Disunity for ACCESS

The decision by Uniting Church to form a task force and probe it’s relationship with ACCESS ministries, in addition to how best to teach Christian education, is welcome news. As reported UC have “backed away from supporting the beleaguered agency.”

It’s not difficult to see why. ACCESS ministries, under Evonne Paddison is broken. It can no more fulfill it’s obligations under the education act than Alan Jones can deliver a balanced lecture on climate change science. Despite all the fluff and damage control of late it’s clear even more now that as far as respecting parental wishes and acknowledging the flaws of proselytising nothing has changed.

From the earliest days of dissent with the ACCESS monopoly, to exposure of Evonne Paddison’s blueprint for converting students and raising congregations within schools, to the so-called Federal Inquiry into adherence to education guidelines, one theme has persisted. That aggressive secularism and atheism is behind the criticism of ACCESS. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paddison is a victim of her own arrogance and delusion.

Her monochrome vision means one is either a Christian or an anti-theist driven by the need to attack the messengers of God. When it became manifestly clear that Christian families were dissatisfied with her manipulation of the secular system, she resorted to intimidation. In another theme that’s become all too common, the Education Department did her dirty work.

The feverish evangelical fervour of ACCESS ministries has proven time and again that it is at variance with mainstream Christianity and education guidelines that stipulate proselytising is forbidden. Concerned Victorians have been awarded lip service from ACCESS ministries and recidivist impotence from federal and state education ministers. Yet as so eloquently scribed by Rev. Ronald Noone in May this year, not only does Evonne Paddison believe her vision is just because “students are lost without Jesus”, such a claim is “manifestly untrue”. Elaborating, Noone continues;

There is, of course, a certain kind of evangelical Christian who believes the message is the same regardless of the context in which it is expressed. They believe this task is carrying out the God-given role assigned to them – to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all (Matthew 28). Given this is a primary text for many evangelicals, is it any wonder that conversion is an aim of their presence in school classrooms?

In contrast to a parish setting, a classroom is where formal education takes place and the overall aim is to promote knowledge and understanding of the ways in which human beings have made sense of the spiritual dimension in all of human experience. […] The classroom is a place to promote intellectual rigor and provide a context of genuine enquiry and where respect for religious traditions is matched by an honest and open appreciation of the theological, philosophical and exegetical complexities embedded in religious beliefs, texts, traditions and cultures. It is not a place for narrow forms of instruction.

As I noted recently, far from appreciating such an axiomatic notion, Paddison’s disdain for those who would articulate it came a week later in a Crosslight article, Christian religious education takes a secular beating;

What has developed over a few short months is a deliberate attempt by the media to start a faith war  – to divide Christians against other Christians; faiths against faiths; congregations against congregations.

It’s sensationalist journalism – find a schism in the foundation, a rat in the ranks, report the division and watch the Letters to the Editor or the news blog implode with atheistic comment. [….]

With 12 million Christians in Australia, and nearly 65 per cent of parents opting their children into CRE classes, Christians too should have a choice.  Detractors claim that CRE should be confined to Sunday. I’ve got news for them – God is with us, always, not just on the day of rest.

The tone is unmistakable and that anyone or any minister could be fooled into trusting such a person beggars belief. For thirty four minutes at the 2008 Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion Evonne Paddison spelled out her plan to save Australian churches from “a slow death march”, through the application of CRE. We can be in no doubt about, and must not waver toward accepting excuses for, Paddison’s intention to shirk legislative responsibility in favour of theocratic vision.

Much has been made of her comments to “make disciples”. But the speech contained far more insight into her conviction to the cause. It’s important Victorians never loose sight of this intent. Being a key stake holder for direction and tactics of the National School Chaplaincy Association, all Australians should be wary of Evonne Paddison’s arguably ruthless dedication to pure evangelism.

Proud to proclaim the ACCESS vision is “to reach every child in Victoria through the transforming love of God and His son, Jesus” (see video below) the 2008 EFAC performance is robust confirmation of her intent to use the privileged position held by ACCESS. This is no “bread and butter” Christian values at play here. The welfare of children or wishes of parents outside of “Christ’s new society”, as she calls it is of no moment. She seeks to;

…promote the same marks of discipleship for young people as those that the Bible presents to us. But of course, in a way that is appropriate and contextual to them. The first step in becoming a disciple is clearly believing, but so many of our young people have never heard the gospel.

Paddison stated that children and students are the greatest mission field for disciple making in Australia. Happy to admit classrooms are being used for ministry in place of education, “both at state level and at national level both in government and non government schools”, she goes further;

… but we must ask how much of that ministry is actually resulting in Christian conversion and discipleship growing and resulting in church growth? We have a huge challenge ahead of us. We must develop the right attitude and framework and goals and models in order to see not only Christian ministry taking place but conversion, discipleship and commitment to a Christian faith community.

