The battle to have RI removed from New Zealand secular schools has been going on for a little while now. As a huge knee-jerk reaction I promptly volunteered to give my perspective on RI in schools as I had spent most of my life in children's ministry. I spent a few days writing a review on the curriculum used to teach RI and also a background on my own experience in children's ministry including my time as an RI teacher. In my background story and review I made sure I got straight to the point with brutal honesty. It wasn't the time to be politically correct or refrain from possible offences. The truth needed to get out and we be done with RI in our secular schools once and for all!
After some months of discussions, learning, reflecting and most importantly, thinking, I came to realize two things. Firstly, I had no support in light of the fact that I would be upsetting most of my friends and family which would inevitably cause a great tension between us and most likely end our relationships. The ‘support group’ for the campaign weren't particularly friendly and accepting of things that went against what they wanted to believe goes on in children's ministry. As someone who knows child and youth evangelism inside out, they should really take my thoughts and advice into consideration. At the end of the day, most of these people are on a warpath to eradicate something they don't really understand and once they've won the battle, they'll have no idea what their achievement actually means. I decided to pull out of the campaign and wash my hands of it. Many people were angry with me, but these people I've never met so no loss to me.
The second thing that I realized after much thought is that removing RI was going to cause an even greater problem. I should have seen this while I was writing my background story because I even mentioned it in there without recognising what I was getting at. CEC puts their time and resources into RI which in my experience is the least effective form of children's evangelism. When we take this privilege away from them, they will then turn to more effective programs making an already problematic children's ministry more effective and quite frankly, dangerous. The church sees legal battles that threaten their privilege to evangelize children as spiritual battles and in their eyes, spiritual trumps legal. They will fight and they will fight dirty. The law becomes irrelevant when souls are at risk.
Now don't get me wrong. When I say fight dirty, I don't mean there will be kidnappings and muggings. I mean the church will up their game and their tactics will move to the next level of cunning. The CEO of Churches Education Commission said himself, “This campaign against us has allowed us as an organisation to really get into an innovation space.” This isn't a benign comment.
What I believe we should be doing is educating, not having legal battles. The legal route is “we want this, we don't want that.” Educating is a much more approachable and effective way of making changes. As Dr Kerry Sparkman wrote in his book The Ant And The Ferrari, adding legislation and introducing tougher penalties is like putting more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff rather than addressing the reason that people are jumping off in the first place. Rather than say no to RI which will cause greater problems in the future, we should be working with those who provide it and also with the schools and address the problem that caused this issue in the first place - the choice to opt out rather than to opt in. I admit that the schools weren't taking the issue seriously enough, but take the school to court for not respecting parents’ wishes rather than taking the state to court and having RI abolished.
Do I support RI? No. Do I think it should be removed from secular schools? Yes, but only by going about it in in the right manner. Even the most friendly dog will bite if you poke it with sticks and the church is quite a large dog and not to be messed with recklessly. Right now, the best solution would be to have schools change RI from opt out to an extracurricular activity that parents can choose to opt in.