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Have church schools sold out on Christianity for secular values?
by Graeme J. Davidson
6 May 2006

.Have New Zealand church schools grafted a secular gospel of success onto their Christian roots to attract high-paying customers?

....How Christian are our church schools? Look at websites run by Anglican and Presbyterian private church schools. They boast of high academic achievers and the kind of nurturing environment that gives your kid self-esteem, solid values and the skills to become one of tomorrow’s leaders.
....Wanganui Collegiate, which is co-ed, spells this out for girls. “We have learnt that girls will be girls but they will also, equally likely, become heads of corporations, Government, State and Judiciary".
....Anyone would think Jesus taught, “Blessed are the successful and those who develop themselves as individuals”.
....Have these schools grafted a secular gospel of success onto their Christian roots to attract high-paying customers?
....Check their publicity and the answer’s a resounding yes. Not a whisper of how Jesus taught that the meek and the poor are blessed or how those who are first will become last. One suspects the simple fishermen, corrupt tax collectors and freedom fighters that Jesus chose as disciples wouldn’t get top marks in national exams, even if they got a look in the door. Nor would they be interested in becoming heads of corporations, judges, top bureaucrats – or even clergy.
....The goals of most of these independent church schools have more to do with elitism than Christianity – but they prefer to call it prestige. And there’s not a whiff of religion on the Independent Schools New Zealand website, even though it represents many church schools.
....To be fair, the schools themselves do mention their chaplains, Christian ethos and heritage – usually several clicks into the site. And they are forthcoming about how your kid will go to chapel and learn Christian values. But does this mean they’ll emphasise Jesus’ call to forsake everything to follow him and evangelise?
....What most of these schools mean by values are qualities that are important to a kid’s future social and business success: compassion, honesty, trustworthiness and respect – virtues that are compatible with all major religions. Add to that some popular humanitarian ideals such as tolerance and the importance of freedom and individual choice.
....Even parents from other faiths, or of no faith, find this squishy version of Christianity acceptable. Their kids will be with others who are highly motivated. It can set them up with lifelong friends who can help them become successful. And chapel? Well, it won’t do any harm and might even do some good.
....Not all church schools are independent. Since 1975, Roman Catholic and many other church schools integrated with the state system. They own their plant and land while the state pays the rest. That means their fees are more affordable, so they don’t have to compromise on their “special character”, as the Ministry of Education describes their religious emphasis. ....Nevertheless, integrated schools can also distort Christianity to promote a gospel of individualism and success.
....In the UK, both Christians and Humanists alike criticise church schools for unfairly discriminating against staff and students. That’s because they favour those of their own faith. The British Humanist Association accuses church schools of taking “less than their share of deprived children and more than their share of the children of ambitious and choosy parents”.
....A Church of England survey last month found that the public are becoming increasingly wary of faith-based schools in the wake of the London bombings last July. Many now believe religion can be divisive.
....In response to concerns like these and to prepare students to live in a plural society, many Kiwi church schools welcome non-Christian students and teachers, as well as senior staff and board members who are non-believers. Inevitability this dilutes the Christian emphasis. They also teach world religions and promote equal opportunity, which allowed Aysser Aljanabi, a Muslim student, to become head girl at St Mary’s College this year.
....Any NCEA student may sit credits in religion and ethics, giving the subjects kudos, though many regard religious education (RE) as a soft option. Parenting skills, death and dying, religious art, popular philosophical and moral issues like abortion and bioethics are included under the RE umbrella, especially in senior classes. All good liberal arts stuff. But how effective is this at underpinning commitment to the Christian faith?
....Desmond Boyle, who teaches RE at St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, says, “Most students don’t end up churchgoers, but they do have an attitude based on the Christian principles taught.”
....Nevertheless, there’s no evidence that students from Christian schools are any more committed to Christianity than those who go to secular state schools.
....So why is the Church still in the school business?



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