29 September 2007

Anglican views on faith-based schools

I imagine I'm not the only one to find reading the Niagara Anglican a singularly unpleasant experience. Two articles in the current issue are typical in this regard: "Religion in Ontario public schools," by retired Archbishop John Bothwell, and "A religious education," by Peter Wall, Rector of Christ's Church Cathedral here in Hamilton. Both Bothwell and Wall oppose the funding of faith-based schools for all the predictable reasons, favouring instead "religious education," i.e., education about the world's religions, in the public schools. Here is Wall:

[John] Tory's suggestion is that faith based schools are just that — faith based, so we have, rather than religious education, religious indoctrination — potentially narrow and exclusive curricula which promote one religion over another. To my way of thinking, it leads to narrowness, intolerance, a lack of breadth of knowledge and awareness, and a preponderance of religious myopia which has in the past and continues today to cause problems between peoples and groups.

The solution? Keep religious instruction in the churches and religious education in the schools. Notably absent from their remarks is any vision for reclaiming education for the cause of Christ, for bringing the gospel to bear on the whole of life, or witnessing to the coming of God's kingdom. We had best keep our private faith in our churches and out of our schools — "our" evidently referring to Canadians, not Christians. Absent as well is an understanding of the reality that someone's worldview, whether or not overtly expressed, will infuse such teaching about religion.

Sadly, Bothwell and Wall appear to have accepted uncritically the secularizing worldview of the larger society. Accordingly, the church functions as little more than chaplain to that society, affirming it in its prejudices and keeping itself respectable within the eyes of its self-proclaimed opinion-moulders. It shies away from all perceptions of divisiveness, narrowness and intolerance, seemingly vindicating the outsider's cynical assessment of Anglicanism as an establishmentarian church founded to sanction a king's divorce. The offence of the gospel and the exclusive claims of Christ over our lives are obviously not primary considerations.

It is far from coincidental that the same issue of the Niagara Anglican contains this sad article: "Why did St. Philip's close its doors?" A church unable to distinguish itself from the larger culture will eventually become superfluous, as it seems bent on becoming in the Niagara diocese.

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