An atheist Polish couple moving to Scotland to give their primary-school age daughter a secular education were in for a surprise when they found her school promoting Messy Church. The organisation is far from messy. It is successful, well-funded, well organised and has a mission to indoctrinate children.
Janusz Koplewski (not his real name) and his wife, both secular atheists, left Poland in winter 2018 to give their daughter a secular education in Scotland. They left behind the most religious country in the European Union; dominated by the autocracy of the Catholic Church and the ruling Law and Justice political party (PiS) which they saw as contributing to the rise of the far right and Christian nationalism. For example, in 2017 around 60,000 Poles marched on their 99th annual Independence Day in Warsaw carrying far-right placards underlining Poland’s Christian roots while some marchers called for a “white Europe” and an “Islamic Holocaust.” The Foreign Minister from Poland’s Law and Justice Party claimed the day had been “a great celebration of Poles, differing in their views, but united around the common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland.”
Janusz Koplewski who works as a computer technician believed Scotland to be a secular nation even though the last of Scotland’s secular schools closed towards the turn of the nineteenth century.
The family wanted a good education for their daughter, hoping her school would teach her to use evidence to challenge orthodoxy and superstition. Janusz emailed Secular Scotland to say: “It is possible that school authorities do not know it, but many of us left our own countries because of religion. I don’t want to leave my child with any pastor, priest or nun. We were proud of our daughter’s Scottish school without crucifixes on the walls, without religious worship or pictures in memory of Pope John Paul II. Unfortunately, our joy did not last long.”
Only months before in Poland, Janusz and his wife had been subjected to much hostility in the town where they lived because of their desire to be open about their atheism. They had also been made aware of attempts in the Polish kindergarten their daughter attended to pressurise her into accepting the Catholic faith. After a teacher struck their daughter without reason, the family decided to move to Scotland.
In their first meeting with their daughter’s new school, Gilmerton Primary School in Edinburgh, the Koplewskis explained they wanted their daughter exempted from religious observance.
On Fridays, their daughter’s school closed early, and children would leave with sealed lunch bags. “A few weeks after starting the classes we found a Messy Church flyer in our daughter’s sealed Friday lunch bag. The flyer explained how science was in harmony with the Holy Bible”.
“We explained to our daughter that the flyer in her sealed lunch bag was probably a normal human mistake. Unfortunately, it was not. It did not end. The religious leaflets kept coming. We have got a Catholic school very close to our house, but we didn’t choose it. We chose Gilmerton Primary School because of its secular character.”
Or so they thought.
Janusz was suspicious of any portrayal to his daughter of a Bible “in harmony” with science. He didn’t want his daughter to be confused.
A few years ago, in East Kilbride, a scandal at Kirktonholme Primary School revealed the extent of such ‘harmony’ when in 2013 it was discovered extreme U.S. religious sect Church of Christ had been invited into the school by its headteacher to rubbish evolution and brainwash children without parent’s knowledge. It went on for eight years before a parent spotted a book his son brought home promoting creationism with illustrations of humans interacting with dinosaurs.
Established science tells us the Earth was created in more than six days. Any notion otherwise belongs to a particularly nasty brand of fake science called Young Earth Creationism (YEC). It masquerades in a lab-coat and has been peddled by the Discovery Institute in the U.S. and C4ID in Scotland. Supporters of C4ID – financially based in Guernsey – believe that Noah’s Ark was real, and women were made from Adam’s rib. The group’s president is Professor Norman Nevin OBE, a geneticist at Queen’s University in Belfast, and its vice-president is Dr David Galloway, a vice-president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons and a member of the Lennox Evangelical Church in Dumbarton. Their director is Dr Alastair Noble, a former HM inspector of schools and education officer for Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) who told the Sunday Herald: “We are definitely not targeting schools, but that doesn’t mean to say we may not produce resources that go to schools”. Secular groups have sought guidance on the teaching of creationism in Scottish schools in the past. Dr Alasdair Allan, former Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages confirmed in a letter to a constituent that creationism had no place in the science class. But unlike in England where the teaching of creationism in schools is outlawed, that was the best that could be achieved in Scotland.
In 2017, Messy Church received a grant from Scientists in Congregations for a project entitled Messy Church Does Science. Part of the programme is to explain evolution from a religious standpoint. One of the groups set up at The Hub at Gilmerton Church is an infant group called Little Acorns which opened on Wednesday mornings during the school term. One of the posters displayed on the church’s Facebook page promotes creationism with a chart showing how God created the world in six days. Little Acorns is also the name of a group that produces creationist material in the U.S. and works with Apologetics Press in Alabama which also publishes creationist materials for schools, including Truth Be Told by Kyle Butt which found its way into Kirktonholme Primary School. Children are persuaded that if evolution was true, dogs would give birth to animals that were half-dog and half-cat.
