Just in time for the Easter holiday, the Queensland Government Religious Instruction (RI) review of classroom material provided by Christians has been released.
The Godspace material published by Baptist churches of NSW and the ACT is criticised for encouraging evangelism. This concerns students talking to other students about Jesus, outside of the RI lessons.
The report says “While not explicitly prohibited by the [act and regulations], nor referenced in the RI policy statement, the Department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to students who do not participate in their RI class, given this could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.”
Examples included in Godspace lessons that the report objects to include
“Say: We can share these things with people who don’t know about Jesus”. “Prayer: Dear God, please help us to share what we know about Jesus with other people, and to use what we know to help others. Amen.” (Purple 2, p. 33)
“Say: Knowing about Jesus is a very important thing to know. We can tell others about Jesus too!”. “Prayer: Dear God, please help us to use our knowledge to help others. Especially help us to let others know about Jesus. Amen.” (Purple 2, p. 34)
“Encourage the group to think about things we could do for God, even if it takes a lot of courage, like: …. Making a speech at assembly about something that matters to God.” (Green 1, p. 118)
“Say: Yes! God wants us to use our words and actions to help others to follow Jesus.” (Purple 2, p. 15)
The report says “RI instructors should be reminded in the Teacher’s Notes for these lessons that students should not be encouraged to evangelise to other students at the school.” The report calls for the material in the lessons to be removed.
Other criticism of Godspace include descriptions of animal sacrifice in lesson about the Old Testament, and mentions of violence – although the report notes that Godspace generally avoids this.
The story of Daniel which includes a description of his diet of vegetables is criticised in the report. “This is inconsistent with the balanced and healthy eating promoted under the Department’s Smart Choices – Healthy Food and Drink Supply Strategy.”
ACCESS Ministries (a Victorian-based provider supported by a wide number of church groups) material was also criticised for suggesting students evangelise others although fewer examples are cited. The report includes this one “This is a simple card to invite the students to share the good news of Jesus’ birth with someone who does not do CRE. This might be a class mate, a friend or a relative” (Trek 2, Green Series, p. 81) . Suggestions that RI artwork could be left in a classroom on display was criticised.
Some examples are given of “drawing undue attention” to students who are different. This includes some examples from ACESS which appear well-intended. “You might like to show students some photos of disabled children being supported by a charitable organisation (see Cure International or Starlight Foundation)” (Search 1, Green Series, p. 46).
“Interview the student who played Bartimaeus. Ask him what it felt like to be a blind beggar. Explain to students that a blind beggar would have been the lowest of the low in that society – helpless and
useless, totally dependent on others” (Quest 2, Yellow Series, p. 12)
The Review of the Connect material published by the Sydney Anglican Youthworks, resulted from a complaint by a school principal that the Connect material involved “proselytising”. The report highlights the following statement “Although outside the scope of this review, it is noted that legal advice provided by faith groups has indicated the view that there is no legislative basis for prohibition of proselytising in the [act and regulations]. The Department’s Legal and Administrative Law Branch supports this view.”
Despite this the report is concerned that RI students may be encouraged to evangelise outside the RI lessons. They find two examples of this in Connect. “Students could compose a poem, song, drama to communicate the gospel to others” (Upper Primary, B2, Lesson 18, p. 190).
“Students could make beaded bracelets or necklaces and give them to their friends as a way of sharing the good news about Jesus” (Lower Primary, C2, Lesson 17, p. 153). The report wants these suggestions removed.
The report was unsure whether activities such as handling out leaflets about church events was direct proselytising.
But the report also stated “Direct quotes from the Bible were not considered as proselytising on the basis that parents of children attending these RI classes have indicated an affiliation with Christianity or a desire for their child to learn about it.”
Connect gets praise for responding to departmental concerns.
“The publishers of Connect advise they are continuing to review the materials to ensure they remain relevant. It seems that substantial work has gone into removing the perception of proselytising from the publications (for example, through the preface added to the whole class concluding prayers which provide the option to participate).
“Youthworks has advised the Department on several occasions in correspondence, and in the media, that the publishers are willing to work with the Department to improve the Connect resources.”
In reviewing the three sets of materials the reports do not find major issues with the RI material. The Queensland department calls on the three providers to perform what they call “minor edits” only.
Some prayer points to help
Pray for the providers of the RI material, Godspace, ACCESS and Youthworks as they respond to the report’s comments on their work
Pray for the RI volunteer teachers in Queensland as they prepare their lessons for next term in the light of this report
Pray for good relations between school and RI teachers.