Post-truth hits NSW

At a time when many people are rightly questioning facts and figures, and rolling our eyes at the concept of ‘alternative facts’, surely it is incumbent upon us to tread with great care before casting allegations into the public sphere.

In the space of 4 days, the same newspaper, Newcastle Herald, has published an astonishing 5 articles by the one journalist, talking to the same topic, Scripture Classes in NSW schools. There is little development of the story across these pieces, they are mostly repeating the same negative rhetoric toward SRE.

Given the nature of the accusations being made, it is important that the public is given balanced reporting, with opportunity for alternate views to be expressed. Sadly, such balance is absent in these articles. We read of a string of protagonists who are  quoted at length, but with no SRE supporters quoted at all (with one exception being a Youthworks statement from their website). Is this story so obvious and one-sided? It is one thing to find a couple of dissenting priests, one who is known for his dislike of orthodox Christianity and therefore is hardly representative of mainstream Christians in NSW. Why not ask the many clergy who support SRE? The one-sidedness of these stories is enough to sink a battleship!

A poll was attached to one of the articles, conducted by Fairfax and asking the question, ‘Should scripture in state schools be suspended until the NSW government releases its scripture review?’ Over 73% of the 5000+ respondents answered no. The cynical side of me suspects that this poll was placed in the middle of the article in order to garner wide public support for suspending SRE, except it fell flat.

Some of the allegations are relatively minor, but others are most serious. Of gravest note is the implication that Youthworks’ Connect material has been involved in the Royal Commission into child abuse, and that the material is creating space for ‘grooming. This is fallacious and slanderous. Child abuse is a national moral issue and allegations cannot be treated lightly or flippantly. The media, and any person for that matter, should refrain from drawing ties to abuse when there is no evidence, and should there be evidence, surely the authorities including police must be informed.

One of the two articles published this morning begins by stating,

“SCRIPTURE in public schools is not an issue about religious views or what you believe about the historical accuracy of the Bible, which is where a lot of the argument seems to settle these days given the heavy involvement of evangelical Christian churches.

The scripture debate is about a more basic issue than that – child protection.

For more than three years the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has considered how institutions – churches, schools, sporting organisations, welfare providers, government departments, police, the justice system – have responded to child sexual abuse.

What can be said today, without any doubt, is that an institution with responsibility for children that fails to make child protection the top priority, is an institution where children are potentially at risk.” (Newcastle Herald, Feb 2nd)

It is astonishing to see a newspaper publishing not just sensationalism, but defamatory and slanderous claims. If I wrote an article linking an atheist group to child abuse, without clear evidence, I should expect to find myself in trouble.

Truth telling works both ways. SRE providers have a responsibility to work within the parameters set by Education Departments, and to ensure their material is age appropriate. When we make mistakes we must be eager to correct them. Evidence shows us that SRE providers continue to  work well with Education Departments in fulfilling all righteousness. The Queensland review is a clear example that the system is working well, with Youthworks taking ownership of poorly worded material and being quick to amend it.

I understand that not everyone likes the Bible and Christianity, and that some Australians have a view that such things don’t have place in a secular education. It is one thing for people to disprove of Scripture classes, but it is quite another to engineer false claims in order to have these classes suspended altogether. As it became apparent in Victoria, the agenda was not to suspend classes, but to remove Christian ideas and thinking out of schools completely, and the NSW public should not be tricked into thinking that those orchestrating the campaign are intending anything less.

We should also remember that no child is compelled to take SRE classes. Families have freedom to participate or not. That many thousands are choosing to enrol their children into the classes (I believe these numbers are growing in some schools), signals that not only SRE’s popularity but also the public wanting this curriculum for their children.

Perhaps leaders of the anti-SRE groups might consider arranging a face to face meeting with SRE providers? Would that not be more constructive rather than using newspapers to throw around out-dated and misinformation?

If we truly care for our children’s well being (and I’m sure that this is the case for people across the different perspectives on SRE), surely it is in our best interest to avoid false facts and stick close to what is true. 

This morning, as I read the Newcastle Herald, I remembered how a group of agitators conspired against Jesus. He did not retaliate or compromise integrity, he stood firm but not arrogantly, but with conviction and love, even for those who were accusing him. It is disingenuous to create an air of suspicion and fear by misrepresenting the facts and not publishing  balanced views. We should expect a higher standard of our media, but regardless of how Christians are portrayed, we must continue to graciously pursue what is good and right and noble.

“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” (John 18:23)


Below is a copy of the corrections that Youthworks released yesterday:

“We also submitted a correction request to the Newcastle Herald this morning, asking them to address serious inaccuracies and misleading statements regarding Connect and SRE more broadly. We are still yet the hear back from their editors.

