Restricted ACCESS

Religious Education in Victorian public schools is a weeping sore of deception and dissatisfaction for providers and parents respectively.

ACCESS ministries provide 96% of classes in a strong monopoly crafted to convert students and save Christian churches from “a slow death march”. ACCESS apologists frequently point to the “other faiths”, Jewish, Christian Orthodox, Ba’hai, Muslim. The glaring absence in this well rehearsed mantra is the rapidly growing Hindu religion. As she’s proven time and again, ACCESS CEO Evonne Paddison and her minions see their mission as absolute. She has openly boasted that ACCESS is “in the business of transforming lives” and as God’s agents, will come under attack.

Deception, nasty tactics, foul politics and damaged children are as nothing to a divine calling;

We must give our children and young people a model of discipleship that promotes belief 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 his exultation and sees his disciples continuing that work and reflecting it 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. [Source]

The arrogant, iron-like grip of ACCESS ministries backed by state and federal education ministers is like pouring salt on that weeping sore. Their dominance and rigidity has evoked strong responses from parents of all faiths and of no faith, who wish for a general education about different religious persuasions and doctrines. In our multicultural, multi-faith community the notion of a monopoly in one uncompromising faith doesn’t sit well.

Equally, the hint of dissent has evoked strong combative responses from defenders of RE and particularly Paddison who on June 1st bemoaned, “a deliberate attempt by the media to start a faith war – to divide Christians against other Christians; faiths against faiths; congregations against congregations”.

Understandable dear reader. If history has taught us anything it is that religious faith cannot possibly be responsible for creating any division or unrest. Much less “wars”. It must be those journalists. Those scribes! After all – Matthew 23:13;

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

And you thought the Murdoch dynasty was a mere three generations. But seriously, fortunately humankind saw the wisdom of the written word and the ideas it carries with it. Pharisees didn’t fare so well. Evonne Paddison may never see the irony in her far distant echo of the need to silence independent thought and stifle it’s distribution. Or the absurdity that the above nonsense comes from the very source of “truth” so many of ACCESS’ devotees depend upon. She further ranted that the Christian faith was under attack, taking a “secular beating” no less.

Parents who, due to current guidelines will be arguing religious discrimination against non-Christian children to VCAT this December, are “a rat in the ranks”. Questioning the Religious Education Act is “a schism in the foundation”, reported sensationally and promoting “atheistic comment”.

In one of her most memorably offensive and fallacious appeals to authority she waxes lyrical, lying about state and federal ministers “professing their faith for the first time”. Then taking Aussies for the fools she would dearly love them to be, unwittingly reminds us of the unwelcome political power of The Australian Christian Lobby;

Our own Prime Minister, an avowed atheist, even referred to the relevance of The King James Bible in one’s life

The entire article, Christian religious education takes a secular beating, is a fascinating read and I include it because of it’s divisive tone. Void of the so-called “values” ACCESS lay claim to, the undertone is distinctly vicious. It’s a snapshot of the ACCESS psychology. Not only unable to accept the ontology of others, this mindset is unable to realise that it’s own privilege exists, much less being unsustainable in the present day. Much has been, and should be, made of Paddison’s 2008 speech at the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion about the need “to go and make disciples”.

Indeed, far more damaging fundamentalist claptrap peppers that speech and we can be in no doubt it is the standard by which ACCESS has set it’s sights. ACCESS isn’t just about having faith or promoting the benefits of mature belief. The convictions held are in simple terms, right out there. Their God is one who talks to them, touches them, shows them the way and intercedes directly in our world on a daily basis.

As Christine Burford, ACCESS chaplain said on ACCESS Sunday, reciting a sermon formatted by Evonne Paddison;

No matter what it takes, God’s got a plan and he’s gunna bring it to pass, he’s Sovereign. The devil is “a living enemy” who (apart from tormenting Christine with temptations of “flesh”) “would want to undermine us as people”. People are “the helpless sheep”, saved by God.

Evonne Paddison’s blinkered view can in some ways be summed up in a simple observation she makes in the piece on taking a secular beating. Complaints had been received about children colouring in sheets saying “Jesus loves me”. Paddison observes, “If we can’t make that claim as a faith educator (my emphasis) what is left?” In truth if you make that claim at all you are not a faith educator but one who proselytises. One who fails to see the flaw in perpetuating an untruth about a purportedly magical Jew who may never have existed. This cult of the zombie messiah deeply, deeply offends so many millions today. It’s continued presence is testament in part to the tactics and power of it’s defenders.

