Today I read an article published on the Brisbane Times' website which tells of the 'Horrifying' lessons that children are being taught in Brisbane schools. The example the author Hugh Harris gives is of children being asked to act out the story of David and Goliath which includes the fight in which David defeats Goliath with his sling and then cuts off his head ( see 1 Samuel 17:48-51)
This, Mr Harris claims, is horrifying - I assume because in his view it is glorifying violence given his statement:
'Many would question the relevance of such a message today, and whether 10-year-old children benefit from acting out scenes of horrifying violence.
This is despite including references from the curriculum in question which reminds SRE teachers to keep children focused and sensible and notes that the main purpose of the lesson is to show that "through Jesus, David's descendant, God would save his people forever from their greatest enemies - sin, death and Satan". There is no glorification of violence it is simply using drama to help children to learn and remember the lesson.
Of course if asking children to act out violent scenes in the context of a wider lesson is 'horrifying' as Mr Harris asserts then we have some major changes to make to the broader education curriculum! We will need to start with removing traditional songs and skits from the pre-school environment - I am thinking first of all of course of the incredibly violent song 'Three Blind mice' where the horrible farmers wife cuts off their tails... then of course there is that primary school staple 'To Market To Market Went My Brother Jim' where poor Jim ends up dead due to being violently killed with a can of tomatoes... and the frightful 'Flying Purple People Eater' - no further comment required there surely! Then don't even get me started on Shakespeare! Suicidal teenagers, murderous royals... Of course none of these are a problem for Mr Harris though, all of that violence isn't horrifying at all - after all they aren't relevant to his personal agenda.
Mr Harris then goes on to note that:
Connect's syllabus uses a fundamentalist "sin and salvation" theme, which was developed by the evangelical Sydney Anglicans.'
Of course the curriculum may well have been created by the 'Sydney Anglicans' however the idea that 'sin and salvation' is a fundamentalist theme - or indeed that Sydney Anglicans are 'Fundamentalists' is a bit ridiculous.
The whole message of Christianity is and has been for the past two thousand years that all of humanity are sinners - that sin is what separates us from God and that the only way for that sin to be forgiven and for us to be reconciled to our creator is through the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross.
That is not fundamentalism - it is the basic message of scripture and I would honestly struggle to see how anyone who objects to it could be called a Christian.
Of course the biggest problem that is exposed through articles like this one is the incredible religious illiteracy in the media - Mr Harris says for example that many parents may find it disturbing for their children be asked 'who is a sinner here in this classroom' . Of course the answer is everyone!
The question then is whether that is a horrible fundamentalist thing to be teaching children. Is it wrong to teach them that everyone is in the same boat? That everyone does the wrong thing, that everyone offends against God. Is it wrong to point out to them that because Jesus came even though they are all sinners everyone can be forgiven? That if they trust in Jesus, no matter what they have done - no matter how bad they think it is - they can be forgiven? That is the Christian message - the Gospel - that Jesus died on the cross to take the consequence for sin on himself so that we don't have to. That he rose again and conquered death enabling us to enter eternal life. That is not fundamentalism, it is Christianity 101.
Of course perhaps most importantly all of this sensationalist propaganda from Mr Harris overlooks one important thing - SRE is not compulsory! If parents don't want their children to attend scripture, all they need do is say so!
Fr Daryl is an Anglican priest living in regional New South Wales Australia.