The Prime Minister recently announced a huge multi million dollar funding package to place chaplains in high schools. As someone who has been involved in funding and supporting chaplains, I think this is a bad idea. Its a job for the church, not government, and I see compromise and bureaucracy edging its way in to what has been a very worthwhile programme.
I am in full agreement with Doug Hynd, Lecturer in Theology, St Marks Institute, Canberra, when he writes:
The sting in the tail of the Prime Minister’s proposal to provide funding for chaplaincies is that an effective veto power over appointment will be held by the Government. This will require bureaucratic vetting and Ministerial decision. The integrity of any faith community lies in its authority to call and approve its leaders and teachers. The government proposal in principle challenges the exercise of this authority. Churches have had to fight long and hard to assert their independence from state power in the west, that is what the separation of church and state is all about. Mr Howard may deny it or downplay the significance of what he is proposing but as announced the program will cross the line between church and state that has been drawn with much pain and at substantial cost by faithful Christians throughout the centuries. Indeed, Churches are still having to fight government attempts to control their life and witness in so many countries across the world. Governments ruling on the suitability of people to act in any role on behalf of a faith community is a thoroughly bad idea, As my mother would say “It will end in tears before bed time.” This sort of control over the suitability of religious figures for public roles has normally been a practice engaged in by governments of more totalitarian tendencies. The churches should refuse to participate in efforts to obtain this funding and boycott the program. If chaplaincy and pastoral care placements in schools are sought by the local community then churches should raise the money themselves and work with the local community to that end. That way the Christian community will retain the integrity of their identity and mission as a community that is not subservient to governments of whatever political persuasion. Action with the community at a local level will avoid the stigma that will be associated with receiving funding under this program, a stigma that will hinder the engagement and witness of the church in substantial sections of the Australian community. It will also build stronger connections with the community and be a more faithful witness to the way of Jesus than accepting government funding under conditions that make the church subservient to the government.