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Charity for the rich

September 28th, 2004

Today’s TV news had a story about the Anglican and Catholic archbishops of Sydney attacking Labor’s schools policy. Before coming to my main point, I’ll say that I have no sympathy with the view that the churches should stay out of politics. It’s hard to imagine a religious viewpoint that doesn’t have political implications. On the other hand, like anyone else who engages in politics, bishops should remember that if the can’t take the heat they should stay out of the kitchen.

I’ll begin by observing that the Anglican Church (like most of the other mainline protestant denominations) is in a moral position somewhere between dubious and reprehensible when it comes to schools. They own schools which have a huge capital value but yield no return. Those schools could be sold and the proceeds invested to yield a flow of money for charitable works. So they are effectively subsidising these schools by the income forgone.

Subsidising schools would be fine if they were performing the charitable mission laid on them by Christ, of ministering to the poor. It would be reasonable if, like the Catholics, they offered an education to the faithful in general and made efforts to ensure that everyone could get access. But these schools are aimed, quite openly, at the well-off[1]. So church funds, mostly given in charity or on favorable terms by the state, are being used to subsidise education for the rich.

Given his position at the head of, what is, in effect an upper-class interest group, it’s not surprising that the Anglican Archbishop, Peter Jensen, should oppose Labor’s policy. But it’s pretty poor stuff, if not a stunning surprise, that George Pell should prefer episcopal and class solidarity to the doctrine of social justice.

Update The Anglican primate of Australia, Peter Carnley, has disavowed the statement. It’s good to see some debate within the churches. In poltiical terms, I think this issue is a winner for Labor, and I’m glad to see it back on the front pages.

fn1. I don’t claim that there are explicit policy statements to this effect, or that everyone who attends Anglican schools comes from a wealthy background. But anyone who has had any dealings with any of these institutions knows that a privileged student body is taken for granted, and that there are no serious efforts to offer an Anglican education to the poor, with the exception of a handful of scholarship students.

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  1. September 28th, 2004 at 21:13 | #1

    Yes, the Anglican church really is in murky territory here. At least the Catholic education system does aim to provide a fairly affordable education to all Catholics.

    But there is no such attempt by the Anglicans. Their schools are almost uniformly elite.

    Or perhaps they are trying to provide schooling to all Anglican children… it’s just that there are no C of E kids left, with only a sprinkling of wrinklies occupying some of Australia’s most valuable real estate Sunday after Sunday…

  2. Matt
    September 28th, 2004 at 22:40 | #2

    I think Pell’s motivation to support Howard is his socially conservative beliefs. He’d much rather Howard’s social agenda to any that might evolve under a Labor government.
    (You could argue that Pell didn’t endorse Howard, only criticise one Labor policy. I’d argue the Pell’s no dope, and he knew his statement would be used to criticise one of the major positive policies for Labor.)
    Catholic schools are unambiguously better off under the policy – their own national education office says so, and I can’t remember any other time where the Catholic and Anglican churches were worried about “divisiveness” between the two. At times they’ve been quite bitter rivals.

  3. Harry Clarke
    September 28th, 2004 at 22:59 | #3

    Many Anglican schools are relatively non-prescriptive in terms of the religious education they provide. They do impart good values and middle-class people seek a high quality education for their children from teachers with these values.

    Your argument that subsidies can only be justified on the basis of supporting the poor seems wrong to me for efficiency reasons expressed many times over recent weeks.

    Encouraging middle class people to pay for their kids education takes pressure off the public school system andd increases the resources available to it. Again you have endorsed this view with your claim that the demand for private schools has grown because it is cheaper — demands are elastic.

    You recognise the issue with respect to health –the value of getting people to pay some of their own health costs as a boost to the public system but deny it for education. At best it is inconsistent.

  4. observa
    September 28th, 2004 at 23:05 | #4

    Probably the difference between the classes of schools is an historical legacy. In the Anglican Church, perhaps the majority of their charitable donations are mostly tied by parents via scool building levies and specific legacies under the umbrella of promoting the old school tie. Tied grants if you like. OTOH Catholics largely donate to their church in general terms with the church free to use them in ways they consider more socially appropriate. If this is the case, how would you consider ordering such christian parents to reallocate their spending preferences? It may be that the different churches have to take a philosophical approach to the differing market segments of their respective flocks. Should they take a judgemental approach? In actual fact the cross subsidisation of the real social work of the churches social equity function(bearing in mind their educative preaching roles), may be more cost effective in the Anglican church. On a per capita basis the richer, but numerically less Anglicans may be more richly supporting the good works of each individual cleric, compared with their Catholic counterparts. Also are you certain the high Anglican church school fees do not include a notional rent to the church, for the dear real estate/facilities and that this money is not being coopted for good works. I feel another thesis coming on here.

