You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it
So reads Matthew 16:18.
What a splendid analogue we have today with self appointed missionary and cross bearer, the Reverend Canon Dr. Evonne Paddison, receiving the blessing and permission of fellow Christian Peter Garrett. Also raised as an Anglican, if his desire was to transform from rock star to rock of foundation it has certainly been realised.
Garrett’s so-called “federal inquiry” into the proselytising of ACCESS Ministries and their stated, observed and reported intention to convert public school children has miraculously “cleared” them of doing any such thing. Backed by the insistence of devout Catholic and career Christian education whip, who recently became Victorian education minister, Martin Dixon, that not a single substantial complaint has been received, Paddison is now free to build. Of course Evonne never doubted the righteousness of her “God given open door”. The justified concerns raised and reported to ministers with the bipartisan staying power of wet tissue paper, were simply a grossly unfair “concerted attack”. As she reinforced, perhaps a little creepily at last Sunday’s Forward Together rally;
We know with absolute certainty that our message and the centre of our faith remains the same. It remains firm because the one we serve is the same yesterday, today… forever. And his purposes will not be thwarted.
In The Age today Jewel Topsfield and Dan Harrison report;
A FEDERAL investigation into the Christian group that provides religious education in Victorian schools has found no evidence that its chaplains tried to convert students in breach of government guidelines.
The federal and Victorian governments ordered inquiries after a recording emerged of Access Ministries’ chief executive Evonne Paddison telling a 2008 conference: ”We need to go and make disciples.” […..]
But federal Education Minister Peter Garrett said the investigation found there had been no breach of the guidelines and no further action would be taken. He said he had received an explanation for the comments made by Dr Paddison and was satisfied the group was not trying to convert students.
Access Ministries had recently sent a letter telling chaplains who also taught Christian religious education in schools to stop doing so to avoid any blurring of lines in the roles.
”There are very strict guidelines in place to ensure that chaplaincy service providers do not engage in proselytising or misuse their positions, and we will fully investigate any complaints,” Mr Garrett said.
Victorians and the Education Union who have voiced concerns – and voted for an end to ACCESS funding have every right to be appalled at this whitewash. The concerns raised are specific to CRE and the evangelical passion of volunteers. Volunteers who in the main have less than one days training. Manufacturing a “solution” wherein chaplains have been told to no longer conduct CRE is poppycock. More so, this raises an entirely new dynamic. Is Paddison now admitting chaplains did proselytise to children or is this just a token gesture to “avoid any blurring of the lines”? More so, it is totally dismissive of the needs of our multi-faith and multicultural society.
And intentionally so. Last month, for example, ACCESS Ministries and education department representatives were invited to partake in preparation, and contribute to genuine parental evaluation with Hawthorn West Primary’s school council. They played along only to apply pressure – after considerable grassroots effort – to withhold the survey. The stated reason? That the “survey withheld the fact that under the present legislation schools are obligated to offer special religious instruction when it is made available by providers”, suggesting that the council had overstepped it’s obligation to comply with the Education and Training Reform Act, 2006. In other words the thrust should have been “you have no choice”.
Finally, Garrett’s continued mantra of “the guidelines, the guidelines, the guidelines” being in place to prevent abuse of Paddison’s “God given open door” is laughable. Evonne Paddison is the real thing when it comes to snubbing “earthly laws”. Her aim is “to implant the gospel in every school” so that the ACCESS goal can be realised. Paddison wants to “reach every child in Victoria with the transforming love of God and His son, Jesus [and] through CRE we aim to reach 80% of primary school children by the year 2012”.
This is not a person who even considers the option of compromise, laying ownership to student issues such as “bullying, drugs and self worth… The need is great but God is greater”. The needs of students who are not Christian, not theistic, not heterosexual or not celibate are bound for the scrap heap. What’s worse is that it’s now clear ACCESS have a distinctly anti-science and anti-evolution theme to their teachings. God most certainly did not make the world and everything in it.