Apologetics Press explain one of their resources for schools: “This new tool has everything you would expect an Apologetics Press product to have. All six days of Creation are covered, plus two lessons on dinosaurs and the Flood. Our curriculum is packed with informative lessons, PowerPoint slides, creative craft and game ideas, skit scripts, decoration ideas and templates, and more. It is comprehensive, easy to use, comparatively inexpensive, and above all, biblically accurate. It even includes five episodes of the Digger Doug’s Underground children’s television program, as well as the Truth Be Told DVD that contains six lessons on the myth of evolution.”
Messy Church is resourced, supported and enabled by the Biblical Reading Fellowship. With almost 4,000 churches worldwide the BRF website claims: “Our Barnabas in Schools team has been working with primary-aged children and their teachers for over 15 years, enabling them to explore Christianity creatively and confidently within the school curriculum. …We work face-to-face with children and their teachers… providing training and resources for teachers to use. The team… help shape the future of primary RE.” One of those resources is Messy Church Does Science by Revd Dr David Gregory, a former vice-president of the Baptist Union. The author claims in his book that doing scientific experiments allows children “to explore creation and perhaps catch a glimpse of the creator.”
The book guides leaders on how to proselytise to children and advises: “Science is a playful activity that enables us to share in the playfulness of God in creation, expressing in our lives today the story we read at the start of the book of Genesis where God invites Adam to give names to all the animals. Remember, getting the answer right is not always the most important thing… In the ‘Big questions’ section of each experiment there are… suggestions for reflective or prayer activities. Ensure that you leave time for this – sometimes it can be easy for the excitement of the experiments to take over!”
Lucy Moore, Team Leader says on the BRF website: “Messy Church is church, it works best when its seen as another congregation of the church and it’s given a lot of churches a whole new lease of life.” Indeed, it has, including fundamentalist churches like the Seventh-Day Adventists and Baptist churches, enabling them to access children for the purposes of indoctrination. On a promotional video Moore adds: “We began it because we were very concerned about the numbers of children coming to church – or not coming to church and felt that we wanted to share the gospel with them.”
Gilmerton Primary School communicates with parents via email. Janusz explains: “We receive emails from firstname.lastname@example.org with information about payments, activities and school schedules.” To his surprise, Gilmerton Primary’s clerical assistant Elizabeth Whyte repeatedly attached promotional material from Messy Church based at Tron Kirk Gilmerton & Moredun Church in Edinburgh to parents. The minister is Reverend Cameron ‘Cammy’ MacKenzie from Paisley who started drinking at the age of 12, claimed his life had been destroyed by drugs and spent two years in jail after stabbing a man. MacKenzie says his faith transformed his life and devotes much of this time helping the community. He has visited schools to discuss the church and invites parents to accompany children to Messy Church, however, proselytization is always the core purpose behind much of the activities. The Facebook page carries links to evangelical churches such as minister Joel Osteen’s ‘prosperity’ megachurch in the U.S. When we emailed this information to Janusz he could barely conceal his surprise. “Wow, I am shocked… really shocked! Now, I know more about them I am concerned for my daughter.”
Janusz had angrily complained to the school by replying to their email asking if he had mistakenly enrolled his daughter in a ‘faith school’. The school ignored his email.
Janusz adds: “Our daughter has now finished at Gilmerton Primary School. After the vacation she will start at Liberton Primary School which is her nearest secular school. Gilmerton was only a temporary school.” But according to Tron Kirk Gilmerton and Moredun’s Facebook page, Messy Church is involved with both schools and at Craigour Park Primary School they meet P4 – 7 children at the school.
Secular Scotland believes churches are targeting children to counter the rise in secularism. Most weddings performed today are non-religious and most people now claim to have no religion at all. This is not reflected in our politics, law or education system. For example, religionists enjoy unelected seats on all Scottish education committees; more faith schools are opening; the ‘advancement of religion’ is a claim to charitable status and tax breaks, and in June 2018 Nicola Sturgeon announced £100,000 of additional support to the Catholic Church to recruit an additional 322 teachers for Catholic schools struggling to find them.
Many would argue this was regrettable in a nation that once brought the age of Enlightenment to the world.
Robert Canning, Chair of Secular Scotland issued the following statement: “Secular Scotland oppose all use of state-funded schools for the promotion of religious beliefs, which we view as neither education nor an appropriate use of public resources. We especially disapprove of such promotion when it is aimed at pupils who have not been raised in the religion promoted, and without the consent of their parents.
One of our members has reported “Messy Church” leaflets being placed in the lunch bags given to pupils at his daughter’s non-denominational school. He and his wife are not raising her as a Christian and they have sent her to that school to be educated; not to be won over to any religion. It is therefore unsurprising that they resent this insidious attempt at spiritual seduction, much as Christian parents might resent atheists placing leaflets in their children’s lunch bags with a view to undermining their faith.
Children are encouraged to view schools as places where knowledge is acquired and they can trust as being true what is presented as true, which is why religious organisations are so keen to run schools and use them as recruiting grounds. Beliefs held as articles of faith, however, cannot be classed as knowledge, which must be supported by evidence. State schools are funded by people of all faiths and none and attended by children of all faiths and none, and they should be learning spaces for all children: not advertising spaces for selected faiths.”
Garry Otton 2019
Author of ‘Religious Fascism’ (The Repeal of Section 28).