  5. Brian Bahnisch
    September 29th, 2004 at 00:22 | #5

    Didn’t Jesus say that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God?

    A bit judgemental, would you say?

  6. tipper
    September 29th, 2004 at 00:40 | #6

    Mark Steyn essentially demolishes the fraud that is Anglicism, masquarading under the guise of a religion.
    As he says “the C of E is wimpy mush with no appeal to anyone. To apply the late Osama bin Laden’s strong horse/weak horse routine, Islam is a surging stallion and Rowan Williams and co are an elderly, emaciated gelding.”
    The seperation of church and state, which means that religions and charities pay no tax, has run it’s course.
    I don’t agree with John’s assertion that religions should be able to comment on political matters.
    If they want to do that they should loose their tax-free status, and put their money where their mouth is. Otherwise do as their founder, the “Son of God” says, “give unto Caesar the thing that are Caesars, and unto God the things that are Gods”.
    And if they want to cater only to the elite that’s fine, they(the elite) are a degenerate group at present. Other Christian groups like the Assembly of God (the fastest growing religious group in Australia) will move in and take their place, just as economics predicts for a faling firm.

  7. September 29th, 2004 at 01:26 | #7

    Can we just forget the sectarian issues here? The ALP policy is to redistribute funds in the private sector based on the needs of the school so what is the problem? I would really like to see a logical argument against this proposition.

  8. michael s.
    September 29th, 2004 at 01:46 | #8

    The day before the Labour Launch this zinger hits the press. It is interesting to note that although Pell is the head of the Church in Australia, the same does not apply to Jensen. Apart from the fact these men are both the archbishops of Sydney, nationally they are probably the most conservative archbishops in their respective churches.

    Yet down here in Melbourne Town Hart and Watson are the other two signatories – while it is not surprising that Hart has followed George Pell’s lead I wonder what is going on with Watson?

    Surely these men are astute enough to know the consequences of their actions and the likely retaliation from Laboure for this. So Why – the mindboggles.

  9. michael s.
    September 29th, 2004 at 01:48 | #9

    I’m sorry for the numerous grammatical and spelling errors

    should go to bed

  10. September 29th, 2004 at 01:51 | #10

    Actually I was a bit surprised by this announcement as they came from Jensen and Pels both of the Sydney diocese of their respective denomination, both considered orthodox conservative believers in their respective denominations (Pels is considered by some Catholics as a possible future pope). Jensen’s Anglican diocese is the only one really growing in the Aussie Anglican communion, cashed up, and actively opening lots of low fee anglican schools..don’t know if there are elite Anglican schools in his diocese, are there? Not sure of the the Catholic situation in Sydney. But in places like Adelaide, were we have both expensive Catholic and Anglican schools, cheaper Catholic systemic schools (I am trying to think of the cheaper anglican) most of these are run by the liberal end of the Anglican/Catholic spectrum.

    Sure these guys wouldn’t want sectarianism, they may also favour the Liberals, but I just wonder.

  11. September 29th, 2004 at 01:59 | #11

    Oh apart from apologies for my spelling errors, you would also know there is a big conservative/liberal tussle within both those denominations here in Oz and some of their own elections for archbihsops and later primate (for the Anglicans) to contend with.

  12. September 29th, 2004 at 02:07 | #12

    Oh apart from apologies for my spelling errors, you would also know there is a big conservative/liberal tussle within both these denominations here in Oz and some of their own elections for archbishops and later primate (for the Anglicans) to contend with.

    BTW it is the conservative, evangelical wings of these churches that are surviving in the west, and growing immensely in Africa, South America etc.

  13. Mark Bahnisch
    September 29th, 2004 at 02:16 | #13

    Michael S., as a number of liberal Catholics have pointed out in the past, Pell is not the head of the Catholic Church in Australia (fortunately) despite frequent media misunderstandings. He is a Cardinal (a personal office not something pertaining to church governance in Australia) and the Archbishop of Sydney. His writ doesn’t run outside the Archdiocese of Sydney. Archbishop Hart in Melbourne was Pell’s Vicar-General when he was the Archbishop there and is in the same mould. The Catholic Church doesn’t have a primate as the Anglican Church does. There is a Bishop’s Conference but its policies are not binding on dioceses except by agreement – as Pell knows when he wanted to strike out on his own in terms of the treatment of sexual assault by clerics.

