Religious School Kids More Tolerant

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Some of us – including me – think religion has no place in children’s education. But maybe we worry about it too much.

While researching Lyle Shelton’s origins on the Dark Side of Christianity, I got sidetracked, as you do. Which led me some interesting observations on Christianity, schools and children. Bear with me and I’ll step you through it.

It begins with the well-worn observation that traditional Christian congregations are shrinking as their older members “depart for glory”, while few younger people arrive to replace them. How can such churches grow, rather than shrink?

An evangelical businessmen (yes, such creatures do exist, like Bob Beaumont of Beaumont Tiles, and Frank Seeley, the aircon king) has done some business analysis. Tim Sims, a corporate strategist and equity fund manager, made a key discovery.

Churches are very bad at attracting new adult worshippers. Congregations, by and large, do not grow by attracting new adults: their growth is almost exclusively made up of the children of churchgoing parents. Furthermore, if the divorce rate goes up, and the birth rate goes down, church attendance drops in parallel.

It follows, therefore, that it’s good business sense for the churches to oppose divorce and defend traditional families: it shores up their business model. And instead of trying to attract adults, it makes sense to concentrate their meagre resources on ministering to youth.

Unfortunately the fix Tim identified tends to be temporary: many of the children of churchgoing couples leave religion, or gravitate to happy clappy places like Hillsong.

So if you can’t get them at church, where else can you get them? At school, of course. For a time it was thought that the decline of public education and the rise of private, religious run schools was the answer to the churches’ prayers, churning out lots of good little Christians. Instead it’s doing the opposite.

Research has shown that these schools do not make children more intolerant. If anything, the reverse is true, as these schools inculcate an appreciation of cultural diversity… Christian schools do not seem to make pupils more religious, either; they do not appear to have any influence over and above the religious beliefs and practices of the parents.**

So if a schools which is Christian from Head to toe can’t snare the little darlings for Jesus, what hope for religious instruction or chaplaincies in public schools? Well, they may not be working quite as intended either.

Aggressive secularism has been identified as more undermining of the balance of social cohesion and pluralism required for stability in modern multicultural Australia.**

So a little religious leaven and salt in the mix, in the form of RI and a chaplain in a secular school, may actually be helping religion’s decline, instead of arresting or reversing it. We may have less to worry about than we think.

**[Source: Spirit, Word & World: Evangelical Christianity in Australia. You can find it on Google Books]

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years.

“Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe.” (Daniel Witthaus, “Beyond Priscilla”, Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)