Many of us were shocked to read an article featured on the front page of Scotland’s The Daily Record that ran on September 6, 2013. The article was titled: “Parents’ Outrage as Extremist US Religious Cult Hand Out Creationist Books and Preach to Kids at Scottish School” (McGivern, 2013). The “extremist US religious cult” under discussion is the church of Christ. The article caused quite a stir, as you can imagine, and provides a case study in unfair, unbalanced, biased reporting, which we will analyze later in this article. Before doing so, consider the background of the events that elicited the article.
Last year Alex Gear, a native of Scotland who preaches at the West Mains church of Christ in East Kilbride, Scotland, visited north Alabama. He gave reports to various congregations, including the Stony Point church of Christ in Florence, AL where I am a member. After meeting Alex, I invited him to my office and asked if any of our Apologetics Press materials could help in his ministry. Alex chose two of our books: How Do You Know God Is Real? and Truth Be Told: Exposing the Myth of Evolution. He said he could use about 500 copies of each book. He explained that he had been volunteering as a chaplain in two of the primary schools in Scotland and would like to give the children a copy of each book.
The shipping and printing costs were rather expensive, to the tune of about $5,000, but one of our donors offered to cover the entire cost of the project. We shipped the books to Scotland over the summer, and Alex had them ready to give to the students when the school year began. The books were not “sneaked” into the school in any way. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The head of the Kirktonholme Primary School in East Kilbride, Sandra Mackenzie, had invited Alex to be a volunteer chaplain at the school approximately eight years ago. Alex and several college students from the States had done numerous projects to help the school and the students over the last eight years. Two weeks before the books were distributed to the children at Kirktonholme, Alex presented the books to Sandra Mackenzie for her approval. Mrs. Mackenzie approved the books to be given away free of charge to the students as a part of the system’s religious education classes, and neither she nor Alex did anything illegal.
When the books were given to the children, a few of the parents at the school complained that their children should not have been exposed to the teaching about God and Creation. They were angry and began to cause a stir. One of those parents happened to be Paul Sanderson, a prominent member of the Scottish Secular Society. From that point, The Daily Record picked up the story and created quite a brouhaha.
The Daily Record Article
Mark McGivern, the author of The Daily Record article, made a number of blatantly false, outlandish statements and insinuations. First, the title of the article accused the church of Christ of being an “extremist US religious cult” (McGivern, 2013; Note: In the on-line version, he changed the title to read “sect” instead of the original wording of “cult.”). Anyone remotely familiar with the church of Christ knows that, first, it certainly is not based in the United States. In fact, it was founded in Jerusalem in the first century, spread throughout the world in the centuries that followed, and can now be found across the globe. Since each congregation of the church of Christ is autonomous and self-governing, there is no “base” for the church. One would be just as accurate to say the church is based in Africa, or Scotland, or New Zealand, as to say it is based in the U.S.
Second, the church of Christ is not an extremist cult. Even those fair-minded journalists who read the story, who are not members of the church of Christ, understand the falsity of the cult accusation. For instance, sports writer Bill McMurdo penned an article in response to the Record titled “Extreme Prejudice.” In that article he stated:
The Record has been on a “crusade” of late, denigrating a church in East Kilbride… According to the Record, the Church of Christ is an “extremist US religious cult.” Well, the bad news is that this church has already infiltrated the highest levels of government. We have actually had a British Prime Minister who grew up in this “cult” and who was influenced by it. Not only that, but this Prime Minister was responsible for leading the nation in a critical time of war. I am referring to David Lloyd George… Not bad for someone from an “extremist US religious cult” eh? Another epic fail for the Record (McMurdo, 2013).
He went on to include a statement from the West Mains congregation in which they stated: “The Church of Christ has a rich heritage dating as far back as 1669 in Britain. The Church of Christ is considered a mainstream church throughout the British Isles” (McMurdo). McMurdo ended his article by stating that Secular Scotland seems to be targeting the church, noting that their agenda, which “incorporates persecuting people who have an active faith is deplorable” (2013). The church of Christ cannot in any legitimate way be call an “extremist US religious cult.”
In addition, the Record put a picture with the article of a college student named Jared Blakeman. His face was painted to look like Jack Sparrow from the Disney movie Pirates of the Caribbean. The insinuation was that this was part of the “ministry” of the West Mains church. The truth, however, was that the picture was taken from Jared’s Facebook account. The face painting was done at a community fun day and had nothing whatsoever to do with anything that was ever done in the school. The posting of the picture was a devious ploy to make the church look bizarre and cultish.