    The National Catholic Education Commission has rightly pointed out that Catholic systemic schools will benefit to the tune of $326 million through Latham’s policy. Pell is doing what he did in 1998 – supporting Howard as a fellow social conservative and throwing his weight around vis-a-vis the church bureaucracy.

  14. Geoff Honnor
    September 29th, 2004 at 07:54 | #14

    “don’t know if there are elite Anglican schools in his diocese, are there?’

    Yes indeed! The now legendary Kings School, SCEGS (Shore) and SCEGGS for a start, over all of whose Councils Archbishop Jensen presides ex officio.

  15. Albatross2147
    September 29th, 2004 at 08:48 | #15

    The Anglicans in Sydey have, since the mid 90s, been busiliy building low fee schools all over western Sydney – 15 or so to date(see http://www.sasc.nsw.edu.au/ ) with more to come. Fees are in the $1000 per term range but this includes text books, consumables and most excursions.

    Physically they are very attractive schools, carpeted and airconditioned throughout with many other mod cons not often seen in neighbouring State schools. This comes about because of the millions thrown at SASC by the Kemp education funding “reforms”.

    The main beneficiaries of this largesse are mainly the aspirationals of the McMansions that have sprouted up all over the west. I can safely say that at my daughter’s school I am the only parent driving a car that was not made this millenium (and it is one of a minority that has only 2 wheel drive). Basically most of the parents seem to want to give their kids an education with the cachet of a “college” without the expense of high fees. Again at my daughter’s school an amazing number of the girls have male sibs who attend Kings or similar whilst the girls are forced to make do with the “lite” version.

    Whilst my daughter is doing well I would have to say that this is mainly a function of the small class sizes that are result of the fact that the school is in start mode rather than any startling pedagogic excellence. And ahywho how would you know – unlike the UK Tory education reforms there is no mandatory publicly available independent reporting on the standards of such schools.

    The SASC schools push an evangelical Anglicanism with a Baptist twist but in view of the fact that a lot of Anglican parish churches in western Sydney seem to have an inordinate number of “former” Baptists in their congregations this is not surprising.

    How effective this brainwashing is with the children who come from diverse backgrounds is moot. Suffice it to say that the more cynical Anglicans (ie us high church ones) snigger that there will soon be more children attending Anglican schools within the diocese of Sydney than people occupying the pews in Anglican churches on Sundays.

    The Jensenites are actively trying to remedy this by throwing vast amounts of money at happy clappy initiatives aimed at converting 10% of the population in the next ten years. So we may yet see the elite schools being privatised in the not too distant future as the Jensenites empty all the other hollow logs in the diocese in pursuit of this aim.

  16. snuh
    September 29th, 2004 at 09:15 | #16

    in re “the doctrine of social justice”, i’m wondering if you caught lateline’s interview with his darkness last night:

    The fact is that we have presided over a growing economy and we are in a position to make sensible investments in small business, in child care, in health and education, all of which are needed if we are to meet social justice requirements and also to continue to maintain the productive growth of the Australian economy.

    this new social-democratic john howard is strange and confusing to me. someone, make him stop.

  17. Dave Ricardo
    September 29th, 2004 at 09:18 | #17

    Jensen and Pell. two right wingers, are supporting the Liberals in the election.

    Well, buggar me.

    Next thing you know, we’ll learn that the Pope is a Catholic.

  18. John Quiggin
    September 29th, 2004 at 09:25 | #18

    As I say, I wasn’t stunned by Pell’s position on this.

    Still he has previously pushed a social justice line, complaining about the growing gap between the rich and poor and so on. Obviously this stuff doesn’t go very deep with him.

  19. Dave Ricardo
    September 29th, 2004 at 09:39 | #19

    “Obviously this stuff doesn’t go very deep with him.”

    About as deep as a communion wafer, I would suggest.

  20. Alan Luchetti
    September 29th, 2004 at 10:25 | #20

    I heard a spokesman for the primates on ABC last night. As he explained their statement, they liked just about everything about the ALP policy but were concerned about possible inter-sectarian ructions (which, for mine, is a mite precious and simply a by-product of the Anglicans presently enjoying most of the biggest rorts).

    If the spokesman can be believed, the major culprits here are the reporters and editors who are spinning the church statement.

