Christians trained to recruit children

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The Independent Online
A DIPLOMA to teach people how to evangelise children, thought to be the first in Europe, is to be launched today.

One and two-year courses, which will be validated by Sheffield University, will equip adults to become children's missionaries. They will go out into schools, children's clubs, youth groups and mother-and-toddler groups to spread the Christian message.

Places on the courses, organised by the Scripture Union and the Methodist Cliff College, will be open to "all those who are committed to children and the gospel ... the main criteria are the conviction to reach children for Christ and disciple them in their faith".

Humanists said yesterday that it was wrong to evangelise children who should be left to make up their own minds about religion.

But Gethin Russell-Jones, public relations manager for the Scripture Union, said: "We would say to those who object to the idea of evangelising children that every child has a right to hear about the Christian faith, however young they are. It is right and proper that children should be able to make a choice about whether they believe or don't believe.

"The course will look at the legal implications of working with children, psychology, how to safeguard them from abuse and how to prevent them being screwed up."

Mr Russell-Jones said that people who went on the course, which starts in September, would be trained to deal with children as young as five. "For the first time we are providing an academic basis for the work of our children's evangelists."

People of all ages will be welcome but most are expected to be in their mid-20s.

The Scripture Union said yesterday that it might eventually attract up to 50 people a year. The 130-year-old Christian charity already has more than 20 children's evangelists at work throughout the country. Students will be go on placements with them. They will also receive instruction in theology (the place of children in God's kingdom), how to develop children's spiritual awareness, how to communicate with children and how to spread the gospel to them.

Robert Ashby, director of the British Humanist Association, said: "We are absolutely opposed to this on human rights grounds. Children should be left to choose rather than having religion promoted to them, particularly the Christian religion in a multi-faith society.

"The irony is that if we set up a course for adults to show children that God doesn't exist we should be accused of blasphemy."

Fees will be pounds 4,995, including cost of placements and board for the one-year, full-time course, and pounds 2,650 for the part-time course. Cliff College, which is run by the Methodist Church, runs a BA in biblical and evangelistic ministry.