Yet still today in the second decade of the 21st century we find the dominant voice is that in defence of religion’s “good”. Certainly confidence in this fact buoyed by political backing and theistic delusion spurred Paddison to maintain her rigid disdain for months. Not until the last week of July, when the Commonwealth Ombudsman criticised the National School Chaplaincy Program did Paddison blink. Suddenly debate about religion in education was “nothing new”. Ever so calm, she could “understand” why certain people misunderstood her 2008 speech. A video appeared on the ACCESS ministries website to this effect, although it’s a futile effort. Her “argument” of denial is deconstructed here, using her own words.

I’ve no doubt that despite clumsy attempts at damage control ACCESS ministries seeks to minister in Victorian classrooms, convert students and save those who “are lost”. A board member of Arrow Leadership which is bound by the evangelical manifesto, The Lausanne Covenant, she is committed to “making disciples of every nation”. Paddison’s devotion to this task is absolute. From 2008;

Reflecting his glory will inevitably mean following his path of humiliation and loss for the sake of bearing fruit. For the sake of winning others. These then are the principles for discipleship for all generations. Paddison quotes Amy Carmichael. “Can one have followed far who has no wound? No scar. Christ has called us to follow him through the glory of suffering to the glory of eternity”.

Belief is suffering. Suffering and humiliation for the purpose of converting others. Judged by ones scars, it’s unlikely anything as puny as respect for dissenting belief or no belief will permeate. Eyes front soldier – on “the glory of eternity”. At the ACCESS Forward Together rally last July 17th Paddison spoke of their difficulties, reminding that their faith;

“… remains firm, because the one we serve is the same yesterday, today and forever. And His purposes will not be thwarted!”

So I wasn’t terribly surprised to find that an afternoon for FIRIS parents to meet with Bishop Stephen Hale, Chair of ACCESS ministries (and fellow board member of Arrow leadership), offered little. It was billed partly as “primarily an opportunity for ACCESS to clarify it’s programme and philosophy and hopefully respond to any misunderstandings”. Under the auspices of interfaith General Religious Education advocate, Rev. Paul Tonson the law was laid down. Tonson wrote;

I am grateful today for a respectful phone call from FIRIS and the opportunity to show my openness to the viewpoint of the group. We will welcome at the conversation anyone who is prepared to respectfully promote a range of viewpoints, with the attitude of seeking understanding. However, this occasion will be primarily an opportunity for ACCESS to clarify its program and philosophy and hopefully to respond to any misunderstandings. It may be possible to hold a subsequent conversation with a FIRIS representative.

Members of FIRIS may be interested to know that there are those voices within the churches that would strongly advocate GRE approach to religious education, as for example is already well modelled by professional teachers of DAN, (Dialogue Australasia Network).

“However, this occasion will be primarily an opportunity for ACCESS to clarify its program and philosophy and hopefully to respond to any misunderstandings.” What we got from the 90 minutes was a highly choreographed and strictly coordinated affair consisting of something like a “One on One” with Bishop Hale (pictured). We were treated to his early years and how he came to Christianity. Determined to forgo his Confirmation his mother made sure he went through with it. He even attempted to fail an exam that applied at the time. Later he was drawn in by his brother…. The relevance to CRE quickly became a display of tokenism.

I sat there watching two grown men talking about God, Christ and the joys of religious instruction for children in a display of special pleading and argument from final consequence. The pointlessness of seeking rationale with the fundamentalist mindset was crystalised. These two men honestly believed their own accounts of abandoning reason and evidence were pertinent to Victorian education policy. As with so many times before, that feeling of deep offence took hold as our beautiful, inexplicable world we visit with this one imperfect, unique chance at life was metaphorically hacked into superstitious ramblings.

At times the discussion seemed like a predetermined agenda to protect Hale and the ACCESS creed. To resell a newly packaged scam with the “interfaith” jingle. It was quickly and subtly made clear that despite the import of CRE to those with no faith or an agnostic viewpoint that in essence RE would leave them on the outer. That each man was as atheistic toward the other’s beliefs as an “atheist” is to monotheism was evidently lost on both. Belief was elevated as a special virtue, reason ignored.

