Paddison, CEO of Access Ministries – the group which supplies chaplains in Victoria:

      “Without Jesus, our students are lost…In Australia, we have a God-given open door to children and young people with the Gospel. Our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples. What really matters is seizing the God-given opportunity we have to reach kids in schools.
      We have the responsibility of fulfilling the great commission of making disciples. We need to see our scripture teachers, our chaplains especially, as facilitators. We need to be missional.”

      No doubt that she said it – she was recorded. You can listen in here (but you’ll have to master that clicky thing):

    3. Paul

      Damian. It is good form when calling someone a liar to present, at the very least, an example of a lie told by that person, along with a reasoned argument on why you consider the statement is a lie. In the absence of such the ‘call’ becomes turns back on the ‘caller’. Your comments about the greens also tell us more about you than the greens. If you look into the derivation of the word ‘idiot’ you will find that it can be traced back to ancient Greece where society was divided into the ‘polites’ and the ‘idiotes’. The polites participated in the democracy for the advancement of ‘polite’ society. The ‘ideotes’ were not interested in democracy and were interested in personal gain at the expense of others.

      1. Paul

        Only $700,000? Hardly living beyond his means.
        I only recently discovered the derivation of ‘idiot’ and am amused at how often it is inadvertently used correctly. Seems to me that dismantling of the ‘welfare state’ is idiotic.

    4. Pudni Wasti

      Damian, while you’re checking your dictionary for the actual meaning of the word “liar” (clue: it isn’t “person who disagrees with your viewpoint”), you may check out the word “chaplain”.

      Three definitions of the word exist in the Shorter Oxford, and each of them is related to religion.

      If you were a reading sort of chap, you might go back a few weeks in this blog to and read the words of Bret Walker SC – you may find out what the program is, and isn’t allowed to do, and may even be forced to admit it’s an obvious farce to pretend it’s anything but stealth evangelism.

    5. Vance

      I wouldn’t take Damian too seriously …

      He appears to have a Facebook group entitled, “I like to do peoples fucking heads in just for fun!”

      “For those who get entertainment out of confusing and wierding (sic) out other people for your own amusement.”

      He’s the only member.

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