Title: MAXIMum Impact: Destiny vs Maxim - what's the difference? Credit: Chris Banks Features Monday 15th November 2004 - 12:00pm1100473200 Article: 481 Rights
Part 3 of a 3-part investigation into the workings of NZ's most slyly manipulative anti-gay fundamentalist organisation. Scott McMurray "I wish we could connect on this," laughs Nicki Taylor, after explaining that discriminating against same-sex couples was simply a "logical result" of promoting marriage. "You have to distinguish between various relationships, but the goal is certainly not, or the starting point is certainly not, anti- same-sex relationships. Do you see that?" she asks. I didn't. But Taylor, as the Maxim Institute's communications manager for their Centre for Education and also their "legal counsel", was doing her best kindergarten teacher routine in trying to get me to understand. I suggested an analogy with regards to civil unions and marriage being parallel institutions for relationship recognition. I asked if a Mercedes was any less a Mercedes because one also had the option of buying a BMW. "You could take the analogy a little further, what's the difference between a Skoda and a BMW?" asks Scott McMurray, Maxim's communications director. "No, not that we'd want to do that," Taylor cuts in. "I don't think we want to do that," McMurray revises. "It's not helpful," Taylor nods. THE SUBTLETIES OF DENIGRATION The above exchange is a perfect illustration of the one and only difference between the Maxim Institute and the Destiny Church. Both denigrate gay and lesbian relationships, and gay and lesbian people through their rhetoric. However, Destiny put all their cards on the table. Maxim are desperate to be seen as nice, and wouldn't consider themselves allied to Destiny, at least not formally. “We share a similarity in terms of a number of arguments, I guess, there is an overlap in terms of position, but I think we come at it with quite a different tack to what they do,” says McMurray. Maxim wouldn't, like Destiny, suggest openly that homosexuality is an evil spirit. “We wouldn't make any comment like that, no,” he replies, somewhat bemused. Destiny's Brian Tamaki talks openly of theocracies, dominion, and taking the nation for God. Maxim recoils from such ideas, at least on the record. “That sounds pretty dangerous,” McMurray laughs when I ask if Maxim is pursuing the idea of a theocracy. “A central tenet is the idea of separation between religion and the state. That's an important principle.” It would be, if that's what most New Zealanders believed in. But what if they didn't? Who would we be to stand in the way of democracy? The Maxim Institute is looking to change the institutions of so-called “civil society” from the ground up, something that every New Zealander should be aware of, particularly in light of the fundamentalist triumph in last week's US presidential elections. RECAPTURING SOCIETY'S INSTITUTIONS It is the moral obligation of Christians to recapture every one of society's institutions for Jesus Christ, rebuilding these institutions according to a biblical blueprint. This is the theory of "Christian reconstruction." It's a response to the victim mentality of fundamentalists, who believe their religion is under threat from the secular society. An abundance of think-tanks and ministries in the United States are committed to this reconstruction. The key to this movement is a softly-softly approach. Militant black-shirted hordes marching in the streets shouting “Enough is Enough” would not fit the bill. In the United States, reconstructionists have discovered the best way to go about their business is to do it peacefully, according to the Religious Tolerance website: “They feel that the power of God's word will bring about this conversion. No armed force or insurrection will be needed; in fact, they believe that there will be little opposition to their plan. People will willingly accept it if it is properly presented to them.” Presentation is everything to Maxim. Its representatives and staff are nothing if not well turned out. They're also heavily committed to education, and the training of the next generation. So are reconstructionists: “The followers are attempting to peacefully convert the laws of United States so that they match those in the Hebrew Scriptures. They intend to achieve this by using the freedom of religion in the US to train a generation of children in private Christian religious schools.” FUNDIE BOOT CAMP Two of Maxim's four 'centres' are the Centre for Education, and the Centre for Tomorrow's Leaders. The latter is committed to the development of "worldview training" for youngsters, for which – as we've seen already – Maxim enlisted the help of Summit Ministries in Colorado. Maxim has previously been coy about its involvement in Compass, an annual camp designed to inoculate Christian students against non-Christian ideas, but since and Queer Nation drew attention to it, they've openly advertised it on their website. The Compass website itself is open about its Christian motivations: "At Compass our worldview is informed by the biblical narrative. The philosophical questions posed by men and women for thousands of years are put in their historical context, and the various answers given throughout history are critiqued and explored for their implications for 21st century life." However, Scott McMurray would have us believe that Maxim's worldview training will be entirely objective, that the idea is not to prove the superiority of any one worldview over another. “What it will do is provide a comparison and identify if there are flaws and where there are gaps in particular views,” he says. “We would expect the kind of training we would give them would actually challenge what they believe, and force them to think very carefully about it and ask is it coherent, is it consistent, is it sustainable.” This training involves helping young people understand what they believe in. McMurray doesn't consider this idea to be manipulative, and eventually expects to attract a wide range of students – not just Christian – to the courses. But why would non-Christian students be attracted to going to