I appreciate Tonson’s general interest and intent. Yet there’s little doubt he’s suffering the existence of non theism. The term “coordinator” was an exaggeration. Whilst in a position to probe Hale about the reality of ACCESS’ abuse of a privileged position, or what was to be made of other theists, such as Rev. Ron Noon calling Hale’s bluff, he didn’t do so. Nor did he probe him on the growing dissent amongst Uniting Church members about the ACCESS direction or the gulf between Paddison’s blood and guts warrior worship and the gentle Salvation Army persona. In fact the entire topic of fundamentalism being called for what it was by countless of Christians and most of Victoria was studiously avoided.

His role seemed to promote Hale and stifle dissent when an answer was crucially needed. As one who seeks to instill religio-superstition as vital to ethics in the classroom I guess this isn’t surprising. As one who seeks to see education about religion spread more widely he is to be congratulated. Yet convinced that the corrosive and ineffectual nature of demonstrably false and malignant belief systems deserve a special role, he is quite simply in error. Hale’s boyish defences were the perfect cover for a member of Arrow Leadership. Intent to “make disciples of every nation”, brushing off the concerns of parents would be essential.

GRE must never become a free kick for the promotion of servitude as ethical maturity or of the intellectual paucity of belief as an educated, humane choice. Yet though Paul Tonson had intoned thoroughly on his intent to run the discussion, at times Hale was in control applying band aids to the wreck of ACCESS ministries. As time passed the hoped for opportunity that Hale would “respond to any misunderstandings” clearly became wishful thinking.

Hale was given a chance to reinforce that yes, being a Christian to him meant making disciples and being a disciple. But not to worry, ACCESS was not about converting children and “if Evonne was here, she’d be the first to admit”, her speech had been taken out of context. The bible of course is what is meant by “the gospel” and just a cursory little brush to see where Christian values come from, he fumbled. Reminiscent of Paddison’s account of Gillard reading the St. James Bible, Hale proffered;

Even Richard Dawkins says you cannot understand Western civilisation without understanding the bible

There was more clumsy damage control. Whilst at least not pretending to be about education, and admitting ACCESS was all about instruction, it was merely in those typical “values” that Christian apologists seem to think humankind is naturally bereft of. We got more of the falsehood that no complaints have been raised and no sustainable complaints with the education department were to be found. They’re only doing what the education act stipulates anyway and any dissent is as misplaced as it is bemusing.

After 45 wasted minutes we “broke for questions”. One parent stressed how the present system had distressed his children. One son had expressed how severe the ostracism was in dividing his small social circle. Hale was sorry. “It shouldn’t be happening”. John Bornas spokesperson for FIRIS challenged Hale over Paddison’s intentions, clearly spelled out as the ACCESS blueprint. Not only was she about making disciples she felt every child needed a relationship with Christ and that “without Jesus our students are lost”. Her aim was to make disciples who would make more disciples – become teachers and recruitment agents themselves.

Hale’s answer was to shrug off the meaning of these claims, again reinforcing that Paddison had been clear in tidying up this “misunderstanding”. He left out that she’d queried as a challenge how many church attendances and conversions were resulting from ministry at state and national levels. How much discipleship, church growth and school based congregation were CRE volunteers able to lay claim to. The gospel was “not to be watered down” but implanted in schools, Paddison had taught.

There’s no indoctrination, Hale insisted and the guidelines were clear about this. More allusion to doing what was expected of them. It was almost as if ACCESS was the messenger for the government. There are no complaints, you see. Another parent raised the issue of her children being segregated and curriculum time wasted, getting much the same vapid stare from Hale and mumbled assistance from Tonson that changes would be likely. Tonson did a good job of keeping Hale from pressured questions exerting his role as coordinator when the heat was on. Problems are the education departments responsibility. Being “sorry” was Hales.

After a short breather, Hale took centre stage again to discuss General Religious Education – GRE. This is what parents are wanting. An opportunity to learn about the religions of the world with personal religious and faith matters kept as private matters or if necessary, during out of school hours. This is also what gets ACCESS so worked up. The suggestion that their goal of converting be threatened. They must, as Paddison instructed, “promote the same marks for discipleship for young people as the bible presents. But of course it must be appropriate and contextual for them. The first step in becoming a disciple is believing”.

It’s known from the 2006 Census that Hinduism is the fastest growing religion in Melbourne. Acting CEO Rev. Denise Nicholls chimed in with a claim that she is in frequent contact with “her counterparts” from other faiths, who don’t want GRE. This is evidenced by the “seventy or so” Hindu volunteer positions that have been created.