Here are the changes we’ve asked for:

1. The Connect material never encourages students to have secrets with their SRE teachers or other adults.

2. The use of the term “Special friends” was used in the context of describing someone who is a follower of Jesus – “Jesus was asking Matthew to be one of his special friends” and “Jesus calls us to become one of his special friends”. Education Queensland acknowledged that while they understood the context – a child-friendly translation for Jesus’ disciples – the term was unsuitable in context of child protection, and asked CEP to use an alternative (p. 11 of the Education Queensland Review). There is no suggestion in the material that students should have special friendships with adults. The term has taken on a particularly insidious connotation since the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse and will be removed from future SRE material.

3. The Education Queensland Review never accuses or suggests that Connect encourages grooming behaviour, but provides recommendations where language and terminology has been unhelpful in this context.

4. The insinuation in the story that SRE has been a feature of the Royal Commission is untrue and intentionally misleading.

5. The articles contain a decontextualized quote asking about a man born blind: “Was it a punishment from God because his parents or someone else had done something wrong?” which is used to imply that the curriculum links disability (in this instance, a man’s blindness) with sin. The quote in its actual context is a question asked of Jesus in a Bible passage, to which he immediately responds “No”. At no point are students asked this question, nor are they asked to evaluate disability in this context. Joanne McCarthy’s use of it is intentionally misleading and sensationalist.

6. The February 1 article makes no mention of the fact that the Education Queensland review found the “vast majority of Connect materials are consistent with legislation and policy concerning religious instruction”, nor that changes have already been made to the material which were reviewed by Education Queensland.

We eagerly await their reply.”

Here is the link to a statement published by Youthworks, also dated February 2nd: https://www.youthworks.net/press_centre/response-to-connect-articles-1-2-17


Update February 4th. The Herald today published another article by the same journalist, also speaking to the topic of the Royal Commission but this time there is no mention of Scripture Classes and their providers. I am only mentioning this update because in sharp contrast to the previous days articles, this one was well written and substantive.

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4445757/church-prospects-grim-while-abuse-culture-remains/

Bronwyn Chin’s letter

In light of the vitriol being aimed toward Michael Jensen’s book, You: An Introduction, and its reference to a letter penned by Bronwyn Chin, I thought it helpful to publish Bronwyn’s letter in full (which I’ve taken from the AFES website). That way, people can read for themselves.

In Australia we rarely talk about death, other than a few words of praise for the deceased person and a few wishful words such as, ‘we’ll see you again’ or ‘they are now with the angels’. In the face of death Bronwyn writes about the awfulness of her condition and of the hope that Jesus promises. For Christians these words can bring great comfort, and to non Christians they are a challenge; what is your answer to sickness and death?

 

Article written by Bronwyn Chin: June 2012 for the ‘Equal But Different’ journal

I thank God for the gift of Cancer!

I don’t like being in pain and I don’t like having terminal pancreatic cancer. I would like to grow old with my husband and see my kids grow up. But God appears to have a better plan. I know that he is faithful. His plans are the best and do not revolve around me. Acts 13:36 says: “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation he fell asleep …”. When God has done what he wants through me, I will die in his perfect timing.

Why has God given me cancer? Maybe it is to make me repent of my wrongs and turn to Jesus – it has certainly done this. Maybe it is to make me talk more to my friends and family about Jesus – it has certainly done this. Maybe it is for reasons way beyond my understanding – it is certainly at least this. All I know is that God has given me this gift of cancer to use for his glory. We pray daily for the cancer to miraculously go away. But if God chooses to say no, we can trust him nonetheless.

It is still hard to really grasp that I am only here for a very little while. But as the bible teaches:

“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” 1 Peter 1:24

When I was suddenly diagnosed in Dec 2009, it was a total shock. I had no idea that I was sick. My life at that time involved being a busy wife, a mother of four active children (aged 9,12,14,15), and a part time General Practitioner.

Widespread pancreatic cancer has a very bad reputation and my oncologist originally gave me a prognosis of 3 to 6 months to live. However God has had other ideas and my cancer has partially responded to chemotherapy. For the last two and a half years I have received chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery, and lived with ill health, knowing I have a time bomb inside. My family have become experts at coping with me regularly vomiting, and being bed bound at times from the different treatments.

As the cancer keeps spreading throughout my body I am very aware that Jesus is my Lord and Saviour in whom I can depend, and that all other ground is sinking sand.

I am so grateful to God for everything. I am thankful for who God is, his majesty, his splendour, and his promises. I am thankful for my family, friends and life.

I am so thankful to God for the resurrection of Jesus which means I will have victory over death and don’t need to fear pain or the dying process. It is such a comfort to read:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

‘The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

As I get sicker and spend a lot of time lying down in pain, I sometimes wonder what use I am to God and what he wants me to do … now. I miss being able to do things. I actually miss physically being able to tidy up! And I miss the joy of serving my husband and kids more.

What is hard is coping with chronic pain and deteriorating health while still navigating the physical and emotional challenges involved with 4 children and a busy husband.

