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Would Mary send Jesus to Xavier?

By Alan Matheson - posted Friday, 19 February 2010

“If Christian schools were really Christian”, wrote Sydney Anglican, Michael Jensen, “would anyone send their kids there?” Jensen continued, “are our values really Christian or are they blatantly middle class? Are we just perpetuating the idea that Christian discipleship, equals, a fairly acquisitive politically quiet, and socially invisible suburban lifestyle?”

Two decades ago, the Geelong College Principal, warned that government funding of church schools, was “not really for schooling, but rather, even if covertly, for religious purposes, social mobility and advancement, institutional adherence and dependence, displaced social dissatisfaction and resentment, and absolution of neglect” (The Sun, May 31, 1985). Such schools he concluded had little to do with the needy.

A Methodist Ladies College (MLC) chaplain, asserted that, “prestigious private schools risked losing the soul of its heritage, by valuing money over the welfare of some of its disadvantaged students” (The Age, April 1, 2001).


Later, a Uniting Church of Australia (UCA) correspondent, added, “we are duplicitous when we purport to be at the forefront of social justice ... yet simultaneously justifying the safeguarding of increased government funding to some of the richest schools in the country” (Crosslight, July 2007). A UCA minister, more recently commented, that, his “understanding of the Scriptures is that God has a special concern for the poor” (Crosslight, December 2009). While still another letter writer believes, that,” some Uniting Church schools have become part of a system which is inequitable and discriminatory and it is time we confronted the issue” (Crosslight, October 2009).

Are church schools, “really Christian”, or are they part of an inequitable system that continues to deny the poor, the disabled, and the marginalised, their right to a meaningful education?

The issue for the church is not a debate about public/state v private exclusive church schools, but simply, “What Would Jesus Do?” In short, would Mary and Joseph be sending Jesus, his brothers and sisters, off to Bethlehem Trinity, Nazareth King’s College, Jerusalem’s Carey College, or Shore on Jordan?

If the ministry of Christ is any guide, it’s not going to be any of these. In fact, the message of the Gospel stands in stark contrast to the multimillion dollar church school. The radical message of the Bible has to do, not with the wealthy, but with the poor and marginalised.

Jim Wallis, Christian activist, adviser to Barak Obama, and frequent visitor to Australia, tells of the seminary student who cut out of an old Bible, every reference to the poor and those who suffer injustice. From Amos, out came God’s anger, “toward you that trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor” (Amos 8:4). Cut, was the scathing attack of God on those whose, “houses are full of what you took from the poor, who crushed and ground the faces of the poor into the dirt” (Isaiah 3:13-15). And says, Wallis, you can imagine what happened to the teaching of Jesus about caring for, “the least of these” (Matthew 25).

In fact, out went the more than 2,000 verses referring to the poor. In short, he writes, “we have responded to all the Scriptures say about the poor, by pretending it just isn’t there. We have cut the poor out of the Bible” (The Soul of Politics, Jim Wallis, P.163).


And for the mega church school, with its “heated indoor pools” and “seamless resource centres”, the poor are deliberately cut out and systematically ignored. Verse after verse, chapter after chapter, book after book, the Bible is the story of radical and revolutionary commitment to the poor and the marginalised.

Just published, is the Bible Society’s, Poverty and Justice Bible, highlighting more than “2,000 verses that speak of attitudes to poverty and injustice”, with the warning, that “now there is no excuse for missing them”. Catholic Social Teaching expresses this very explicit message as, “the preferential option for the poor”. But such teaching stands in embarrassing contrast to the mega-rich church school relentlessly pursuing ”a preferential option for the wealthy”.

By far the most common response to the poor by these schools is to either, avoid even mentioning the word, or, if they meet the children, “in the slums on the outskirts of Nairobi”, patronise them.

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About the Author

Alan Matheson is a retired Churches of Christ minister who worked in a migration centre in Melbourne, then the human rights program of the World Council of Churches, before returning to take responsibility for the international program of the ACTU.

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