So there’s no need for education about other religions. Instruction must stay – this is what’s wanted they misled the audience. Besides (repeating one of Paddison’s favourite misconceptions) it’s entirely voluntary. With one stroke the plethora of complaints and legal action stemming from this “voluntary” monopoly was swept aside. This is typical of Nicholls, with a history of lies to media interviewers and parents. Could anyone forget her smirking appearance on The 7 Pm Project in late May?;

We unashamedly teach the Christian faith, that’s what we do, that’s what we’re allowed to do in government guidelines, and that’s what parents are happy for their children to receive. We still live in a country of faith, where people have a faith and how important faith is to them will of course vary from person to person.

Hale did acknowledge that the most important factor in a child’s spiritual development are parents. If parents bring them up not to believe in God, “then that’s more than likely how they’re going to end up”, he offered with a hint of despair. It was clear this was not good enough for Hale. After all he’s devoted to “making disciples of every nation” and we’d just heard how important this very belief was to his entire life.

As if channeling Evonne Paddison’s complaint that “some children never know the gospel, never know Christ”, Hale slipped up trying to convince the audience ACCESS respect parents decisions. “We only have a very small window of opportunity every week but parents are the ones who have the full opportunity, and we respect that”. But we know this is false, as time and again Paddison relays stories of students who “come to Christ” thanks to ACCESS and as such are able to later convert their godless parents.

“Opportunity to do what?” John Bornas challenged. Hale began to open up about instructing the gospel. Bornas challenged, “But you just said….”, only to be rudely cut off by Tonson who could see exactly what was about to happen. Hale’s house of cards was about to fall down under the weight of his treasured half hour per week. I had trouble accepting that Tonson’s chosen sequence of questioners should take precedence over such an admission of deception by Hale. Was time really so tight? No. So, what was Tonson’s motivation for saving Hale from “responding to [this] misunderstanding”?

Sadly, the issue of volunteers receiving just 6 hours training was lost in the early claims of Tonson that – like him – so many volunteers were trained teachers. I wondered if Paul Tonson would have his front porch painted by a company with a handful of trained painters. Before anyone could get a chance to ask why ACCESS wanted a chaplain attached to schools with the view of making “congregations” of students, our time was up.

The forum certainly wasn’t a waste of time. It marks recognition of the need and right for discussion when previously denial was the norm. Chatting to parents later however, many felt it was more of the same. Concerns raised respectfully were of course, all dismissed as aberrations. ACCESS have no intention of changing course. The good train ACCESS ministries hurtles on with truly dangerous people behind the controls. We can expect nothing more than obfuscation in place of reciprocation.

That festering sore will for now, remain.

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The SRI Song

A rare glimpse into the world of ACCESS Ministries CRE volunteers.

The SRI Song

Never mind the bollocks – bring on the School Chaplains

I was perhaps as surprised as annoyed to hear former Liberal party MP Ross Cameron feign disinterest in the present disquiet surrounding school chaplains, on a recent episode of The Drum.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has made 8 recommendations that underscore failures of very basic compliance and accountability. The wider implication of Peter Garrett’s iron clad “guidelines” being fatefully porous and gouged like the side of the sinking Titanic, must raise serious concerns. But Cameron almost seeks to ridicule by “regarding it as the smallest of small beer”.

Insultingly he likens this group peppered with creationists and demon exercising fundamentalists who have “unfettered” access to small children, to Australia’s war time chaplains. He offers;

Our troops have been taking chaplains into war zones for 200 years – I’m sure they can cope with a playground.

Responding to a question on proposed increased funding for psychological services for students, Cameron doesn’t want to “create a generation of victims… life involves knocks”. Surely then, this is an admission as to the ingenuous claims of the NSCP itself. Chaplaincy promoters purport to be there to help children with the very “knocks” he alludes to. Bullying, sexual orientation, bereavement, friendship problems, study load, anxiety, etc.

But Cameron’s true bias is quickly revealed. Hot on the heels of his foot in mouth rebuttal to stated NSCP aims he continues;

… life involves knocks. I just think what you have here is the Greens who want to de-carbonise Australia but they also want to de-Christianise Australia, while I’m not there, you know, wanting to insist on Scripture being taught in a certain way or insist on a certain number of chaplains in schools… I’m not offended by it, it doesn’t bother me if it continues, I don’t think it’s perfectly done but I think it’s a net benefit.

In short he has very little idea but will take the “Greens conspiracy” angle to suit his own aims.

