If Alex’s Wildman’s suicide (discussed in my previous article) raises concerns about the National School Chaplaincy Program, consider the teenagers who are probably most at risk in our schools. Research studies reveal that one-third of all teenagers who commit suicide are gay. Considering that gay teens only comprise one-tenth of the school population, this means that they are 300 percent more likely to kill themselves than heterosexual youth.
So to whom do we entrust these vulnerable young people? Evangelistic, fundamentalist Christians. As Adele Horin wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald:
“… Religious institutions remain the last bastion of bigotry. They have resisted the evidence from health and legal professionals that homosexuality is a normal part of human sexuality. They have instead maintained a hardline interpretation of a few scattered references in the Bible.
… Church leaders should be spreading a message of love and acceptance of gays. Instead, they are part of the problem.”
The Australian Coalition for Equality’s spokesperson, Rod Swift, says his organisation has concerns about the abilities of chaplains to counsel young people dealing with issues of sexuality. But are those concerns misplaced? Let’s look at what one of the organisations which supplies chaplains to Australian schools thinks about homosexuality.
GenR8 Ministries says they ‘utterly reject and repudiate’ the assumption that homosexuality should be regarded as ‘acceptable sexual behaviour’. Instead, they are in favour of ‘a healthy and wholesome society in which young people are brought up effectively to their full humanity.’
What? Rewind that. Are they really suggesting that homosexual people are not ‘fully human’??? Is that the message their chaplains give to young people who come to them with issues about sexuality?
GenR8 opposes efforts to:
“enforce favourable attitudes to groups with sexual practices that are proscribed in, not only our authoritative Scriptures, but in the teachings of other major religions.”
They note that:
“Homosexual activity as with heterosexual fornication and adultery are serious sins in Christian theology and Biblical teaching, and we are committed to teaching this.”
This attitude, of course, contravenes the policies of Australia’s public education departments and GenR8 are well aware of this. GenR8 Minisitries freely admit the conflict in values:
“There is increasing awkwardness in teaching Christian sexual ethics when schools have secular humanist policies that clearly conflict with this teaching.”
They go on to complain that:
“… to be asked to collude in wrongdoing of such a kind as this that does so much damage to the people involved themselves as well as giving the worst kind of messages to young people trying to consolidate their sexual identity and form healthy relationships with proper sexual discipline is totally unacceptable to us.”
Chillingly, GenR8 note that they do not oppose homosexuality, per se, only homosexual acts which they regard as ‘fornication’. They add that the idea of same sex marriage is ‘repugnant’. Their view, clearly expressed, is that sexual activity outside of marriage is unacceptable, and that gay people should never be allowed to marry – and therefore, should never be permitted to express their sexuality physically.
Given this, we can expect that the advice given to a troubled gay teen by a GenR8 chaplain would be either:
a) change or deny your sexuality (or, indeed, ‘pray the gay away’) or,
b) accept your sexual ‘inclination’ but look forward to a celibate life with no prospect of physical intimacy with a life partner of your choice and, of course, no children.
Can you imagine the psychological torment such advice inflicts on a sensitive teenager?
Former Jesuit, William Glenn a graduate of a Catholic high school which embodied these kinds of attitudes describes his experience as a gay teen:
During puberty’s final onslaught I came to believe that I was evil. And more: that I was sick, sinful and unacceptable in the eyes of the world. All our culture’s words and notions and judgments came home to roost in me, a 16-year-old gay boy, whom the world, let alone his parents, could not know. But finally, and primarily, I came to believe that I was unacceptable as a human being in the eyes of God. The more I prayed to be changed, which was the concentrated content of my prayer (deeply aware that I had not chosen this but believing it was visited upon me because of my sinfulness), I regarded my not changing as God’s judgment on me. [I was] abandoned .. to despair because the person I had become could effect no change, could not desist from either my feelings or my desires, no matter how hard I fought them or prayed to be delivered from them. In the end, I was utterly alone.
But, according to GenR8, this isn’t really a problem because:
“The issue has not yet emerged to our knowledge in relation to our chaplains – perhaps partly because they do not have a formal religious teaching function and are not to proselytize.”
Strange, then, that the 2009 National School Chaplaincy Association (NSCA) report (quoted by the Australian Psychological Society) , found that 40% of school chaplains say that they deal with issues of student sexuality. But GenR8 are Christians – they wouldn’t lie, would they?
So, how do chaplains deal with students who have issues relating to sexuality? I don’t doubt that many are sensitive and accepting but I also have no doubt that many are not.
In a letter to the Atheist Foundation of Australia, for example, a former student of Victoria Point High School alleges that the chaplain was distributing “Jack Chick” style anti-homosexual pamphlets to students.
In Western Australia, ‘Anita’ – a teacher with two teaching excellence awards – alleges that, until recently, her school had “a chaplain from the Church of Christ who handed out anti-gay leaflets”. That same chaplain, says Anita, refused to provide pastoral care for a gay student:
“He did not counsel a gay student who’d had a knife held to his throat. That same student came back to school the next day because his mum had taken it to the police who said they [couldn’t] do anything about it… He headed back to school and was beaten up that day by the other students…”
When Anita suggested that some measures should be put in place for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual) students the chaplain sarcastically replied, “Why don’t you do something for left-handers?”
