Engage in ethics discussion
As I write this column I am travelling around the Macquarie-Darling Presbytery enjoying the opportunity to meet many people and experience the great teamwork between presbytery and congregations.
The presbytery is an example of the way church is going to be: a diversity of models of church depending on the context, many lay-led congregations being resourced by the presbytery and ELM, every opportunity taken to ensure that the church is present in as many communities as possible.
Congregations are seeking to engage creatively with and provide leadership in the community. At Canowindra, which I visited two years ago, the cooperating Uniting Anglican parish has since started up a food bank serving the community, connecting with the community, building relationships with the community.
In many congregations in the Macquarie-Darling, as well as in the Mid-North Coast and Riverina Presbyteries, I have discovered a great dedication and passion for the teaching of SRE in schools.
In some towns it has been the basis for building strong relationships between the church, school and community. In a number of places concern has been raised about the ethics-based complement to scripture being promoted by the St James Ethics Centre.
As one who has taught SRE in schools over many years, I have been listening to the debate on the ethics pilot in schools with some interest. I believe, where we are able to deliver a good, balanced curriculum and do it well, we should continue to take the opportunities we have to provide religious education in schools.
If we do it well, schools and parents will continue to see the benefits and SRE will not lose its support in the community.
Unfortunately, during the course of the debate on ethics classes in schools I have heard some stories of the negative effects of scripture teaching, where children have been manipulated or exposed to inappropriate and, at times, questionable theological concepts.
So how should we respond to the ethics pilot?
What concerns me is that through this debate the church has often come across as weak and dependant; giving the impression that it needs the protection of the government to ensure that it can proclaim its message.
I believe our public image and our witness would be stronger if we acknowledged that, of course, it is important for all children to engage with the discussion of ethical issues as often and in as many ways as possible. Maybe some of our people could volunteer to teach ethics.
In supporting the ethics trial, possibly the church could make a case for being given the opportunity to reflect upon and provide input into the ethics program.
Undoubtedly the ethics pilot is a challenge to us but I do not believe we need to see it as a threat; rather as an opportunity for the gospel.
Surely we believe the gospel message is strong enough to stand on its own. Surely in the spirit of Romans 8 we are more than conquerors — ultimately nothing can separate us or anyone from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
I believe our response should not be defensive but rather proactive, engaging and creative.
Let us think in terms of how we can help, how we can be part of ensuring that every child is exposed to thinking ethically. If there are to be ethics classes, assuredly, as children think about why it is that we should behave in a certain way, they will have to begin to think about where those ethical ideas come from.
As they do so, it just might be that they bump into the idea of God and discover the possibility that God has something to do with the values we hold, the Spirit of God speaking to our spirits.