Transcript: David Hines and Murray Burton

  • 23/04/2016
Transcript: David Hines and Murray Burton

Well, it's a David and Goliath battle, and who you think is who will probably depend on which side you're on. Should we or should we not teach Bible in schools? This week Jeff McClintock's legal action over his daughter being taught Bible lessons in class was thrown out of court. He's appealing the decision on Tuesday, but in the meantime we thought we'd put the issue before the court of public opinion. So I'm joined by David Hines from the Secular Education Network and Murray Burton from the Churches Education Commission. Good morning to both of you.

David Hines: Good morning.

Murray Burton: Good morning.

If I can start with you first, Mr Burton, we are a secular society. There is a clear separation between the church and the state, so why should the Christian religion be taught at schools?

Burton: Well, I think if you look back at the history of New Zealand, Christian values are absolutely really dynamic in terms of forming how we live and work in our society, and I think those values are still holding us together today, and that's what we enjoy doing when we get invited into schools.

So there you go, Mr Hines, it's a foundation of our society, Christian fundamental beliefs.

Hines: Well, values did exist before Jesus came along. There are friendly people in Hindu countries, in Muslim countries. Why does Christianity want to hog the market and say, 'We're the only ones who have got values'?

On that question, why are you preaching to these kids in school? Isn't that the place where they should learn maths and English and those kinds of topics? Why religion?

Burton: Well, there's a couple of great things, Lisa, in that when we go in, we share Christian— talk about Christian values. We don't preach. We do use the Bible. We do talk about Christian belief, but we do it in quite creative ways, and I think that enables kids to form an opinion. It's about choices, so we're invited in, and they make the choice as to what they might do later in life in terms of the information given to them, just like anything. I'll tell you another good thing. There's actually increasing research around the fact that Christian values connected with a school situation do produce amazing academic results. Now, if you look in the league tables any time in The New Zealand Herald, who does well? Private religious schools, state integrated schools. Isn't that interesting?

When you talk about using creative ways to get the message out, what do you mean? What are you using in class?

Burton: Okay, so we use modern technology. We use role-plays. We don't just stand up the front deliver like that, so we use quite a creative and well-established set of materials and so on to actually engage kids in learning.

Mr Hines, so they're saying they're not preaching; they're teaching. The materials that they're using, what's your problem with those?

Hines: It is preaching. This is one of the main syllabuses used by the Churches Education Commission. I read the first 17 lessons – half a year's lessons. Every one of them was about God, 'God made you. God loves you. God sent his son, Jesus. God wrote the Bible.' There are hardly any values in those 17 lessons. Two of the 17 had lessons which did have values in them about friendship, and it says, 'God wants you to be friends,' as though Christians have got the market on it. It's a very biased form of Christianity. It's evangelism. It is deceitful evangelism.

Deceitful evangelism, is it?

Burton: We've got a great curriculum called Life Choices. In the last while, we've been reviewing it, as any organisations do. In reviewing our curriculum, we only have one official curriculum from the 1st of July, and that is Life Choices. And I think you'll find it quite an incredibly good curriculum, David. I think that it does major on Christian values, it is about choices, and it does reference us back to how we need these values to live our lives. Take, for example, values out of your family; what happens? Take Christian values out of politics, out of how to run a business, how to run a school; we've got problems, haven't we?

But it's not just Christian values, is it? Yet it's Christian values that you're teaching. What about other religions? Why not Judaism? Why not teach kids about Islam?

Burton: Now, the law allows that to be done. Other religions can easily come to school. They can take the half hour that we've got the privilege of using at the moment, and that can be done as well. And we live in a pluralist society, so that if they all have a contribution to our very multicultural nation, so we have no problem with that whatsoever. We look at the New Zealand census 2013. 48 percent said they were Christian. That's pretty significant, isn't it?

When I look at the materials, and I have had a look at some of these materials, one unit teaches kids that God made day and night and that God also made animals. Another says that God is the shepherd. These are Christian articles of faith. They are not matters of fact, are they?

Burton: There is a lot of fact, but, of course, we could debate that all day in terms of is the Bible a historically dependable document. We think it is. It's the bestseller in the world. Within the Bible, there are a whole range of stories which David and I could debate all day, but I tell you what, look at the principles coming out of the scriptures and you'll find ways to live.

That is the point, isn't it? That is the point. These things are open to debate. They are articles of faith and not matters of fact. Aren't we teaching our kids matters of fact – mathematics, how to read and write?

Burton: Absolutely, fact is very important. Teach a kid how to Google and work out whether it's fact or whether it's an opinion, that's a very interesting example that we need kids to be critical thinkers. We're not doing critical thinking. We're actually engaging them in that. We're engaging their minds, their hearts, their emotions and so on, and we're not preaching at them too. So we just take the opportunity to talk about those things that pull us all together.

Really not preaching? Hand on heart, can you tell me that this is not about encouraging people to believe in God? Hand on heart?

Burton: It's Christian belief, yes, it is. We're talking directly about Christian belief, and we're talking about the Bible.

Hines: It is evangelical Christian belief.