  21. September 29th, 2004 at 10:34 | #21

    On a recent visit to Riverview, Jesuit school on the north shore in Sydney, I was walking along the path that separates the lower 3 ovals from the Arts wing and the music halls, admiring the sandstone even as i reflected on how this place was my own road to Damascus, making me jettison study and middle class aspirations to become a good lefty with a permanent political chip on my shoulder, and I thought to my self “damn, I’m so glad they filled that ungainly space between the 1st and 2nd ovals with a fine basketball court that is hired out to professional teams. What a fine use of space.”

    Down at the boatsheds, looking along the ample shoreline and across to the multi million mansions of hunters hill, i even felt a flash of anger at those who would take this away. “It’s just envy” I thought, “why don’t they all just send their kids here and stop whining?”

    Only at the pub later did the images return of group bashings, the way everyone lined up to throw oranges at the asians relegated to their own “gook” handball court, the way the one aboriginal out of 1500 students was called jimmy blacksmith (at best) and the jew was “oven dodger”, the way so-called men of cloth lectured us on how we were there solely to get good marks and a top career, being called a loser because your lower middle class parents had gone virtually bankrupt to send you there and couldn’t afford Reeboks as well… but I quickly pushed these selfish classist anti-choice notions back down out of mind and sight.

  22. September 29th, 2004 at 10:52 | #22

    Sydney Anglicans are indeed a peculiar bunch. I am one of them.

    I agree with Alan Luchetti, that Pell and Jensen’s statement has been spun somewhat. On my reading the statement is not so much an “attack” on Labor’s policy than the two bishops saying they don’t want interdenominational rivalry over it. But it would be also fair to say that their statement is “regrettable” and “unclear.”

    Your point about some Sydney Anglican schools taking up far more capital than necessary is a good one. Churches are always in a difficult position holding expensive assets. They balance current and future needs on a multi-century timescale. However, some (just ten or fifteen) of these schools are clearly beyond the pail.

  23. September 29th, 2004 at 12:53 | #23

    “a stunning surprise, that George Pell should prefer episcopal and class solidarity to the doctrine of social justice.” – You are joking surely John?

    Not only did Pell hear no evil see no evil with regard to sanctified serial shirtlifters in the employ of the church but I’m inclined to agree with Paul Watson (for once) in his lengthy post of Tuesday, August 17, 2004 that Pell might have known a lot more explicit details from his days sharing houses with repeat offenders and priestly jailbirds in Ballarat.

  24. Homer Paxton
    September 29th, 2004 at 14:22 | #24

    what is stunning to me is the complete lack of any biblical support for Jensen’s position.

    This is clear middle class welfare pleading. The Pauline Epistles would have short shrift with this.

    Jensen would do better to rid himself of the high fee private schools and pput the money into the immensely successful low fee christian schools that the Diocese has championed. now that has biblical support.

  25. September 29th, 2004 at 16:46 | #25

    Homer, you know I am a Christian so you will understand me when I say, I love the way some Christians like to pull out a few scriptures to justify whatever – anything from policy to personal diet. It’s a rather quaint hermeneutic.
    Especially as I can use the same approach and pull out a few scriptures that suggest there is no God. (For the record most of my own pastors and teachers were either trained at Moore and/or served in evangelical Sydney anglican parishes so my own heremeneutic is heavily influenced by them)

    But to the topic at hand: I looked at the actual media statement today – which itself is a bit ambiguous in parts – and compared it with media reports. I now agree there has been some media distortion. I still suspect there is some internal church politics mixed up in there as well.

  26. Albatross2149
    September 29th, 2004 at 17:57 | #26

    “Hermeneutic” that’s a word that needs explanation or interpretation to us unwashed plebs.

  27. September 29th, 2004 at 19:15 | #27

    “hermeneutic” or “hermeneutics” = interpretation especially of Scripture or literary texts (Aussie Oxford)

    I would have been happy to subsidize the cost of a dictionary for you Albatross, but hey, you’ve obviously got access to the ‘net:

    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=hermeneutic

    *grin*

  28. albatross2147
    September 29th, 2004 at 20:04 | #28

    It was a joke, Joyce. Err… Grin.

  29. saint
    September 29th, 2004 at 21:39 | #29

    I know (my response was partly for the benefit of a long standing joke between me and my unwashed brother)

  30. Jill Rush
    September 29th, 2004 at 22:55 | #30

    The Anglican School St Peter’s is so poor that it is selling the Regent Arcade – a multi million dollar arcade in the centre of Adelaide.

    The Primates will do their religion no good and the Liberal’s current policy starts to unravel in their pastoral care as well.

