Today’s post is an immediate response by Danny Webster to an inflammatory report released today by the National Secular Society attacking the work of Christian groups who offer their services to schools. Danny blogs at the curiously entitled Broken Cameras and Gustav Klimt and tweets at @danny_webster.
With words like ‘infiltrate’, and ‘incursion’, and ‘manipulate’, you are left in no doubt from the National Secular Society’s (NSS’s) latest report that something bad is going on.
That bad thing as far as the NSS is concerned, is the involvement of many Christian groups in a wide range of school activities, from assemblies, to religious education, to sport, to after school clubs. What is met with outrage is that people would give of their time to serve the local community and contribute to the education and wellbeing of students.
The report, Evangelism in State Schools, finds that ‘there is a significant and growing incursion of evangelical organisations into publicly funded education’. It also claims the presence of such groups undermines the human rights of parents who choose a non-religious or other religious upbringing. Firstly, an aside; one point frequently made by those critical of religious beliefs is that parents shouldn’t place their beliefs on their children but allow them to make their own mind up. Such an opinion seems to go out of the window when it is parents opting for something other than Christian belief.
The National Secular Society want religious belief out of public life, and on the back of a few complaints by parents of the activities and presence of Christian groups, see a crack into which they can gain some leverage to take on this particular public manifestation of belief. Because that is what this is, this is the work of Christians, committed to serving others, working in their local community and helping students in both their education and wider wellbeing.
They want schools to keep a closer eye on such groups and tighten the criteria under which they can work with schools. But beyond that, they want faith out of public life. The idea of a public space with different religious beliefs, openly stated and gracefully communicated, and those motivated by belief serving others with care and compassion, is something most people would welcome.
And it is something welcomed by schools. In response to the report Youth for Christ, one of the organisations mentioned, commented: “As a well-established youth work charity working in Britain for over 65 years, we have always sought to serve and support schools on their invitation. Our staff and volunteers are trained, many to a professional level, to act as responsible youth workers within an educational context serving in teaching, chaplaincy, reading and classroom support, sport, Dance and drama. We would welcome the development of best practice guidelines and believe they would enhance our professional approach.”
There is no infiltration going on here, there is no manipulation, there are Christian organisations invited into schools because their work is appreciated.
Nothing raised in the report suggests any of the groups are doing anything they shouldn’t and there are no complaints noted from any of the schools. The NSS appear to have scoured the organisations’ websites to find quotes that cast suspicion on their motives, and they seem to have done this in the absence of any evidence the groups have done anything wrong.
Dr Dave Landrum, advocacy director at the Evangelical Alliance, said: “Schools work with Christian groups because they are valued, because they are trusted, and because they contribute to the overall wellbeing of students.
“There is no such thing as neutrality and across the world religious belief is growing and our schools need to be plural rather than secular spaces where faith groups can openly and fully take part. The curriculum requires a spiritual dimension to education and OFSTED have found that religious education needs improvement. The National Secular Society would seem to prefer pupils were ignorant about religious beliefs.
“This is no more than the latest desperate and ultimately doomed attempt by dogmatic secularists to remove faith from public life.”
The report makes no attempt to hide the goal that those passionate about their religious belief should be kept away from education. Those with beliefs can be involved as long as they keep quiet. And those without are welcome because what have they that could be objected to?
The objection is to the idea that there can ever be a standard that is above religious belief and used to regulate their activity and expression. This simply places the supposed neutrality of the National Secular Society as the privileged new dogma through which they wish to regulate belief.
The work of Christians in schools across the UK should be celebrated and supported, and perhaps some credit should go to the NSS for making us aware of the diverse and creative ways Christians are working to serve all of society and not just those who are part of the church. This is the church working for all, and for the good of all.