Representatives of the country’s largest chaplaincy provider have revealed that it is “a myth” that chaplains are not allowed to talk about Jesus and God as part of their role working with students in public schools.
At a Sunday service at NewLife Church in Mackay on the weekend, Scripture Union chaplain Rob Ruge appeared alongside other chaplains to encourage people in the audience to support school chaplaincy.
Mr Ruge said that, under Queensland Department of Education policy, the chaplaincy role was a “spiritual” one and, as such, chaplains could speak about religion.
“We are able to respond to questions and express views and articulate values that are consistent with our own beliefs. So I just want to dispel that myth, because a lot of people think that we’re not able to talk about God or Jesus. Well, we are able to talk about that,” he said.
As reported earlier in the week, the latest evaluation of the National School Chaplaincy Program claimed there was “insufficient evidence” to suggest that proselytising – explicitly banned under the program – was happening, despite the evaluation report detailing testimonials from students that chaplains had done exactly that.
According to the ABC, federal education minister Jason Clare has signed an agreement with state and territory education ministers, with a new five-year agreement worth $307 million for the newly named National Student Wellbeing Program.
The Albanese government has not yet released details of the new agreement, but, as reported by the RSA last month, the federal Department of Education has confirmed that chaplains funded under the program would require “endorsement by a recognised or accepted religious institution”.
In an episode of The Secular Agenda podcast last year, former school chaplain Caragh Larsen detailed how some school chaplains used their role to introduce religion to children.
She said there were “so many ways” that chaplains could set up conversations that lead to children asking about religion.
During the presentation at NewLife Church on Sunday – streamed live on Facebook – one of Scripture Union’s chaplains said it was her job to “bring Christ” into the school.
Another chaplain said her role included holding confidence-building activities with young girls to develop them “in the way that God wants them to be his royal princesses”.
Another chaplain shared his passion for Scripture Union’s camps, including a “discipleship camp” targeted at Year 7-9 students.
In Queensland, chaplains have long been a conduit for recruiting children to participate in Scripture Union camps.
As detailed in an article in Rationale magazine last year, chaplains use schools’ communication channels, such as social media, to encourage students to attend the camps.
On the Facebook page of Coorparoo Secondary College on 26 August 2021, promotional material promised children “the time of your life” at a spring camp and urged them to contact the chaplain for more information.
In 2015, promotional material at Kedron State High School encouraged students to join Scripture Union’s ‘Metamorphis’ camp, which promised to help students “Let GOD change your LIFE from the inside out.”
In the Rationale article, an informant who worked in the evangelical and Pentecostal church networks said chaplaincy providers deliberately targeted schools to grow local youth ministries.
The informant said chaplains worked to funnel children to church activities in out-of-school hours, with the aim of converting children to Christianity.
“It is highly organised, mission-led and meticulously reported back in terms of metrics. The key metric is ‘decisions’ – or ‘souls saved’. That means that a student makes a conscious decision to become a Christian,” the informant said.
In January, the Rationalist Society of Australia discovered promotional videos in which YouthCARE chaplains in Western Australia spoke openly about “connecting and engaging” churches with schools and even directing students to participate in church programs.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.