We reached 250,000 children every week. Our goal is to double those numbers. However despite all the ministry going on here in Victoria and across Australia we need to recognize that what isn’t happening and what isn’t happening is a connection between school and church.

There’s no question that to be a Christian is to belong to Jesus’ church. Membership of a faith community is vital. And our model for discipleship must include this. [….] We need to be like Jesus who became one of us and pitched his tent in order to reveal grace and truth….

In this way we will show that Christ and his church provide a love more true than those available in popular culture. And importantly can I urge we must move them to an acceptance of the centrality of Scripture. Through modeling our own adherence to it. Making it central to any gatherings we have with them and showing it as a door or two growing in a relationship with Jesus.

One can be forgiven for being confused about the actual beneficiaries. Paddison even instructs her lackeys to hold to Trinitarian logic, “in our encounter with students”;

Our engagement must show that Jesus is the best of all choices. Do not water it [Scripture] down. We have to reflect the relationships of the persons of the Trinity in our relationships in Christ’s new society. As we develop this perspective in our encounter with students we will tap into their longing for belonging and acceptance that has grown out of a world of divorce and division.

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.

As we know, Evonne Paddison did not budge, insisting that her speech had been taken out of context. Eventually in late July the Commonwealth Ombudsman criticised management of the National Chaplaincy Program. ACCESS went into damage control.

Paddison claimed to “strongly support” the finding of the Ombudsman. “Public debate about religion in schools is nothing new”, we’re told pleasantly and has “it’s genesis” in the case being brought before VCAT and the NSCP High Court challenge. Evonne could now “acknowledge” some debate arose about her speech, but ACCESS still had no compromise to make. In a video of Paddison reading from script we’re told;

I accept that parts of that speech could have better emphasised that ACCESS ministries does not and never has condoned proselytising in schools. I understand how people could have interpreted it otherwise… that was never my intention. What I meant is that ACCESS ministries has an opportunity to teach children what Christians believe.

ACCESS ministries forbids proselytising and we continue to respect the context in which we honour our privilege and serve the school community. The federal government recently conducted an investigation… and found no evidence that we had tried to convert in breach of government guidelines.

What a joke. It’s intriguing to imagine how she tries to pass off similar lies to honest colleagues, genuine educators and fellow board members with integrity.

Although her influence remains a problem, Paddison is foolish to think her legion of opponents can be tarred with the brush of “secular” and “atheist”. Which brings us back to Uniting Church. Barney Zwartz writes;

THE Uniting Church, one of the key partners in Access Ministries that provides religious education in Victorian primary schools, has backed away from supporting the beleaguered agency.

The church’s state synod (parliament) declined to vote on a proposal that the church continue to support the work of Access, instead forming a task group to explore the relationship between it and the synod, and how best to teach Christian education. [….]

Annette Blaze, a Uniting Church representative on the Access board, proposed that the synod support Access, suggesting the ministry was victim of a campaign to attack the Christian base of Australia’s culture and noting that investigations by both state and federal education ministers found criticisms of Access were unfounded.

But the synod opted for a proposal by Macedon Ranges minister Avril Hannah-Jones to investigate the Access curriculum. ”There have been complaints. Some, clearly from the secular and new atheist perspective, I thought we could discount, but some came from parents and Uniting Church volunteers which I thought were worth exploring,” Dr Hannah-Jones told The Age last night.

Hannah-Jones’ comments themselves should be cause for concern. Paddison may well be the most vocal, the most corrupt, the most malignant presence in a secular education system. But the impact of religiously inclined ministers is reflected in the confidence by which Hannah-Jones marks her territory. Those with a differing ontology to the steadily declining view that Christianity has merit, much less meaning, have been, are being and will continue to be discriminated against. Yet still their complaints may be automatically “discounted”.

Still, there is well earned and justified schadenfreude here for those who see the value of religious education in a modern secular society. As I said at the beginning the typical theme has been that any dissent can be written off as unwarranted attack. A plot, a plan, a conspiracy amongst the angry. How delightful then that all this time later, the defence is the same.

Despite Paddison’s grovelling act, ACCESS board member Annette Blaze can only resort to the standard mantra of fallacious personal incredulity. There is “a campaign to attack the Christian base of Australian culture”.

Although demonstrably false, the official line again it seems is that ACCESS is “a victim’.

Reaching every child in Victoria through the transforming love of God and His son, Jesus