The non-controversial controversial program in our pre-schools

In August this year the Daniel Andrews Government banned SRI classes from Victorian Schools. Despite the fact that this has been a valued program for many decades, and that many schools are still keen to give space for this 1/2 hour weekly lesson, the Government caved into pressure from various lobby groups. Replacing this opt-in program will be a compulsory ethics/well-being/religious curriculum. Whilst announcing that this program will run from the start 2016,  the Government is yet to provide any details of its content and who will teach it. Indeed, schools remain in the dark as to what is happening.

Today, The Age has reported that ACCESS Ministries are now offering a program in Victorian pre-schools, called Explore Christianity.

FIRIS have notified their supporters on facebook, saying


ACCESS have now discovered a new mission field – they have transferred their proselytizing to a softer market.

They are like the Gecko, who loses its tail, only to grow another one back again. They have reinvented themselves and found another way to get to the children.

FIRIS has known about this for some time, and the VIC government was first notified about this from us back in May.

It appears that now very young children will be segregated by religion and parents who object to their children being indoctrinated while at child care will need to accept this segregation as the norm, or find another centre.

The government has been taken offguard by ACCESS’ metamorphosis and will have to either choose to deal with it – or look the other way.

The obvious concerns are:

* Proselytising

* Treats offered as an incentive to children

* Religious segregation of very young children

* The opt out nature of the program

  • Adequate informed consent being provided to parents”

I agree that any program must have transparency, and provide adequate information for parents, and it should have  either an opt-in or opt-out clause. These things are sensible and appear to be in place already.

But even if all of these  ‘concerns’ were fully met, history gives reason to suspect that FIRIS will keep pressing for this program to be shut down.

Given that, let’s look at these important facts that The Age reported today:

  1. Parents asked the Emmanuel Early Learning Centre to introduce this program and the Centre management agreed.
  2. The overwhelming majority of families are participating. After receiving consent forms, only 3 families chose to opt-out their children.
  3. The program teaches, “Christian values and beliefs, in addition to stories from the Bible.” In other words, it is teaching they very things that a program about Christianity should teach.
  4. Volunteers who run the program are accredited by ACCESS Ministries, in accord with strict requirements that have been set by the Education Department for SRI teachers in schools.

Pre-empting any call to close down the program, Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos said to the The Age that, early childhood services operated independently, and any “decision on offering religious education as part of a service provider’s program is a decision for each individual provider and parents of children attending the service”.

It will be interesting to see what and if any pressure that the Government will try to apply to these early childhood centres. As it stands, they are providing a program within the law, based on parental interest and request, and with substantial by-in from both the Centre and its families.

Where is the controversy?


Photo from The Age (Nov 10): Joe Armao

One Christian’s Response to Paul Sheehan’s Call for Increasing Australia’s Refugee Intake

Fairfax Media has published an astonishing piece by Paul Sheehan, Operation rescue: the Christians of the Middle East face extinction. It is remarkable because it pushes against the assumed political correctness that often strangles public conversation in Australia today, and it contrasts the mood of our secularist dominated media which is obsessed with denigrating all things Christian.1441571094171

Sheehan presents two reasons why Australia should increase its refugee intake, and to allow these numbers to consist of displaced Christians from the Middle East:

Firstly, he is right to point out that, ‘For the past 20 years Christians have been ethnically cleansed across much of the Middle East as part of the rise of Muslim militancy’. This is true, although the persecution has existed far longer than 20 years. Christians remain among the most vulnerable and persecuted peoples in the world, and what we are witnessing in the Middle East is but one example.

Christians are not the aggressors in these Middle Eastern conflicts; they are among the most targeted victims. Christians are literally being exterminated. The New York Times published a piece in July revealing the extent of the  persecution.

I have already read several responses to Paul Sheehan, where people are blaming the ‘Christian’ West for the situation in Iraq and Syria. But to fuse Christianity with the West is a sloppy an analysis as calling all Arabs, Muslim or all Syrians, Muslim. The fact is, the conflict between Sunni and Shia, and their common dislike for Christians and other minority groups, pre-dates era 9/11, President Bush Senior, and prior to the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1919. That is not to say that Western intervention hasn’t made issues more complex; it has been one hundred years of immoral intrusion, but it is grounded in selfish capitalism, not sacrificial Christianity. Syrian Christians and Iraqi Christians cannot be blamed for the West, and Western transgressions aside, the fact remains that Christians are being targeted, thousands have been slaughtered, and survivors forced out of their homes to flee for their lives.

The international community increasingly recognised that Christians in the Middle East have become a displaced people group, and therefore a humanitarian response is to welcome them into Australia.

Second, Sheehan argues that Christians will better assimilate into Australian society.

He believes that Christians are less of a threat to social cohesion in Australia than some other groups. I am not an expert on Sunni/ Shiate tensions, and so I can’t evaluate his point. Perhaps the concern has warrant and therefore it’s not without consequence, and I am sure that there are experts out there who can make comment. Having said that, there can be no doubt that there are also significant numbers of Sunnis and Shias who are victims of atrocities; where they are fleeing from their homelands we ought to consider welcoming them.

I do not believe that we should exclude refugees on account of their race, culture, or religion. If a neighbour’s house is on fire, you don’t first ask them for their passport, resume, or survey their theology; you help them on account of their humanity.

In other words, I am persuaded by Paul’s Sheehan’s first point, but not his second.

I also support Sheehan’s idea of Churches working in conjunction with the Federal Government. I am certain that Australian Churches will gladly work together with the Government to assist these refugees, whether they are Christian or not. To this end, I am encouraging Mr Abbott, Mr Dutton, Ms Bishop to speak with Christian leaders across the country.

Finally, there is a certain irony in all of this, these Christians are fleeing lands that don’t want them, perhaps only to arrive in a new land that is increasingly expressing malice towards Christians. The methods are different, but the motive is similar. For instance, I read this caustic response to Paul Sheehan, ‘Don’t let Christians in. Let people of reason in. Giving people an advantage because they follow a palatable brand of delusion doesn’t seem fair.’ Sadly, this sentiment is all too common in Australia today. One can only hope that the irrationality of such foolish people is muted by the voice of generosity and welcome.