How the Church can protect children

May 20, 2014 by

by Andrew Symes:

We thank God that children in our society are not at risk of being taken from their beds at gunpoint and forced into slavery, and we continue to pray for the situation in northern Nigeria. But our children are at risk in other ways. What are these risks, and how is the church responding?

On Sunday morning I led a service of worship in a small and beautiful village church. It was my first time there, and after the service, in conversation with members of the congregation, I met the acting Head of a small independent junior school, who was desperate for me to help find a new chaplain and RE teacher. He expressed his concern like this: “fewer and fewer children at my school have any kind of Christian teaching at home or any connection with church. New curricula and government guidelines on RE teaching and assemblies make explicit teaching on the basics of the Christian faith unnecessary or even discouraged. It’s not easy to find teachers or even ordained people who are able or willing to explain faith with conviction to the children. This is not just at my school. People I know involved in education across the County say similar things. My fear is that the Christian faith is being wiped out in this next generation”.

On my return home, after a delicious Sunday roast, I sat down to read the paper, and was drawn to an interview with Sir Paul Coleridge, senior judge in the family courts. Coleridge recently resigned from the Bench because of pressure from the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office after a small number of complaints followed his public comments on the failure of government and courts to deal with the causes and effects of family breakdown. Sir Paul, a Christian, set up the Marriage Foundation charity in 2012 because as a judge presiding over hundreds of bitter divorce cases he was appalled at the lack of action from the establishment when evidence showed clearly the damage done especially to children through broken relationships. The number of divorces provides a lucrative stream of income for lawyers which may partly account for the shunning of Coleridge by his colleagues. But with 3.8 million children affected by current cases, and children today now having only a 50/50 chance of living with both parents up to the age of 16, the judge does not mince his words: “broken relationships are a pernicious and destabilizing feature of the modern world, comparable to global warming and even terrorism”.

Another threat to children in our society is from early sexualisation. An urgent appeal about this can be found here. What is behind this drive to take moral education away from parents, give it to schools and the media, and remove traditional ethics? A combination of easy access to pornography, increasingly explicit and age-inappropriate sex education, and amoral “sexual health” programmes seems to be a result of an unholy alliance between libertarian revolutionaries, radical capitalists, and paedophiles. The first group of neo-Freudians genuinely believe that any restriction on sexual activity is inherently oppressive, and increased happiness will result from removing all taboos. The second group are just interested in making money. They know that just as war is good for arms manufacturers, so encouraging children to think about sex at earlier and earlier ages is good for sex traffickers, pharmaceutical companies, music and clothing retailers, pornographers and, perhaps later in life, divorce lawyers. The third group, the paedophiles, are delighted at the prospect of children being essentially groomed for sex. Childhood innocence and teenage abstinence are anathema to these powerful vested interests. Of course there are programmes to teach children and parents about being “safe” online, but how effective can new moral boundaries against paedophilia be when all other sexual boundaries are being removed?

So, children in the UK are at risk. They are not being protected from those who want to sexualize them too early. They have only a 50% chance of a stable home, and their parents are not getting the help they need to provide this stability. And the chance of them hearing the life changing Gospel of Jesus Christ, offering an other-centred life, freed from addictions and materialism, and with power for holiness and love, is being narrowed down. Of course in each case, if the child is from a poorer home, the chance of a wholesome upbringing is even lower.

What is the C of E doing in response? Marks out of ten? The Bishops have made a statement affirming the real meaning of marriage. But overall, the impression is sometimes given that many Bishops are reluctant to follow Sir Paul Coleridge in speaking out against family breakdown and encouraging couples to find ways of staying together and rekindling love for the sake of the children. Perhaps they see it as a right-wing, ‘Daily Mail’ agenda, and do not want to be seen as harsh on divorced people and single parents. They seem to be more comfortable expressing their pastoral heart for the small number of children being bullied for issues to do with sexual orientation, than they are in explaining the theological and philosophical reasons behind the church’s view on sexuality and marriage, for which many have in fact apologized.

In November last year, a senior Bishop speaking at General Synod celebrated the high academic standards and good OFSTED reports of many C of E schools, but said that children are not being educated fully unless they are cared for pastorally and “begin to explore a relationship with Jesus Christ” (see here, p106). After the recent unveiling of an expensive and much trailed resource to combat homophobic bullying (about which many people have expressed serious concerns – see list of links below article), can we expect similar energy to follow up the Bishop’s words with a plan to bring the Gospel of Jesus to the young people of England through the schools, to oppose early and inappropriate sexualisation, and to teach the basics of good relationships as a crucial foundation for Christian marriages of the future? Many local churches are doing a superb job with the children they have, and despite struggles, are making an impression on the non-churchgoing communities. Can we hope that they will receive more support from the institution in this vital Gospel ministry, and if not, at what point should a more effective counter-cultural, pro-family and missional institution take its place?




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