Furthermore, the article insisted that by giving the books to the children, the church of Christ was trying to brainwash the kids. To “prove” this point about brainwashing, the father of one of the five-year-old children was interviewed—Paul Sanderson. It just so happens that Sanderson is a key player in the Scottish Secular Society. He said that when he took the books from his son that his son burst into tears. The Record then quotes him as saying: “I think it’s fair to call it brainwashing because when I took them from him he started crying. When I asked him why he was crying, he said the man who gave them to him told him they were really, really important.” Notice the argument Sanderson made. The members of the church are brainwashing his child because they gave the child free books that they said were important. The father of the child took the books away, refusing to allow him to read the books, and the child starts crying. This, he concludes, proves brainwashing. (I suppose the banktellers who hand out free suckers to “unsuspecting” five-year-olds are brainwashing them into eating suckers. I’ve seen very few kids relinquish those suckers without some crying involved.) Needless to say, such “penetrating logic” falls far short of proof of brainwashing. In fact, let’s turn the tables and ask this question. Who is more guilty of brainwashing: a person who attempts to give children access to information that they may have never been exposed to, or a parent who forces his child to learn evolution and censors any material to the contrary? Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.
Additional Fall Out
After the Record article, numerous other media outlets picked up the story. The Scotland Herald ran a piece on it; the Scotsman published an article (Gardner, 2013); the Telegraph out of London put their two-cents in (Cramb, 2013); numerous individual bloggers and media pundits chimed in, and even The London Times. The head teacher at the school, Sandra MacKenzie, was contacted and asked why she allowed such a thing to happen. She did not back down, but insisted she had done nothing wrong, and stated: “Whilst I appreciate that not every family in our school are practising Christians, I was only too happy to accept this generous gift on your behalf. I hope you will all accept it in the spirit with which it was offered.” As a result of the events, Mrs. Mackenzie and one other teacher at Kirktonholme have been reassigned to different duties while a “full investigation” is underway of their activities. Furthermore, Alex Gear and the West Mains church of Christ have been informed that they can no longer volunteer or work with the school.
Michael Glackin, from The London Times, called me Friday, September 13, and asked me if I would be willing to go to Scotland and publicly defend the teaching in the books that were donated. I explained to him that Apologetics Press stands behind all of our materials and I would be more than happy to defend the truth of Creation in Scotland if the opportunity arose. I further explained that the scientific evidence is firmly on the side of Creation. He quoted me as saying: “What the authorities in Scotland seem to want is for children to be given only one side of the argument. Kids are being forced to learn evolution. These people insist on teaching only evolution and yet we are accused of brainwashing, that doesn’t make sense” (Glackin, 2013).
Denominational minister David Robertson had an interesting piece on the whole ordeal. He is not a big fan of the church of Christ, but he assessed the situation based on the freedoms that are being restricted by the secularist in this case. He stated:
All you need is one militant atheist parent complaining that a teacher or chaplain is a “creationist” or a “homophobe” and the witch-hunt will begin. Why are the media not warning about the danger of militant secularist groups, or indeed militant homosexual groups like Stonewall? In every corridor in my daughter’s school there are Stonewall posters, “some people are gay, get over it.” Fair enough. But where are the “some people are ex-gay, get over it,” or even the “some people are Christian, get over it” posters? Why are these groups infiltrating and indoctrinating our children…. When the secular elites can call a militant mob to stir up hatred and fear, and rely on the compliance of both the tabloid and broadsheet press, I guess we all have to wonder—who is next? What will happen to anyone who dares to challenge the new absolutist state morality? (Robertson, 2013).
Indeed, it seems evident that we are witnessing what will happen to anyone who dares teach the truth in a world of secularism.
Let us be reminded that such opposition to the truth is nothing new. Jesus explained that the world hated Him, and His followers can expect the same treatment (John 15:18). The apostle Paul explained “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Christ’s apostles were commanded by the Jewish leaders to never preach again about Jesus, yet they defied such an unrighteous injunction and continued to preach the truth to all who would listen. When they were accused before the authorities, Peter and the other apostles simply said: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The Jewish authorities beat them and warned them to stop preaching about Jesus. But the Lord’s followers left the assembly “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42). Let those of us who are Christians determine to pray for the Lord’s Church in Scotland, that this situation will turn out for God’s glory and the spreading of the truth. And let us all be unswerving in our determination to spread the truth of the glorious saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in spite of any human opposition.
Cramb, Auslan (2013), “Head Teachers Removed in Row Over ‘Creationist’ Church,” The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10307520/Head-teachers-removed-in-row-over-creationist-church.html.
Gardner, Claire (2013), “Sect’s Preacher Spent 8 Years at Primary School,” The Scotsman, http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/sect-s-preacher-spent-8-years-at-primary-school-1-3081113.
Glackin, Michael (2013), “Scots Head Teachers Removed from Jobs in Creationist Dispute,” The London Times, September 14.
McGivern, Mark (2013), “Parents’ Outrage as Extremist US Religious Sect Hand Out Creationist Books and Preach to Kids at Scottish School,” The Daily Record, http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/parents-outrage-extremist-religious-sect-2254926.
McMurdo, Bill (2013), “Extreme Prejudice,” Bill McMurdo’s Weblog, http://billmcmurdo.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/4299/.
Robertson, David (2013), “They are Coming to Get Your Children,” Solas, http://www.solas-cpc.org/uncategorized/1846/.