Shocked, Anita said that she would:
“… when he could tell me about left-handed people who are not allowed to be open about being left-handed, who are beaten up at school because of it, thrown out of their homes, labelled as pedophiles and rejected by their families…”
Anita’s championing of gay students was not a hit at her previous school, either. She tells the story of being paired with the chaplain in the staff’s ‘Kris Kringle’ (similar to Secret Santa). Of their exchange of gifts she says:
“I received…a cactus in a little pot with a blue ribbon on it… A banana and two kiwi fruits … A cucumber with a red condom on it with a Father Christmas face on it … And a cheap shitty Christmas stocking …”
A chaplain in regional WA confessed that, even if she knew a student was gay, she wouldn’t take any action unless it became ‘an issue’. This is chillingly reminiscent of the Alex Wildman case, with the school waiting until it was too late to intervene with an ‘at risk’ child. Given that research evidence shows clearly that gay students are most at risk before they come out to anyone, the approach of waiting for students to come out before providing support could be deadly.
The WA chaplain defended the lack of proactive support for gay students. She feared that if she talked about homosexuality, the kids might want to try it. She felt that talking about the subject might somehow ‘glorify it’. But research at Deakin University has found that the only effect of pro-active education about homosexuality was to reduce teenage students’ homophobic attitudes and behaviours. Teaching kids about homosexuality in no way made them more prone to experiment or to become more sexually active. Of course, we could expect a trained counsellor or psychologist to know that. We can’t expect an unqualified chaplain, whose church tells him that homosexuality is a sin and can be ‘cured’, to either be familiar with, or to accept, such research.
Julia Gillard’s announcement that a re-elected Labor Government would spend another 220 million of tax-payers’ dollars to expand the current National School Chaplaincy Program by more than 33% should outrage every parent. How much more responsible it would be to spend that $220 million – or more – on full-time, qualified counsellors for our kids. It’s not as if the chaplains are a complement to counsellors. School counsellors, it seems, are nearly as rare as hen’s teeth! Take a look at the results from a 2008 study of the ratios of counsellors to students in our public schools.
ACT – 1 counsellor to 850 students
NT – 1 to 2500
NSW – 1 to 1050
QLD – 1 to 1300
SA – 1 to 1994 (at best)
TAS – 1 to 1800.
But, is our government committing more money to counsellors? No, they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on unqualified people with a religious agenda! As my friend, Sean the Blogonaut (a teacher himself) says, “Who would you prefer to work with your troubled teen? A qualified counsellor or a retired motor mechanic?” (the only professional qualification of a chaplain of Sean’s acquaintance).
What price do we put on our children’s welfare and mental health? This should be a national scandal! What would be the reaction if adults needing psychological assistance were told by Medicare or their private health fund to visit their local minister or pastor instead – because it was cheaper?
The National School Chaplaincy Program must be stopped. It is nothing more than a means by which politicians are attempting to buy votes from right-wing Christians. It has nothing whatever to do with the best mental-health outcomes for our children.
Julia Gillard’s announcement shows that she is willing to sacrifice Australian children’s welfare in return for Christian votes. That is, quite frankly, sickening. It now appears that the only way to stop this ill-advised and dangerous program is the High Court action which will challenge the scheme on constitutional grounds.
It was announced, this week, that high-profile Sydney barrister, Bret Walker, SC will lead the legal team engaged for this land-mark constitutional challenge. The importance of having the case represented by such a leading figure in Australian law cannot be overstated. Walker is one of Australia’s leading barristers. He has been president of both the NSW Bar Association and the Law Council of Australia and Governor of the Law Foundation of NSW. He is Editor of the NSW Law Reports and Director of the Australian Academy of Law. It is exciting that such a high profile, well-informed, legal luminary believes that Ron’s case is strong with a high chance of success.
Walker will be supported by barrister, Gerald Ng, and the law firm, Horowitz and Bilinsky. The next step in the legal process is approaching, and further details will be released when it occurs.
In the meantime, if you have read this series of articles –
Part One: A Fox in the Henhouse
Part Two: Russian Roulette
Part Three: Gay Teens at Risk from School Chaplaincy
and you share my concerns about the National School Chaplaincy Program, I urge you to dig deep and donate to the High Court Challenge team.
8 August 2010: The Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, will today announce an allocation of $222 million to boost the number of chaplains in schools by more than one-third, which would mean about 3700 schools will be covered under the voluntary scheme introduced by the Howard government.
First time comments on this blog are moderated, but will be approved as soon as possible.
If you oppose the National School Chaplaincy scheme, please donate to the High Court Challenge against National School Chaplaincy. A paypal facility is available on the website.
Ron Williams, a parent from Toowoomba, is bravely taking on the government and arguing against this scheme on constitutional grounds. He has recently announced that high profile lawyer, Bret Walker SC will lead the legal team. Walker will be supported by Gerald Ng, Barrister, and the law firm, Horowitz and Bilinsky.
Note – money raised for the High Court Challenge goes into a trust for the payment of legal fees, not to Ron Williams and his family. For a small (or large) investment, this is a chance to be a part of Australian history.
Gladly’s Book Recommendations
Gladly’s favourite book store for online purchases is Embiggen Books. If you’ve found this article interesting you may enjoy this further reading:
Same Sex Different Cultures: Gays and Lesbians Across Cultures by Gilbert H Herdt
Jesus weeps for Gillard the hypocrite, Ben Sandilands, The Stump