Another challenge is “not knowing”. It is impossible to plan. Last year I had 5 hospital admissions. I have no idea what condition I will be in 6 weeks, let alone whether I will even be alive.

However, I am just so thankful for God’s guidance in the bible. The bible is so clear about what God wants me to do now, even as I get sicker.

‘Be joyful always; pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’ 1 Thessalonians 5:16

God is so clear. This is what God wants me to do now. Thank him. As I write, I have just returned from a visit to my oncologist. He is urging us not to receive any more chemotherapy (or other treatment) out of compassion because (in his view) it only has a 10% chance of treating the cancer and will greatly erode the quality of life that I currently enjoy. It is hard to stop and have no treatment. It feels like giving up. But I still know I can thank God.

Leaving my husband and 4 gorgeous children grieves me greatly (and makes me cry every time I think about it, even as I write now). However, I know God will take care of them. Please pray that each of them will continue to trust God into eternity.

So I thank God for this gift of cancer because he is good and he is using it for his purposes. The plans of the Lord are perfect even if I don’t know the reasons for everything. All I know is that soon I will be with the Lord forever because Jesus alone has saved me through his death and resurrection.

I hope to see you all there!

‘be prepared to die for God’: Misleading headline of the year award

In my opinion, The Australian newspaper has resorted to the worse kind of sensationalised journalism in the piece, ‘Be prepared to die for God’, kids told in state school classes (October 17th).

It is worth mentioning that the story pursued by The Australian was discussed in the media several months ago, and the issues raised were then adequately dealt with by the NSW Government and the providers of SRE.

you_an_introduction_michael_jensen

And by issues, it should be noted that there was no fire (perhaps a really small candle), just a lot of smoke being blown north by a group of angry Victorians (FIRIS). Unfortunately, while reasonable minds did address the expressed concerns, FIRIS have continued to blow smoke into NSW. Having scorched Victoria of rational and gracious discourse, I guess they need a new land to conquer. But my question here is, why did The Australian choose to regurgitate a non-story from months ago?

Following the dreadful murder of Curtis Cheng by schoolboy Farhad Jabar, the media has been right to report issues relating to the radicalisation of young Muslims. These are genuine concerns for Australia, but sadly there are Australians who are distastefully seizing upon this issue and using it to try and remove Christian teaching and presence from schools in NSW (disappointingly, the Victorian Government has already succumbed to this obtuse fear mongering). And it seems as though The Australian correspondent, Natasha Bita, has jumped onto this bandwagon. Look at the headline, ‘be prepared to die for God’, kids told in state school classes. Obviously, these Christians are training young children to commit murder in our streets and schools. There must be hate filled speeches and promises of virgins in heaven for any willing martyrs! But of course, the headline is misleading, and the article itself falls flat in its attempt to make SRE appear dangerous, “harmful” and “damaging”.

All of the extreme ideas cited by Natasha Bita, are of course nothing of the sort. Michael Jensen’s book, You: An Introduction, is designed to start a conversation. It certainly holds a view of God who is holy and love, and of a world that is simultaneously amazing and broken, joy giving and painful, but all this fit perfectly within orthodox Christianity. Yes, it uses the word sin to explain what has gone wrong in the world, but only a fool would argue that there is no evil in the world. In fact, the concept of sin is one of the most self-evident ideas of the Bible.

And far from being dangerous, read further and you’ll find that is no inciting to anger and hate, but there is much encouragement to love and respect, and to think deeply about life and biggest questions of the cosmos.

And in response to the criticism given to a letter that was written by Bronwyn Chin, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2013, is it not appropriate to share stories of hope in the midst of suffering, or should our teenage children only have access to stories where the narrative is hopeless and meaning allusive?

It is pretty shabby that The Australian decided to run this piece. Not just Christians, but Australians in general understand that aligning Christianity with Islamic extremism is absurd and bordering on slander.

It is fine to not like SRE, and it is also fine to not like the fact that it remains in NSW State schools, and it is fine to argue for its removal, but it is not fine to harness public fears about real issues and to suggest that SRE is somehow akin to or might lead to the kinds of evil ISIS are perpetrating around the globe.

Finally, it is important for readers to understand these two basic points that Natasha Bita fails to mention in her article:

1. Along with John Dickson’s book, ‘A Sneaking Suspicion’, You: An Introduction, was temporarily banned from NSW schools earlier in the year, but they were quickly re-introduced once the Education Minister was made aware of the situation and no issue found with them.

2. These SRE classes are not compulsory. No parent is forced to have their children attend the classes. These classes are for families who want their children participating, and clearly there are significant numbers of families who do want these classes.

Are Sydney Anglicans really so dangerous? FIRIS believe so, but really? No one is forced to believe the views they present or to even attend the classes, and yet these are ideas that have profoundly aided our nation for two centuries, and even if we disagree with them, is it not valuable for our children to have the opportunity to at least read and engage with these ideas for themselves?