essentially what's described by Rationalist and “Fundy Post” author Paul Litterick as a “fundy boot camp”? Well, it all comes back to what they're taught at an earlier age. This is where Maxim's Centre for Education comes in. “Maxim is officially an educational charity, it used to be called the New Zealand Educational Development Foundation,” Litterick says. “It has full charitable status in order to promote education and provide educators with resources and so on, and really hasn't done a lot of that.” EDUCATION WITHOUT OVERSIGHT Their plan is to privatise education. Maxim believes there should be no public schools at all, only private schools operated by parents which are run as businesses. The idea of user-pays education is not new, but Maxim's reasons for promoting it go far beyond a belief in free market ideas. “They don't want public education. They want to abolish teacher registration, so that parents can choose whoever they want to do the teaching regardless of qualifications,” Litterick explains. “This is, I think, answering a concern amongst the fundamentalist schools that they can't get qualified teachers who have their opinions, so by getting rid of teachers registration they can get anybody who has the right religious views, regardless of their ability as teachers.” I spoke to Nicki Taylor about Maxim's goals for the Centre for Education. Like many conversations with Maxim, the detail was incredibly vague. The first thing I wanted to know was, why have a Centre for Education? What is it that needs to be achieved? “Education is just the key to the nation's wellbeing,” she answered. Yes, of course, but what is so flawed in the current system that requires change? Taylor answered by telling a lengthy anecdote about a bright young boy, named Cameron, living in a low socio-economic area who had been given the opportunity through an existing government scheme to be sent to a private school with better facilities. Unsurprisingly, his performance improved remarkably. Taylor believes every child should have this opportunity. How would this be achieved? This is not made clear. One key to a good education would be its content. What would Maxim be proposing as curricula for our nation's schools? Is there a policy on what should or should not be taught? “No, I wouldn't say so, but what we would be interested in is having a range of curricula options and the ability for teachers, Heads Of Departments, principals and parents to have a choice in curriculum.” Somewhat surprisingly, Maxim say it has no official position on sex education, or religious education for that matter. “To be honest, we haven't looked at sex education or religious education at all. We're much more interested in ideas of how do we get our low-achieving students achieving, what do we do about the problem with boys' education, what do we do with Maori and Pacific Island students who are underachieving, how do we provide them all with the same opportunities and choices that that boy Cameron got?” ALTERNATIVE SCHOOL CURRICULA Perhaps this could be done by introducing material from the United States, a precedent already set by Maxim in their 'research' presented to parliamentary select committees? 'Choice' in education for Maxim, says Paul Litterick, really amounts to parents being able to legally educate their kids free of the restrictions imposed by government educational standards. Maxim's vision is to have private schools that are not answerable to any centralized educational body. “Part of this is that the schools themselves could choose whatever curriculum they choose to teach, and there are some very scary curricula available, from the US especially, which will teach everything in the light of a fundamentalist Christian perspective,” he says. “The most popular one in the States is called ACE, Advanced Christian Education, which someone once described as neither advanced, nor Christian or even education.” The ACE programme would teach NZ children that women shouldn't leave the home and should be subservient to their husbands. Similar programmes teach that homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be cured by counseling. “That sort of thing could easily be taught in schools, which would be taken over by Maxim supporters,” says Litterick. TAKE-OVER PREPARATION IS ALREADY UNDERWAY Sound like an Ian Wishart conspiracy theory? Well, in fact it's already happening. When the last elections for school boards of trustees came up, Maxim started a major drive amongst its supporters to put themselves up for election. The way our laws are set up, one doesn't even have to have a child at the school – or be a parent for that matter – to be eligible to sit on a board. Maxim acknowledges this. “One of key parts of our education vision is parental involvement,” says Taylor. “All we really did was encourage via our website and via Real Issues, the email that we send out once a week, and just day to day the people that we're talking to, different parent groups, and things like that, just really encourage parents to get involved in our children's education. Because we think the education of the child is primarily the responsibility of the parent, so the parent is going to know that child's individual needs probably better than somebody down in Wellington is going to know that child's needs and abilities.” It's all about flexibility, says Taylor, and of course it all makes sense. No Ministry of Education in its right mind would ever accept programmes like ACE being taught in state-funded schools. In order for the fundamentalists to have the "freedom" to raise the next generation free of pesky ideals like evolution, science, natural diversity and tolerance, parents have to be given 'choice.' "Perhaps there never will be a system that works perfectly for everybody. But I guess what you've got to do is compare two basic ideas; centralised control, one size fits all, no choice where your child gets educated, what your child gets taught and who teaches your child, and another system which would put the emphasis on things like accessibility, ie. every child has schools that are accessible to them... things like responsibility, it's the