By 2050 when these students will be at the peak of their careers Australia’s population will have grown at a rate of 65% to an unsustainable 35 million. The global population will grow at a much smaller 38%. Land temperatures in Australia may be 5 degrees Celsius higher – with mean global rises at least 2.5 degrees. The very last thing our youngest minds need now is to be targetted by blinkered, if not arguably deluded zealots intent on pursuing demonstrably fatalistic falsehoods at the expense of anything, and anyone, else.
We recently found out her goal to “reach every child in Victoria” includes independent schools – some of her harshest critics. In the mind of a zealot like Paddison, a woman who sees herself as Jesus’ scarred disciple there must be no barriers to the divine plan she has been chosen to deliver. Despite children being at these schools for the benefits of a secular education Paddison sees it as her business to change this. Reported in an Age opinion piece two days ago, was Paddison’s pronouncement at the ACCESS rally;
Those poor independent schoolchildren – I don’t want them to miss out
One of the basic tenets of the Victorian Education Act is that public education should be secular, a sentiment that first emerged in the 19th century, and was reaffirmed in the past decade when the act was reviewed.
Herein lies the sheer temerity and arrogance of Evonne Paddison and her discriminatory view that “Without Jesus our students are lost”. Whilst a few anti-theistic voices are raised to claim that this means no religion in schools, the clearly specified intention in 1872 was that no religion should dominate to the detriment of any other. No doubt a wise choice in days when Protestant and Catholic rivalries were high, but there now can be only less doubt about the wisdom of this approach. Her defence is that CRE is “entirely voluntary… that’s the beauty of it”. But of course, this is in utter dissonance to her stated goals, aims and ambition. It is in every way offensive to parents who are essentially pressured to not evaluate CRE and to remember there is no choice. Or the hundreds and more parents fed up with having their children’s minds filled with confusing debris that clashes with family, diversity and social values. There is only compulsion.
The problem is very simple. The wording of the legislation includes the word “may” offer religious instruction. It is conveniently interpreted as “must” offer RI. From here flows the ridiculous notion that it is compulsory for schools to allow these misguided and opportunistic purveyors of fantasy and bigotry into our children’s presence and thence begin misrepresenting the very world in which they live. As Paddison declared at the EFAC National Conference – 2008;
We must give our children and young people a model of discipleship that promotes belief in, and responds to the word of God. And trains them to abide in it. It teaches and models for them the love of God and how to be in a community of faith to love one another and love God’s word. We need a model that is marked by fruit bearing and involves our young people in evangelicalism and disciple making.
We need a model that points to the glory of Christ in his incarnation his work on the cross his resurrection is exultation and sees his disciples continuing that work and reflecting in in his world. We are constantly tempted to water this down in order to attract young people through our activities, our music, our fun, or whatever it is. Resist the temptation to replace substance with superficiality.
Our gospel is not in need of massaging for acceptability. It alone will transform lives and bring salvation. My view is that we have every opportunity to create new congregations through our schools ministries, as we do this we have the responsibility to fulfill the great commission of making disciples. We need to see our Scripture teachers, our chaplains, especially as facilitators of this as established Anglican churches.
We need to be missional. As leaders in the church we are called to be leaders and enablers of god’s mission for his world…. Our task is to have a biblical model of discipleship that is presented in a contextually appropriate manner… What really matters is seizing the God-given opportunity we have to reach kids in schools. Without Jesus, our students are lost.
Our churches in the West are on a slow death march. We have the opportunity to create life. It may be uncomfortable but so what? What a commandment, make disciples. What a responsibility. What a privilege we have been given.
Let’s go for it.
Evonne Paddison is a clear and present danger to the psychological health of Victorian children. ACCESS ministries can be viewed as nothing less than a malignant and corrosive presence in our education system.
Peter Garrett must be proud that he is the rock on which this exploitation is being built.