Shock! Horror! Stop the press! Front page news: “Evangelicals Evangelise!”
The Age carried this story on their front page today: School religion classes probed:
THE Christian group that provides religious education and chaplains in Victorian government schools will be investigated after its chief executive told a conference: ”We need to go and make disciples.”
The remarks appear to breach guidelines governing school religious programs, which ban trying to convert students to any one religion.
The federal and state governments said last night they would investigate Access Ministries after a recording of the speech by Evonne Paddison was brought to their attention.
Let’s leave aside for a moment that the speech by Access Ministries CEO Canon Dr Evonne Paddison (which you can hear if you click the link to the article above) was given THREE years ago. Let’s also leave aside the fact that there is nothing in the Act which governs SRI in Victoria (Education and Training Reform Act 2006 – SECT 2.2.11), (as far as I can see) which addresses proselytisation [possibly I am missing another part of legislation somewhere?].
We will also leave aside the obvious fact that we are here dealing with EVANGELICALS. The wonderful and endearing thing about “Evangelicals” is that they take the “evangelising mission” of the Church SERIOUSLY. They believe that they actually have an “euangellion”, a “good news”, and they want to share it with everyone. Surely that is admirable? Or are we no longer allowed in our contemporary state to try to convince others of the truths of which we are convinced?
[I was at an interfaith service recently where a statement was read out saying that “we will not try to convert one another to our own way of believing”, and about ten paragraphs later the following sentence occured: “We will do everything we can to promote our belief in toleration and freedom of conscience”. It certainly had me wondering…]
In any case, would it be too much to ask The Age and the secularists so concerned about a speech given three years ago, to just “get over it” and accept that Christians – especially Evangelical Christians – evangelise?
But perhaps the real problem is that there is not a sufficient distinction between “evangelisation” and “proselytisation”.
Back when I began in my job at the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission, I had to work out the relationship between ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and the evangelising mission of the Church. In the end, I concluded that it is fairly well described in the motto “Always proposing, never imposing” (which observant readers of this blog will have observed in the header). It’s the way the Catholic Church goes about the business of evangelisation. We “propose”, we don’t “impose”. I gave a talk once on the difference between “evangelisation” (= “proposing”) and “proselytisation” (= “imposing”). I never finished it properly into a form that actually could be published in a respectable journal, but this is a blog, so you can read what I said (more or less) here.
It needs to be stressed that authentic evangelisation is never proselytisation. Next it needs to be understood that there are many different methods of making the “proposition” that is essential to the “evangelising mission” of the Church. One of the ways we go about “proposing” is dialogue. Another way is education.
I think that Canon Paddison was talking about education as a means of “proposing” the Good News to students. She was talking about making “disciples”. That is a word associated with education, not proselytisation. The context of her words (the rather lame jokes about “Harold be thy name”, for instance) makes it clear that she was talking about giving accurate information to the SRI students. Okay, she might have been a little more circumspect in her comments about the Government giving the Church an open door access (note the name “Access” ministries) to children in the current hostile climate, but again, that is one of the endearing things about evangelicals: they are as gentle as doves and…, well…, as gentle as doves…
Clearly too, any parent who opts to have their child attend a Christian SRI class knows the deal: their kids are going to learn about Jesus. They are going to learn about Jesus from people who believe in Jesus. They are going to learn about Jesus from people whose dearest wish is that the children they are teaching will accept the proposition that Jesus loves them and decide to be disciples of Jesus too. IOW, parents who allow their children to participate in Christian SRI expect that their kids are going to be “evangelised”. This can hardly be called “proselytisation”.
Sometimes dogs bite people. Big deal. It isn’t a news story.
Neither is it a news story to say that “Evangelicals Evangelise”. Its what they do.