responsibility of the family and parents to ensure that their child is receiving the best education. So you've really got to look at which out of those two systems is going to deliver the best results for the most students.” But once again, when it comes to specifics, the clouds start rolling in. With no professed interest in sex or religious education, surely Maxim must have more of an interest in mainstream subjects? “To be honest, we're really not even looking at subjects, we're really looking at the underpinning of the education system in New Zealand, what is that based on. Our focus on curriculum is not a big part of our focus at all.” Except, perhaps, in one area at least. Apparently Maxim has developed a new English curriculum. It is a comprehensive two pages long. “It's absolutely amazing in terms of when you read it, there is actually nothing lacking there that you would want your child or your friends to leave school with,” says Taylor. I asked for a copy, but Taylor said she'd have to check with her superiors. “We haven't released it yet... we're developing a number of them [in different subject areas]...” The author of this veiled document is Maxim's Paul Henderson. “Paul Henderson is nationally recognised as an expert in curriculum development and values education and has now been recognised worldwide with the invitation to speak at the World Congress of Families,” says Maxim's managing director, Greg Fleming. The World Congress of Families, run by fundamentalists, was a forum at which Henderson espoused the idea that teacher registration should be abandoned “in place of training men and women who are competent in their subject”. According to Maxim, he also “advocates greater parental involvement in schooling including the selection and retention of staff and greater trust placed in schools to choose curricula and tests suited to their pupils”. Paul Litterick's investigations into Henderson's expert credentials turned up little. “Those in the education field may be wondering if they are a little behind in their reading for not having heard of Mr Henderson. He is the author of “Vying For Our Children,” published by the Maxim Institute,” Litterick wrote in a recent edition of the Fundy Post. “Obviously, this book qualifies him as one of this country's leading educators, because in other respects his CV seems a little bare: he apparently worked in curriculum development in Africa, but otherwise seems to have spent little time in the field.” An expert in curriculum development? Once parents have the “freedom” to educate their kids with fundamentalist curricula, they can rest assured that Maxim has a tertiary scheme available to take them to the next level. This is the ultimate aim of Maxim's Centre for Tomorrow's Leaders, which – true to Christian reconstruction ideals – plans to rebuild the institutions of civil society by training leaders who live for a “greater cause” than themselves. “[The purpose of the Centre] essentially is to identify, develop, nurture and assist young people who want to be involved in the kind of work that Maxim's doing, but who want training or reading to develop and grow in areas such as the media, politics, education,” says Scott McMurray. “We have plans for the future to have intensive in-house training times so that people can be exposed to in-depth thinking and discussion on philosophy, sociology, etc. We've run for the last two years a nationwide tertiary essay competition, and from those entrants we select a number of interns who come and work at Maxim over the summer, to get a feel for what we do and obviously to get some of that teaching and training.” So who runs the Centre? Another educational luminary of the ilk of Paul Henderson? No. It's some bloke who won their tertiary essay competition last year. “He came on board as a full time staff member to head that up and continue that work and growing in that area,” McMurray explains. THE IMAGE IS (MOST OF) THE MESSAGE A study in human communication by Dr Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus at Stanford University, found that in discussion people pay attention to what's actually being said for only seven per cent of the time. The rest of how meaning is interpreted comes from body language – 55% how you look, and 38% how you sound. It's a safe conclusion from this that if someone looks good and sounds good, they can get away with saying almost any load of bollocks and be assured it's going to go down easy. Maxim has begun to perfect the art of fresh-faced fundamentalism. Rebuild educational institutions according to biblical principles, but in the name of freedom of choice. Rebuild the media and the political landscape – just as has been done in the United States – by training a new generation of leaders to live for a cause “greater” than themselves. Support the nuclear, heterosexual family and ‘protect' marriage by excluding and marginalizing a sector of society. Conservative gay author Andrew Sullivan noted in the aftermath of this week's presidential election, that thanks to fundamentalist political lobbying gay couples in eight more states have no relationship rights whatsoever – all mandated by voters. “Their legal ability to visit a spouse in hospital, to pass on property, to have legal protections for their children has been gutted. If you are a gay couple living in Alabama, you know one thing: your family has no standing under the law; and it can and will be violated by strangers,” he wrote. “When you put a tiny and despised minority up for a popular vote, the minority usually loses... a lot of gay people are devastated this morning, and terrified. We have seen, and not for the first time, how using fear of a minority can be so effective a tool in building a political movement.” Maxim's people know this, and it's been perfectly evident in their campaign against the Civil Union Bill, the Care of Children Bill, prostitution law reform and, soon, hate speech. But unlike the Destiny Church, they do it all with a smile and a nice haircut, and deny every step of the way that they're doing it. Chris Banks - 15th November 2004    
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