I’ve met many, many people that have been positively impacted by school chaplains. I’ve met a number of school chaplains – amazing, dedicated, loving people. Hardly ‘religious nutters’ that many in the media would have you believe. I’ve heard teachers rave about the support they’ve been provided by their school ‘chappie’. I’ve seen kids lives improved by the input the school chaplain has had. I’ve seen congregations get around and support financially, spiritually and practically chaplains in their area.
There’s no hiding my Christian faith. From the get-go, I’d love there to be a positive Christian influence in every school. There is no doubt that chaplains do an amazing role in our schools, for all members of the school community.
I’m not here to slight school chaplains or Christianity one bit. Not one iota.
Here’s what I don’t like. Taxpayer money used for school chaplains.
‘Say what?’ I hear you say!
That’s right. I don’t agree with taxpayer money being used to fund a program that is ‘church’ based.
I read a great article on school chaplaincy outlining how school chaplains are funded and some of the rules that ‘govern’ chaplaincy in school. It was common-sense and I loved it. You could even argue that it softened my stance on this issue (but not enough to change my mind!).
You’ve probably picked up from some of my other writings that I’m a bit of a libertarian.
A weapon you use is a weapon you that can be used against you. There’s no doubt that a chaplain enters a school with the love, light and spirit of Christ. Yes, they are bound by regulation, but I truly believe that every chaplain serves and loves their school community as Christ loves all mankind. They provide practical, emotional and mental support to their school communities. All good so far. But what’s stopping legislation change to allow a ‘witchcraft’ chaplain? Or a Muslim chaplain? What’s stopping a practicing Satanist to become a chaplain, should legislation change to allow it? Christians can’t argue for funding for them at the exclusion of funding for others.
I’m not arguing for Christian influences to be removed from schools. There’s no doubt in my mind that at least the basics of our Judeo-Christian heritage be taught. It’s the bedrock of our or social and legal system. If nothing else from a historical perspective, our children should be taught the importance faith and religion has had in shaping our culture.
Here’s what I think.
As with many other community organisations such as the Salvation Army, the Smith Family and a myriad of others (who do an EXCELLENT job, I might add), the school chaplain program is essentially a Band-Aid solution to a much bigger problem.
As I’ve argued before (and you can read an excellent essay here which give you an insight on my thoughts), school chaplains, welfare officers, community development programs, homeless programs, social welfare programs and alike are trying to fill a huge hole in society. The family hole.
Nothing strengthens an individual, a society and a nation like a strong, stable family. A family where each member is committed to each other, that laughs, cries and supports each other.
Anecdotally, the main group of children that school chaplains seem to support are children from broken or abusive families. ‘Families’ where mum has multiple boyfriends, dad is a name on a Child Support letter and siblings are moved around on a whim. Families where the Government has become the main breadwinner, but unlike a loving parent, the state can’t set rules for everyday behaviour, read to your children or tuck them in at night.
There has been a huge increase in independent Christian schools. You’ve probably read about the ongoing debate for Federal funding on these schools. As a disclaimer, I send my children to an independent Christian school. It’s been my experience that the parents that send their children there do so not just for the faith-based education (whilst that’s usually high on the priority list), it’s because the children that go there have families that mirror theirs. The children usually have parents that are together, who put their money where their mouth is in relation to education and families where one or both parents work.
What has this done? It’s sucked a stack of middle-class Christian families out of the state education system. It’s changed the demographic of state schools to the point where many parents (and not just Christian ones) don’t want to send their children to the schools in their catchment area as it’s too different to what they are used to – either ethnically or socio-economically. So what’s left at state schools? Dedicated teachers trying to teach students that, for the most part, have parents not engaged in their kids education and children not engaged with learning. School becomes a babysitter.
So now we have high-schools where a chaplain is dealing with students who self harm. They are trying to help the child who’s dad has pissed up the fortnights dole cheque and now don’t have money for breakfast. They are trying to find emergency accommodation for the girl who’s mums new boyfriend bounced her off the wall. There’s hardly any Christian families left in the state school system. A few, but certainly less than there was. Kids are growing up with kids who don’t actually know a family where mum and dad are married, love each other and are committed to each other. Where’s that community the school could traditionally turn to when a family is doing it tough, when a meal is needed because a dad is out of work, or a group of mums that pooled together uniforms for the clothing pool? They are all at the independent Christian school.
So now we have two problems.
First, we don’t (and shouldn’t have, and shouldn’t need to have) taxpayer funding for a faith group to support someone to go into these schools to support them.
Second, and more importantly, we have a generation growing up in broken families.
What can we do about this? What can you do about this?
pic from children-uninterested-in-religion–but-churches-determined-to-bring-them-into-the-fold