A PROMINENT evangelical Christian church and scripture group leader who told church women they should “turn off the lights and do what you’ve got to do.. whether you want kids or not” has rejected concerns his views on women conflict with Department of Education values.
Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) chairman and Central Coast EV Church founding pastor Andrew Heard said his sermon telling women there was an “obligation in marriage to have children” even if they lacked “maternal instincts” was delivered “with a little bit of a smile and a smirk”.
He defended sermons telling women they had to “face without fear the truth of your weaknesses and differences”, that women are “crushed” when “no account is made for the weakness inherent in being a woman”, and arguing for “different” educations according to gender.
“If we fail to account for the differences between men and women in education, women have lost out, men will lose out, if we don’t acknowledge we’re different in the way education occurs,” he said in a sermon at his Erina church.
“Women who spend years in that maze of the ideological lie of thinking that they can be whatever they want and do whatever men can do, pursuing a career like a man. Know that it will cost you in a way that it will never cost a man, because biology isn’t feminist. You have a narrow window of reproductory opportunity.”.
Women who spend years in that maze of the ideological lie of thinking that they can be whatever they want and do whatever men can do, pursuing a career like a man. Know that it will cost you in a way that it will never cost a man, because biology isn’t feminist.Evangelical Christian leader Andrew Heard.
Pastor Heard said his comments were “just statements of fact” but were not reflected in scripture delivered by his church, which is one of 13 FIEC churches across regional NSW listed as approved public school scripture providers, including three in the Hunter and three on the Central Coast.
The FIEC churches, with a number acknowledging an association with the conservative Sydney Anglican Diocese, whose Youthworks unit produces Connect scripture material used in public schools across NSW, do not allow women to be “in positions of authority over men”, including preaching to mixed groups.
Pastor Heard denied his sermons on gender differences were inconsistent with Department of Education values including respect, participation and fairness.
“I don’t think there’s anything I present that’s at all inconsistent with department values,” he said.
He denied that he did not support gender equality or education for women, and said he was known for presenting strong sermons to men about respect and support for women.
“Any interpretation of what I’ve said that could be made to sound like women should not have the same educational opportunities as men is thoroughly wrong. I want to push women to be educated,” he said.
But Fairness in Religions in School (FIRIS) spokesperson Darrin Morgan said the FIEC churches’ core belief that Bible creation stories dictate that women in marriage should submit to their husbands’ leadership was contrary to public education values.
“Our argument is that although scripture providers may teach values, the question is whether the values of those church providers is in alignment with public education and community values, and do parents know what the values of scripture providers are?” Mr Morgan said.
His group complained to the Department of Education after an independent review of scripture and ethics, withheld by the NSW Government for 18 months, showed children were exposed to lessons on the conservative Christian concept of “headship”, where women “submit” to their husbands as their “helpers”.
The “headship” information that appeared in a draft report to the Department of Education was removed from the final report released in April, 2017, but revealed after a freedom of information application. It validated scripture opponents’ concerns about the growing and largely unacknowledged influence of evangelical Christian groups in state schools.
A Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches position statement includes: “The Bible makes clear that in church as in marriage, the roles of men and women are not interchangeable. In particular, eldership is only for biblically qualified men as is preaching within the public assembly. We are committed to expressing the differences within relationships of mutual dependence.”
Public education advocate and social commentator Jane Caro said the FIEC positions on women were “the absolute antithesis of the values espoused by public education”.
“Every child, regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity, background or religion of family of origin is entitled to equal opportunity, equal respect and equal access to a great education. That is why one of the essential attributes of public education is that it is compulsory, universal and secular,” Ms Caro said.
She refused to allow her daughters to take part in scripture but made an exception for the Uniting Church because it had always allowed women priests.
“I would love to see alternatives offered to scripture, rather than banning scripture altogether, like ethics or a history of world religions course, but that was explicitly excluded according to the original agreement that introduced scripture to public schools,” Ms Caro said.
She said scripture curriculum, which is authorised by scripture providers and not the Department of Education, “should come under the same scrutiny as any other curriculum in any other classes and any sexist, racist or discriminatory rhetoric should be expunged”.
This week the NSW Teachers Federation confirmed it will campaign to scrap scripture from NSW public schools because of “antiquated” law preventing children from school learning if they opt out of scripture, and the lack of department approval for scripture curriculum or volunteer instructors.
Ms Caro said she expected the scripture debate to heat up as public school enrolments increase, scripture numbers fall because of a changed enrolment form and churches “cling tenaciously to their toe-hold in public schools”.
Education Minister Rob Stokes declined to respond to questions about the FIEC scripture providers and referred them to the Department of Education to respond.
Labor education spokesperson and former school principal Jihad Dib said his party was “not about removing scripture from schools”.
“But what we need to do is make sure what’s being delivered to students in these times is acceptable, and the values being taught are what parents would be expecting to happen,” Mr Dib said.
There were acknowledged problems around scripture, including an enrolment form that privileged scripture and a lack of transparency, he said.
“We’re much further advanced, although we still need a greater level of clarity around SRE (special religious education) and SEE (special ethics education) so that people know what’s happening in those sessions because there were some problems. There is still more to be done.
“There are unfortunately probably going to be some things said during scripture that aren’t acceptable. The important thing is how that’s responded to,” Mr Dib said.
The Department of Education did not respond to Newcastle Herald questions about Pastor Heard’s comments or whether the 13 FIEC approved scripture provider values were consistent with department values.
“The SRE procedures in NSW public schools have been revised to strengthen accountability and to provide clarity for parents/caregivers, approved providers and schools,” a spokesperson said.
“Approved SRE providers are responsible for authorising the materials used by their teachers, and must make their curriculum accessible on their website. They must also provide information about the content of lessons when requested by parents/carers/principals.
“The department will continue to work closely with SRE and Special Education in Ethics (SEE) curriculum developers and provide them with access to expert advice on effective teaching practices and age-appropriate learning experiences.”
The department said principals are responsible for implementing the department’s religious education policy in their schools.