Australian society and values
I have the privilege of teaching SRE every week to young people from Kindergarten right through to High School. I teach them the gospel – that we are saved by faith in Jesus, not by anything that we have done – but I also teach them that our trust in Jesus shapes our attitudes and the way we treat others. Values and behaviour are a large part of what we explore in our SRE classes.
As Australian society grows more secular it is losing its connection to its foundational (and largely Christian) morals and values. Only a few short years ago these were relatively uncontroversial statements:
- All people are deserving of love, dignity, and respect, and all life is precious.
- We were created for a purpose, and our lives are better when we live in light of that purpose.
- We are capable of doing great evil and harm to each other and to our world – but it is morally good to turn away from selfish desires and act for the benefit of others.
Yet now the values commonly held by secular Australians have shifted, and all of those statements are being challenged. Many would ask why they should love others at the expense of their own happiness or fulfillment. Many would scoff at the suggestion that we were created, or that we have a purpose that can’t be found within ourselves, or that there is such a thing as an absolute moral good.
The Bible and values
Yet we know that the Bible sets a standard of morality that should guide our thoughts and behaviour. We learn these truths in the Old Testament:
- Genesis declares that we were created in God’s image, as the pinnacle of creation, and that we were created with a purpose – to rule over and care for the world that God made.
- In the Old Testament laws and commandments we see that there is a standard of moral goodness that is exterior to humanity – and that God wants to share it with us.
- Through the Old Testament narrative we see that God loves and wants the best for his people, despite their repeated rejection of him – God’s love is greater than human failings.
In the gospels we learn from the example of Jesus:
- In the life and teaching of Jesus we see that moral behaviour means loving obedience to God and self-sacrificial love for each other – and in the death of Jesus we see this love in action.
- In the gospels we see that God offers reconciliation and restoration when people fail to live in the way that he teaches is best – forgiveness is found in Jesus, who both lived the moral perfection that we cannot, and died to bear the punishment for his people.
The rest of the New Testament teaches us to live as followers of Jesus:
- In Acts we see that God sends the Holy Spirit to help teach his people to read and apply the Bible – God’s teaching about what is best – to our lives.
- The rest of the New Testament teaches God’s people how to follow Jesus – and how to be a community who love God and each other.
- At the end of the Bible we see that moral perfection will one day be restored – and God calls his people to live now in light of that truth.
What does this have to do with SRE?
Our schools teach to a ‘values framework’, with the aim that students will learn values like compassion, honesty, and respect – but without acknowledging the universal truth that underpins these values.
I’m not saying that only Christians can act morally – but I believe that values can only be effectively taught in light of the truth that there are objective moral rights and wrongs. Our moral imperative is to work at overcoming our inherent selfishness by learning from the God who teaches us to love others more than ourselves. Students are expected to learn values that are built on this truth without acknowledging their basic foundation.
SRE and values education
Our SRE curriculum is designed to teach students values – but not in a vacuum. Rather, we teach values as the outworking of what we believe about our king and saviour who made us and loves us.
In SRE students learn that care and compassion are good, because all people were made by God with dignity and purpose. Loving others is an objective moral good, and in Jesus we have the perfect example to follow.
In SRE we learn that honesty is good, because without it we cannot properly know and love each other.
In SRE we learn that respect and inclusion are good, because our different strengths and roles allow us to become a community that is more than just the sum of its parts – a community of people who help and encourage each other to live out our high moral calling together.
In SRE we learn to be responsible for our own actions – not to hide away our selfishness and our mistakes, but to help each other pursue restoration and reconciliation.
SRE in partnership with schools
I’ve spoken to teachers who have seen changes in the attitudes and behaviour of students who attend SRE classes. Teachers have noticed that our students are growing in kindness towards others and improving their attitude to schoolwork. Our SRE students are always overrepresented as school leaders and high achievers.
The values education that forms part of our SRE program is an objective good for the students who participate, and our SRE team is in partnership with local schools as we teach values in our SRE classes.
As our society moves away from its Christian foundations we are becoming unmoored, without any objective truth to underpin our values and morals. In our SRE classes we teach students to live out their values, because they are expressions of our love for God and for each other.
Conor Clarke, 1 December 2022