Sex and the new generation: education and the gospel in a secular society

Nov 27, 2018 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

There is evidence that British schoolchildren are falling behind their international counterparts, in terms of, for example, mastering basic language and maths skills. Despite this, many schools seem determined to spend more time and energy instilling politically correct concepts of ‘equality and diversity’, shaming and punishing parents who raise objections. This amounts to a new form of “proselytism” and even “ideological colonialism” in education, especially in areas with large ethnic minority populations. Meanwhile, teachers with conservative views increasingly “self-censor”, afraid to give their own opinions to pupils, and even having to teach material with which they profoundly disagree, such as books which promote same sex parenting or gender transition.

This overview was presented by Roger Kiska of Christian Concern as he led one of the seminars at the Conference entitled ‘Identity, Sexuality and the Gospel’ in Oxford on Saturday 24 November.

Kiska gave the recent example of a Primary school in South London which ran a gay pride event for all pupils, and then bullied parents who expressed concerns this was indoctrination rather than education. He also cited the well-publicised cases [here and here] of parents and teachers who were unable to sufficiently affirm and celebrate transgender ideology. Given such a context, it’s vital that parents and teachers know their rights and obtain legal assistance if necessary, said Kiska, who insists that the law still gives protections to parents against indoctrination of their children.

The conference was hosted by the Christian Coalition for Education; it was opened and later concluded by Bishop Michael Nazir Ali who has long been a champion of retaining Christian influence and ethos in education. He warned about the reduction of education to imparting of skills for the economy, and seeing it as a commercial product to be bought and sold, rather than a means to impart wholeness of knowledge and personhood.

Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Church where the conference was held, gave the day’s first address, an exposition of Daniel 1. Comparing the situation of the faithful church today to that of Daniel and his friends in exile in Babylon, Roberts suggested that Christians should not withdraw from society and refuse to be a continued influence of salt and light amid the corruption and darkness. It’s helpful to study the culture we live in, and be a help and transforming influence where we can, as Daniel was, and as Jeremiah later urged the exiles.

But then, nor should believers compromise, perhaps for the sake of advantage or avoiding discomfort and unpopularity or even persecution. And meanwhile, we should continue to trust in God, not being afraid, as he is in control.

The majority of delegates were either teachers and other professionals needing help with working out their Christian faith in a secular education setting, or those from schools with a specific Christian ethos. Both spheres are facing increasing pressure to conform to the new ideologies of the sexual revolution. Rather than ignoring the difficult subject and ‘trusting in the Lord’, or even blaming conservative Christians for highlighting the problem as some do, most present at the Conference assumed that education is a battleground for ideological control of the next generation.

The keynote address was given by Stanton Jones, Professor of Psychology at Wheaton College, Illinois, and author of a number of books and articles on sexuality issues. Beginning with Judaeo-Christian principles of parenting and education derived initially from Deuteronomy 6 and the need to impart wisdom and shape moral character, he moved on to describe key aspects of the contemporary sexual revolution and its historical origins.

The Greco-Roman world saw human sexuality as reflecting capricious characteristics of spiritual powers. There was little concept of equality of the sexes in society: girls and women were often seen as little more than the property of fathers and husbands, especially among the upper classes; women were expected to be chaste while different standards were applied to men. The Christian gospel challenged this with the then revolutionary idea of both sexes bearing the divine image equally (just as both slaves and free people are of equal value). The one flesh union of marriage signified love and partnership in stewardship, while sexual expression outside marriage was seen as defiling. Judaeo-Christian sexual morality involved mastery of one’s body and instincts, and the concept of loving consent and lifelong mutual faithfulness with the other.

The idea of men and women living under God’s rule shaped the culture of the West, and was only seriously challenged many centuries later by the rise of the concept of the autonomous human being, free from any supposed divine rule. While human reason was enthroned in the ‘enlightenment’ period, in recent decades the idea of our sexual desire and gender identity as being central to our being has become foregrounded in our culture. Our authentic selves can only be truly free, we are told, if we throw off constraints of imposed morality from religion and tradition, or even the restrictions of our physical body.

Dr Jones noted the influence of the Confessions of St Augustine, which focussed on the thoughts of the individual self not as an end in themselves, but as a way of showing an example of each unique person seeking meaning and salvation in relationship with God. By contrast today, when God is rejected, and finding and promoting oneself becomes the goal, “fragile identities” are attached to “ephemera…[such as] examination of inner sexual yearnings” which are thought to constitute “essential reality”. The result: while the sexual revolution has promised freedom, pleasure and flourishing, it has delivered unstable relationships with less sex, less contentment, and fewer and more unhappy children.

Drawing on the popular book by Glynn Harrison, Dr Jones then proposed that the church can turn the situation around by better communication of the “better story” of the biblical teaching of sex, marriage and singleness, which points to the relational love of the Trinity in which we are called to dwell and which we can display as God’s male and female image bearers. In particular, sex and relationships education for children needs to take place in a framework of recognising and catering for the child’s needs for healthy relationships and a sense of their own value, and teaching a worldview with God at the centre.

Jones’ address was clear and comprehensive, and was certainly useful in giving an overview of the radical differences between the philosophies behind secular views of sex and their outcomes, and the Christian ideal. One criticism might be: an impression may be given that the solution to the crisis is simply encouraging the church to improve its censorious image and communicate its message better.  This underestimates the extent to which the culture no longer listens to the “better story”, and that the church itself either does not believe it or is too afraid to tell it.

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