    What is interesting is the number of Christians who feel the need to back the Liberals – despite their lying over going to war in Iraq, children overboard, sending Pauline Hanson to jail etc.

    No doubt the Liberals have all sought forgiveness for their sins. Even the Family First Party manages to put refugee Families Last in their support for the Liberals. Is the devil truly at work here?

  31. September 30th, 2004 at 08:51 | #31

    I used to attend an Anglican church in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, one of the few high church left. When I told people I grew up in north west NSW, they immediately started talking to me about NEGS (New England Girls School) and I will never forget the barely-concealed shock on their faces when they found out I went to the local state schools. It was my first experience with real snobbery.

    Which is not to tar everyone with the same brush, but that attitude is definately there.

    Pell and Jensen are irrelevant really. I imagine the local Cath and Ang churches which will benefit are telling their parents a different story.

  32. Adam
    September 30th, 2004 at 09:44 | #32

    Peter Jensen would actually like to sell off Kings to build new Christian schools, but does not have enough power to do so (yet).

    I know Ascham is secular, and I suspect Kings too. Scotch College in Melbourne has been totally secular for ages, and Geelong Grammar is in all but name. And no coincidence a school’s academic status is inversely correlated to the amount of religion in the curriculum.

    Jensen and his High Church Anglican buddies would love to sell of (parts of) the rich Anglican schools to build ones where praising the Lord is a central theme of the curriculum.

    Anyway, I did my first teaching round at a category 1 school in Melbourne. Latham’s funding redistribution would result in them losing 3-4% of their annual income. I think they’ll cope.

  33. September 30th, 2004 at 09:59 | #33

    I think you mean Jensen and his Low Church buddies. No love lost with the smells and bells crowd.

  34. Mark Bahnisch
    September 30th, 2004 at 20:55 | #34

    As I thought he might, Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane John Bathersby has distanced himself from the position of the four archbishops.

  35. October 7th, 2004 at 15:37 | #35

    JQ -

    You haven’t assessed the churches’ position quite right. Here’s my own layman’s view (not definitive, of course).

    The idea that the schools could be sold and the proceeds invested misses a couple of things. It’s actually the logic Judas Iscariot famously used in condemning giving expensive ointments to Jesus, with the flaw that it missed the point of what Christianity is all about (“charitable works” are actually secondary). And, the use to which the capital resources are actually being put is itself a charitable work anyway – the proceeds would no more be a net gain for charity than any form of selling off state assets is for government services, since the same would have to be resourced some other way or done without.

    It’s not the case that Christ laid a mission on the Church of ministering to the poor. It’s secondary to the service of God, and it wasn’t a mission to the poor anyway – it was a mission to people. It’s just that the outworking of this prioritises those in need, which usually works out as meaning the poor (not necessarily – see how Jesus associated with publicans and sinners, bearing in mind that publicans weren’t pub managers but privatised tax collectors). But children, rich or poor, are in need of education. The “well off” part of the demographic the Churches reach is irrelevant. The “given by the state” part is itself a channelling of funds taken from people via consolidated revenue, or is a deemed subsidy
    in the sense that Church property is not hit with tax burdens as much as it might be. If the state hadn’t created the burdens in the first place, there wouldn’t be the need to give back the resources (or “not take”, if you read that as a subsidy) and it would be more practical to leave charitable functions of individual consciences to do the work. You might find it interesting to read Thoreau’s remarks when he was imprisoned in a matter of conscience for not paying his obligations to an established Church; he compared and contrasted his position with that of a genuinely subsidised cleric (he was himself a teacher, in a time and place where the state did not get involved with education).

    Criticising Churches for not prioritising social justice as part of charity is mistaking just what the charitable side of a Church is, even discounting the fact that charity itself isn’t the number one priority. In fact it couldn’t be, because then there would only be the circularity of feeding its objectives on themselves – the Christian message inherently cannot be that inward looking, or it would have lost the plot. But in most cases there is no effective difference between social justice and charity, since individuals have been pushed out of the loop and only groups can be accessed, so it makes sense that the likes of Pell usually look like they are pushing social justice; it’s just that education is a
    form of charitable work that doesn’t get its charitable nature from a social justice nature.

    Of course, education for all has gone beyond the bounds of reasonableness anyway. We have reached the stage where each qualified person is more clawing back opportunities from the less qualified than actually generating more opportunities all round. Social justice, if it is to work properly, should be trying to get a better distribution of the gains of having the educated around rather than to provide equal educations for all individuals.

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