Perhaps the most revealing aspect of chaplaincy comes from Christine Burford, a chaplain with ACCESS Ministries. Christine spoke on ACCESS Sunday, raising eyebrows and serious concerns. I was asked by the fine folk over at Fairness In Religions In School back then to put together some of the weirder stuff Christine said  It turned out there was quite a bit. Christine didn’t disappoint me and the video below is the result.

Whilst Christine dons the warrior for God persona, bemoaning “attacks” on ACCESS Ministry, I am still pondering how she’d go in a war zone, Ross.

The Devil is a “living enemy” says Christine Burford of ACCESS Ministries. Yet whilst God’s love is more powerful “be prayerful [don’t] fall into cockiness”, she advises speaking at Naringal Baptist Church on ACCESS Sunday.

Christine was “a lost sheep”, thinking independently at school and committing acts of wanton sailing by the age of 21. Fortunately, whilst in PNG in a “little thatch church” God “apprehended” Christine and “said will you trust me, now will you let me take over your life”. That was “a major significant experience”, Christine understates with absolute seriousness but now of course sees “many hands of God over my life”.

Apart from having a one way conversation with a deity who wanted to take over her life (she seemingly acquiesced), Christine also opines as to the “small groups with different world views”. Far from being just those who don’t hear God ask to take over their lives, it appears there’s a perceived attack on those who don’t hallucinate.

“We face the world… secular situations with other world views who have a loud voice and penetrate a swell, to bring unrest and undermine the work of God in schools and of course ACCESS Ministries does represent God, so it’s gunna be attacked”.  In fact Christine likens this “opposition” (of having a different world view) to the opposition to the rebuilding of the ancient biblical wall of Jerusalem. Strangely, I didn’t see that coming – seriously!

Delusion, arrogance and battle regalia aside, all thinking Australians must by now be asking just what is our government doing handing money to a group that propagates and perpetrates the type of far, far “out there” biblical fundamentalism that has wrought so much division and plunging educational standards in American schools. Whatever “values” our children are receiving it’s coming from people who dismiss any other ontology or interpretation as an attack – as unGodly. They alone hold the key to our kids salvation.

Incredibly, free thinking and moderate Christians apparently do not “represent God” in the view of ACCESS Ministries. Never mind the unbelievers of other faiths that make up an ever growing proportion in Australian society or the “secular situations” like those which are designed to protect education from exactly this type of abuse.

Who needs bollocks when we have “truth” like this?

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it

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

Talk about overstepping obligations to the Victorian Education Act. As the opinion piece pointed 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.

Peter Garrett accepts ACCESS Ministries “self certification”

Yesterday saw the release of a much needed review into the transparency of our Therapeutic Goods Administration. It was needed for many reasons. One deeply concerning issue is the sheer volume of “alternative” ineffective concoctions making grandiose claims without public awareness that there’s no scientific evidence to back these claims.

Products adorning the shelves of all pharmacies claiming to “boost immunity”, “ward off fatigue”, “improve sleep” and so on, do not, under current legislation have to prove they are effective. They must more or less comply to a list of relatively risk free ingredients and the sponsors must merely “self certify” that there is evidence that they work. With these trivialities out of the way, Dr. Hokus and Professor Pokus are free to scoop as much money from a gullible public as they wish.

On the positive side one must “opt in” to the notion that Essence of Moonbeam will improve cognition and memory. We are not obligated by medical legislation to buy these products simply because we’ve walked into a public pharmacy – usually in pursuit of pharmaceuticals. There’s no charismatic charlatan shoving colourful books at our children indicating in comic format that a dose of Liquid Liveliness or a particular ritual meditation will see a cadaverous little Johnny up and springing about with his friends. It isn’t compulsory that children be followed to the dispensary by someone arguing that medications are really drugs and we all know what happens to Drug Users! Warning that the “pharmacist is a friend of The Underworld Gangsters”.

No volunteers are proselytising that natural preparations are the path to true health salvation. The way to live a long and happy life. Certainly there’s nobody leading our children aside and telling them if they don’t spend up big on snake oil horrific things will happen to them. They aren’t fed exciting stories about the poor child on antibiotics for chronic bronchitis who followed a friends advice and switched to Himalayan bark mold and now enjoys robust health. Our children wouldn’t have to endure stories about a poor wandering Herb Gatherer who, 2,000 years ago discovered the secret to all our health woes and died a terrible death for our stupidity in pursuing rational treatments or for seeking evidence. He stood up against the horror of science and reason and for that died. But came alive again and went to a Magic Garden filled with healthy herbs.

