LAST year a man rang, identified himself and started asking questions. He said he was researching a story for the ABC television show Media Watch.
The questions were about my articles about scripture in schools. I asked him to repeat exactly what he was doing, and who or what he was doing it for. He repeated the Media Watch reference, but it didn't go much further because when I asked directly if he was employed by Media Watch, or contracted to do the work he purported to be doing, he said no.
He was a member of a Christian church and he'd taken exception to what I'd written. I said I didn't think it was very Christian to misrepresent himself and the article spoke for itself.
Another man emailed and insisted I was blocking his opinion piece from appearing in the Newcastle Herald, despite the fact I forwarded it on to a features editor, and advised him so.
His piece didn't run after his Christian group posted film of a Hunter state school on a website that identified children, prompting a swift response from the Department of Education. The film presented the children as unfortunate because they weren't Christians.
I didn't make the decision whether the piece ran or not. But a tip for any would-be opinion writers on any subject - being caught out on something like the above would not, I suspect, end up on the credit end of the ledger if a media outlet was considering your piece.
I had a phone call from another Christian chap - and these three were from the evangelistic end of the Christian spectrum - who said he'd heard from someone in Sydney that I was blocking a church organisation from having a say in the Herald.
I said I didn't know what he was talking about, had not received information from the group he named, wasn't aware of the Herald receiving anything, and that he appeared to be relying on hearsay. I flatly denied any such "blocking".
In a subsequent email he wanted me to forward the material to the newspaper, but didn't include it. I sent him an email back suggesting if I was the alleged obstacle in the process, why not contact the Herald directly?
I may, or may not, have been charitable enough to provide an email address, but quite possibly by that stage, and after too many brief and bizarre encounters with evangelistic Christians, I didn't. Mea culpa.
I'm expecting a new round of accusations after venturing into the fraught area of scripture in NSW public schools again, after the Department of Education contradicted its own implementation guidelines about ethics in state schools.
In response to direct questions this week, the department confirmed that parents will only receive information about ethics after they have opted their children out of scripture. Education Minister Adrian Piccoli's office issued a short, vague statement that didn't address any of the questions I asked, and can best be described as the statement a politician's office in election-campaign mode makes when it doesn't want to say anything at all.
The Newcastle-based Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Schools (ICCOREIS), lobbied the minister and the NSW government from the middle of last year to make the changes.
ICCOREIS chief executive Sue Sneddon confirmed her group's opposition to a new enrolment form last year that gave parents of children in state schools the choice to "opt in" to either scripture or ethics for the first time, rather than "opting out" of scripture for other alternatives, including ethics.
Scripture is advantaged in this newly directed "opt out" system because parents are not advised if ethics is available. In some reported cases, principals have told parents and ethics volunteers they cannot "promote" ethics in newsletters or Facebook pages.
What is clear is that while parents were given the chance to "opt in" to scripture or ethics, they chose ethics in numbers that disturbed the evangelical Christian churches. It is worth noting here that both the Catholic and Anglican churches withdrew their strong opposition to ethics classes a few years ago when this issue led to a parliamentary inquiry.
The articles I wrote last year included quotes from some Hunter evangelistic Christian churches that appeared to see children as recruitment opportunities.
How else to explain a church that described scripture volunteers as "government-endorsed evangelists" with access to children aged 5-12 years who were "nine times more likely to accept Christ as their saviour" than children over 12?
They're probably 20 times more likely to believe in Santa Claus as well, proving nothing - only that they are very young and vulnerable, which is why we have implementation guidelines.
The church finished its message to volunteers by quoting the Bible and declaring: "The harvest is ready".