By Ruth Limkin
Bob Carr has, perhaps unwittingly, condemned hundreds of thousands of Australian as being unemployable.
Carr, and his thoughts on the National School Chaplaincy Program, were part of an article by journalist David Penberthy on The Punch last week. Carr was quoted as saying, “It is indefensible that all taxpayers are required to support a program that is gradually becoming church evangelism. There is enough feedback now to show that quite understandably chaplains cannot confine their activism. Evangelical work is their lifeblood and it’s naïve to expect them not to pursue it around young people. They can’t because of their training. They can’t approach these matters from any other perspective.”
Carr’s comments indicate a profound and superior disregard for more than just those employed as chaplains. If Carr is suggesting – as he seems to be – that Chaplains are incapable of respecting agreed to boundaries in employment because of their ‘ardent or missionary zeal for a cause’, then his logic would also mean that any devoted Christian is similarly incapable.
His comments would logically mean that every Christian teacher in every public school should be similarly discontinued. After all, if they have a high level of enthusiasm for their faith, they’re probably forcing young people to learn about mass instead of maths.
Christians in the health care system probably refuse to provide medical care and instead just force prayer times on unwilling patients.
Every Christian police officer should be sacked so that wrongdoers get arrested, rather than just forgiven. After all, quite understandably Christian police officers ‘can’t confine their activism and it’s naïve to expect them not to pursue it’ around criminals.
Ridiculous? Of course! But no more ridiculous than the assertion that Chaplains ‘cannot contain their activism’.
Many of the articles attacking chaplaincy (the writers of which seem evangelistic in their fervour) are filled with misinformation or misunderstanding about the role of chaplains. In Penberthy’s article, for instance, many of his complaints about chaplaincy were referring to the activities of completely different program. Chaplains are not employed to provide religious education instruction, and to suggest their work hours are spent doing this is erroneous at best, and deliberatively deceptive at worst.
So what do chaplains do?
A local City Councillor was recently telling me about the school chaplain in one of the flood affected schools in his area. The chaplain’s own recently purchased house was flooded, but he hasn’t got to repair it, yet as he has been helping all the other families in the school. Still another chaplain I know has been working with families affected by flooding, and provides a valuable and needed connection point for those who want to help meet the needs of families in her school.
Just a few weeks ago, a chaplain I know was busy arranging food parcels and other practical assistance for a family in her school. Their young son was dying and they were struggling financially.
Another female chaplain arranged a beautiful morning tea for all the mums at her school, in the lead up to Mothers day, to encourage healthy community relationships and reduce relational isolation.
Perhaps those best placed to comment on the need for, and appropriateness of, chaplaincy are school Principals. A 2009 national survey of principals who currently have a chaplain found 98% of them want government funding for School Chaplaincy to continue.
No school community is forced to have a chaplain. It’s telling that so many of them do.