Or that “He” now still watches over everyone paying close attention to exactly what we do or do not take to care for our vital essence, chakra vitality and quanto-kinetic energy vibrations. If we use the unproven remedies, children aren’t told that we go to the Magic Garden forever and ever. Or that if we use the evidence based medications the wicked pusher doctor – trained in the evil of medicine – prescribed for us we go to the Never Ending Nightmare of sickness and suffering. They wouldn’t be told it’s “for our own good” and that the CEO of Big Placebo and the dead wandering Herb Gatherer loves each and every one of us. In fact they have always loved us – even before we were born.

They aren’t told that the CEO, the Herb Gatherer and a Magic Chakra are actually a Trinity of one, but also individual and separate beings at the same time. Or told the Chakra came to earth to make a mummy for the Herb Gatherer on the instructions of the CEO. The Herb Gatherers daddy, Harry the Homeopath isn’t his real daddy then, but that’s okay because the Magic Chakra is also the CEO of Big Placebo and can make any decision.

Imagine the absurdity of our children being told by these volunteers in the pharmacy that to merely exercise a choice over product selection – indeed even think about doing that – was actually committing a special sort of bad stupidity. A stupidity called “sin” that must be undone by going and performing a series of pilates postures under a full moon whilst a strangely dressed reiki practitioner slaps dead fish upon people chanting incomprehensibly. Until that’s done the dead Herb Gatherer and the boss of Big Placebo are deeply saddened by their “wicked” thoughts and the fact they will go to the Never Ending Nightmare. But a few postures later and the odd welt smelling of dead fish and the Magic Chakra within them is all fixed and they’re back in line for The Magic Garden.

If we politely stress that whilst we respect the “natural” approach, but that we have our own views on supplements we aren’t told that “the will of Big Placebo will not be thwarted”. If perchance such a bizarre scenario unfolded time and again as we visited the pharmacy effecting our children’s peace of mind and indoctrinating them in lifestyle ideas we as parents find dangerously unacceptable and demonstrably false, we would be confident a complaint would lead to a proper review of events.

In this modern age of reason it’s unthinkable that the federal health minister would accept this conduct is acceptable and insist present guidelines are enough to dismiss our concerns. Or argue that it is compulsory after all and guidelines stress that volunteers for Big Placebo can’t persuade children about the Magic Garden. It says so in the guidelines! It’s all about “values” for healthy herbs – and who would be against a healthy herb garden?

It’s incomprehensible that another “self certification” from Dr. Hokus and Professor Pokus claiming that no, none of that is true, would be acceptable. The mind would boggle if they argued that in fact they had been “under concerted attack”, without actually offering any reason as to why anyone would attack them in this way – other than this is what happened to the Herb Gatherer who warned his followers would suffer the same fate.

That is of course, unless this entire sorry charade is not about bogus medicinal products but religious education. If Doctor Hokus is Evonne Paddison, Professor Pokus is Bishop Stephen Hale and the federal health minister is actually federal education minister, Peter Garrett.

And so it has come to pass. The well documented proselytising of ACCESS Ministries is of no moment to Peter Garrett. A mere Self Certification of adhering to guidelines is all Paddison was required to offer. There need be no evidence that proselytising is not occurring as a promise of effectiveness and perceived low risk seems to suffice. No wonder Evonne Paddison was so confident a mere three days earlier at the ACCESS Rally.

Paddison’s speech here:

Or direct download.

The Age reports today Christian group cleared of urging students to convert, by Jewel Topsfield and Dan Harrison;

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.”

The remarks appeared to breach guidelines that ban chaplains and volunteers who teach special religious instruction in Victorian government schools from proselytising.

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.

Full story here.

The TGA review states under Recommendation 7: [That] The TGA implement mechanisms to educate and inform the public that listed medicines are not evaluated for effectiveness by the TGA prior to market.

I would venture to suggest that this is exactly what should apply to the evangelistic lessons provided by ACCESS volunteers. False promises and grand claims adorn what is ineffective hokus pokus and is quite likely to interact with reality producing a nasty side effect. This monopoly has never been evaluated for effectiveness prior to being marketed to impressionable children. Any “evidence” is provided on a self certification basis by Evonne Paddison. It has all the credibility of a Facebook profile.

But just what risk does this deception and manipulation of children as “disciples” carry with it?