'Religious Education Discussion': Further information
To deal with Patricia’s concern first of all: Patricia would like to know how child protection policies are developed and maintained within faith communities. If you would also welcome assistance from her in developing child protection policies she is ready to help. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As any of you read this, I would be interested to receive your reactions to any of the issues identified in what follows (email@example.com).
It was, as I had hoped, a very lively and stimulating discussion, no doubt eased by the four of us (Michael, Stephen, Rashid and myself) knowing one another well and already having some sense of what happens in a church, synagogue and mosque.
Content of teaching. As I anticipated it took a while for Michael, Stephen and Rashid to explain the content of religious teaching within their respective church, synagogue and mosque. Though this was a general and initial topic of conversation, the matter of learning Hebrew and Arabic was touched on.
We discussed the difficulties for anyone engaged in religious education of children getting a balance right between ensuring on the one hand that knowledge of ‘the scriptures’, the Bible (Old and New Testament) and the Qur’an is passed on to children and young people and, sufficient time for discussion with children and young people to ensure that they begin to learn how to apply religious teaching to the way we should live our lives and engage with issues in the world.
Though expressed in varying ways, all agreed that there is an imperative to ensure that children and young people recognize that sacred texts give the basis for a way of life which cannot help but be in tension with ‘the world’. There was also the recognition that elements of ‘the world’, for instance, most notably, the internet, are in themselves morally neutral and are capable of being used both for good and ill. Stephen and Michael both gave examples of how they are able to use video clips of advertisements or excerpts from films (as do I) as a way of stimulating a discussion on moral issues.
Obstacles to overcome. I had expected that this part of the discussion would be an open invitation for us to share ‘moans’ about the difficulty of getting children and young people to synagogue, church, and the mosque in light of other attractions and commitments in other aspects of their lives, e.g. sports, computer games, shopping, and, for young people socializing in various ways even if they are legally too young to attend clubs. I had also expected issues relating to the academic pressures of GCSE’s and A levels to come into the discussion.
Interestingly, other issues than the ones I had anticipated emerged. For instance, Stephen pointed out that younger parents, new to the Christian faith, and with young children might well be slightly critical of what they perceive to be a slightly more lax attitude by older parents whose children are either teenage or are young adults. The younger parents, new to the Christian faith may be motivated by an intention to bring their children up within a strict concern for Biblical teaching. I commented that this was true within my own congregation concerning the very high expectations amongst Korean speaking families who usually (on Saturdays) have separate Bible classes for their children, ensuring that their children’s Bible knowledge is much greater than that of the children who attend our Junior Church.
Rashid was able to sketch for us the fact that parents who attend the mosque comprise people who have either come from a range of other countries or whose parents came from a range of other countries. Therefore there is a wide range of expectations about what religious education for children at the mosque should be about.
Hebrew, Arabic, and Bibles in English translation. I was particularly interested to learn how it actually works at a Jewish synagogue and a mosque for teaching respectively Hebrew and Arabic. Surely, I asked, there is a real advantage to children learning to read their scriptures in Hebrew and Arabic. The responses by Michael and Rashid indicated that teaching Hebrew and Arabic is an uphill struggle. Children may well gain a degree of proficiency. This still leaves the major task of encouraging children truly to take in and begin to apply religious knowledge to the way we are meant to live our lives. Accordingly, with young children at the synagogue, as in a Christian ‘Junior Church’ or ‘Sunday School’, attractively produced children’s stories with colourful and engaging illustrations are used to tell Biblical stories.
Stephen replied to the question I put – how can we, as Christians, ever claim, truly, to be teaching the Bible when we rely on a range of translations in English – in much the way I would have responded had he asked me the question. That is to say, he referred to the major effort during the Protestant Reformation across Europe to ensure that the Bible was available in the vernacular, in Germany, England and so on.
The counter point I neglected to put (I did not want to intrude on the conversation too much!) is that inevitably things are lost in translation. A common example would be the need for preachers to explain that the Greek word for ‘sin’ is ‘hamartia’. Its root meaning is from archery, to miss the ‘bulls eye’, as when the apostle Paul writes that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Unless a preacher is on hand to explain the root meaning of ‘hamartia’, the point would be missed by someone in English simply reading the word, ‘sin’. This is true, even though, it is also true to say that ‘sin’ is spoken of throughout the Bible in a range of ways, many of which are unrelated to the ‘archery/missing the mark’ metaphorical referent.
This is just a brief indication of some of the comments that were made.