Burton: But we can't do that in a classroom, can we? We can't actually preach in a classroom. We can't actually evangelise in a classroom. All we can do—

But you just—

Hines: But you do. You do constantly. We took these syllabuses to Professor Paul Morris at Victoria University, and he said, 'None of these is appropriate for a group of mixed people because it clashes with their views. It should not be presented to Muslim kids, even Christian kids.' He said, 'It's inappropriate for many Christians.' Many Christians are not evangelical. I'm a Christian. I'm not evangelical. I don't believe the Bible is true word for word. My beliefs are misrepresented by the rubbish that you are teaching. Christians do not believe the things you say. There are a minority of Christians that are evangelical like yourself, who believe in hell. Do you believe in—?

Burton: 650 schools invite us in every week. They invite us in. These are smart principals from boards who actually have thought through this and realised that Christian values are so important to the way we think and live.

Hines: They are misinformed. Many of the schools do not even know who is taking their Bibles in Schools lessons. I took a survey of schools two years ago, and I found about a quarter of the people who had CEC lessons in them didn't know it was CEC who was running them. They just take- They think, 'Here's a nice bible person. Invite them in and give our teachers a rest for half an hour.' They do not know what you are doing. They don't know that you are using this syllabus, which is one of the most evangelical syllabuses in Australasia- Your own organisation doesn't know- Have you seen this book?

Burton: Yes, we have.

Hines: Do you use it?

Burton: We don't use it, no.

Hines: You do. It's being used in Foxton School. It is being used in Oamaru. Our researchers have found that you disowned this several years ago and said- Simon Greening spoke at a meeting where I was present and said you were dropping this in 2014. You did not drop it. You are still using it.

Let's give Mr Burton a right of reply.

Burton: I understand that, and I think that, you know, as New Zealand's largest volunteer organisation, with over 60,000 volunteers, there will be times when- there will be situations when the wrong syllabus may be used. We will address that, we will take action, and that's why from the 1st of July, we have Life Choices only, David, and that will be what will be guiding us throughout New Zealand in every classroom we go into. And we go in there knowing- We go in there quite clearly- Here I am on The Nation saying that we don't evangelise, so we're actually very open and upfront about that, and we stick to our-

But you are encouraging people to believe in God. That's the purpose of it – to encourage people to believe in God.

Burton: Well, to consider God, and the foundation of our country.

Hines: Would you agree that this book is evangelism?

Burton: It's not about evangelism, no.

Hines: This book is. This one is.

Burton: It's about life choices.

Hines: No, this is not life ch- I'm talking about Connect.

Burton: It's about the scripture- using stories from scripture to illustrate great ways in which we should all live.

Hines: This book has at the end of it a passage which says, 'This is what to do when a child wants to become a Christian. Teach them this prayer of confession of their sins. Take them along to their local church.' That is evangelism.

Okay. Mr Hines, I just want to address the point that Mr Burton has raised, which is schools can opt out of this; it's up to the board of trustees. If they don't want this taught in their schools, they are fully at liberty to say, 'We don't want you.' So it's a choice already, isn't it?

Hines: It's a very painful choice for many, many children, because most non-religious people do not want to advertise in front of their friends that they are non-religious, but Bible in Schools, they have to say- This happened to McClintock. His daughter was opted out and was humiliated as a result. People are afraid to opt their kids out, and their parents are afraid to complain. In one school in the South Island, parents were told- They had a web page of their own and shared their opposition. The school got hold of this list of people and said, 'Stop your complaints or we will publish your names in our school newsletter.' They used blackmail. This is CEC blackmailing people if they protest against them.

Burton: There's a lot of misinformation, Lisa, around this, a lot of emotion, and even in the McClintock case, it's not a fait accompli in terms of what actually really happened. I think we've got to realise that in schools, we move kids around all day, in and out of classrooms, for a whole range of reasons, and principals do that. I mean, these are smart people, and I think that they would be disappointed if they felt that people were thinking that, you know, 'Can't schools handle this?' Yes, we can. We can do that, and I think you've got to take the emotion out of it and say, look, what we're trying to do is actually really really good for our country.

Mr Hines, taking the emotion out of it, what is wrong with kids being taught morals? You know, do to others as you would like to have done to you; you know, turn the other cheek; love your enemy. What's wrong with those moral messages?

Hines: Nothing wrong with those morals, but the wrong this is that the Christians are presuming that they are the only ones that have it and are arrogantly sending their amateur teachers in and giving- These are unprofessional people. They do not know how to be fair to other religions. They can only see life through a Christian lens, and they spread prejudice against atheists and against other religions.

Mr Burton, how do you think a student who is, say, from a Muslim family would feel in one of these classes?

Burton: Certainly, our aim is not to put any other religion down. I think you'll find that there's a lot to be had in the synergies between the religions, and I think if I look back to- and I look at some of our classes today – kids are affirmed, they're encouraged, their individuality and so on. There's a lot of laughter and banter that goes on. And I don't think at any one stage, anyone, David, is going to put someone else down just to elevate ourselves. That's not the way we work, and we would address that, David, if that was the case. If you're getting feedback around that, we would address that and make sure that that doesn't happen.

Hines: Well, if I get into court, you will get the feedback from Red Beach School, from schools in the South Island, of parents who pull their kids out of schools because they got so much bullying in their schools. This happened in Tanya's place. It happened in Red Beach. It's happened-

Burton: It's not good when it happens.

Hines: Well, it's been happening there for years.

All right, we're out of time, so we do need to leave it there. Thank you so much, David Hines and Murray Burton. Thank you to both of you for joining us this morning.

Transcript provided by Able.