A Bible in Schools programme that is being dropped from Auckland schools for being too evangelistic will still be taught in Wanganui.

The Connect programme concentrated on sin and encouraged tutors to get children to go to church, said David Hines, a member of the Secular Education Network.

It was the most evangelistic form of religious instruction in New Zealand, said Mr Hines, who has just completed a study of how religion is taught in our classrooms.

Most of the volunteer tutors for the Wanganui Council for Christian Education use the Connect curriculum for the weekly lessons in their 16 schools, which include St John's Hill, Mosston, Westmere, Wanganui East, Castlecliff and Aranui.


Connect is an Australian programme produced by the self-confessed "number one evangelical school curriculum publisher" in that country.

The Auckland-based Churches Education Commission (CEC) handles religious education in 712 New Zealand schools on behalf of 16 Christian denominations. A few of those schools have been using the Connect curriculum, but the commission has decided to stop that from next year.

Chief executive Simon Greening said Connect was "too evangelistic", didn't focus on values, and was more appropriate for a Sunday school.

The commission doesn't have control over the Wanganui group, which broke away from the national body years ago.

"It's a free society. They can do as they please as long as the schools and parents are happy," Mr Greening said.

Mr Hines and the network wanted to remove Christian instruction in schools, but had no objection to children learning about religion in an even-handed, factual way.

New Zealand's state schools are secular and can't offer religious instruction but primary principals can set aside half an hour a week for outside groups to come in and offer it. Parents can exempt their children from those sessions.

Mr Hines said Connect had a heavy emphasis on sin and "Jesus dying for our sins". Its manual for tutors told them how to get students to join a church if they showed signs that "God's spirit" had been talking to them.


The Wanganui Council of Christian Education referred to its work as "Bible in Schools" and its secretary, Michelle Wilson, didn't think Connect is too evangelistic. She said the Wanganui tutors were all volunteers and included pastors and retired teachers. What they taught was "heavily Bible-based" and they planned to carry on using the Connect curriculum.

There were lots of reasons to continue Christian instruction in New Zealand schools, she said.

"Faith, whatever that may be, is foundational to one's world and life view.

"Christianity has and still does play an important part in shaping New Zealand society, in a good way for all New Zealanders, love, self-denial, the 10 Commandments, charity."

A 2009 report by the Human Rights Commission defined religious instruction as programmes that "carry an explicit or implicit endorsement of a particular faith". They contrasted with "religious education" in which a range of religious beliefs were given even-handed treatment.

Mr Hines said most of the curriculums he looked at in his study were uncritical of Scripture, and oblivious to non-Christian interpretations: "The New Zealand curriculum puts a value on curiosity; these programmes seem to put a value on silence and conformity."

The best programmes were more focused on values, but he said the New Zealand education curriculum already had a values programme.

Mr Hines' study found 578 schools offering Christian instruction and 62 that had stopped offering it in the last two years. He enlisted the help of the Ombudsman when an initial 700 schools failed to reply to his request for information.

Last week he sent a letter to the 1800 or so principals of New Zealand state primary and intermediate schools, asking them how they could justify taking half an hour out of the school's teaching time for programmes such as Connect.

In Wanganui, Churton School principal Andrew Spence said the school stopped offering religious education three years ago. Instead it taught the values its community endorsed.

At Castlecliff School, principal Katherine Ellery took a close look at the curriculum before she agreed to religious education continuing. It included Bible stories that were "quite lovely", and about being good and she was comfortable with the content.

"It's more values than religion. Our kids love it and they look forward to it," she said.