Sex education compulsory; worship optional; children at risk. How should we respond?

Feb 26, 2019 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

During General Synod last week, what the organisers hoped would be a minor administrative change passing under the radar was picked up on Thursday by a number of national media outlets as a variant of: ‘Sunday services no longer compulsory in the Church of England’. It was pure coincidence, but highly symbolic, that as we posted the Guardian’s report on Anglican Mainstream, the next item on our news page would be about sex education becoming compulsory for even the youngest ages of schoolchildren.

Of itself, there is nothing controversial about the Synod announcement. Altering the canons to remove the need for every parish church still in use to hold a service every Sunday morning and evening would simply bring law into line with reality. Many churches never have evening services, and in multi-parish benefices it has long been the case that some churches in smaller villages will have a service once a month, while the vicar focuses on the churches with larger attendances. Up until now vicars or lay readers really should have been reciting Morning and Evening Prayer alone in empty churches every Sunday, or they will have been technically breaking the law – it seems sensible to make a change, and this has been discussed in previous Synods.

But despite this, the image of a church in terminal decline and essentially unimportant is not dispelled by headlines about making Sunday worship optional.

Similarly, widening Relationships and Sex Education to ensure that children learn how to protect themselves online, and get along with people from different family backgrounds, might not appear controversial. But the revamping of RSE is a move away from the historic understanding of education in partnership with parents (especially on issues of religion and morals), to one that looks increasingly like the imposition of an ideology, through the school system, which is godless and immoral.

Christian Concern, who helped to organize a multi-faith meeting of protest and prayer outside Parliament during the debate on RSE on 25th February, have produced an excellent briefing on the implications of these changes. It is not just that influential lobby groups such as Stonewall and Educate and Celebrate have infiltrated national education, producing materials for teachers to use and proving speakers for assembles which relentlessly promote LGBT themes and ideas to children. Nor is the problem just that head teachers have been given increasing powers to direct the policy and curriculum of schools of RSE. Ideologically-driven Principals pushing policies and materials promoting the ‘inclusion’ agenda have already created clashes with parents from Muslim and Christian backgrounds, who regard this to be inappropriate or even immoral.

These things are alarming enough. Melanie Phillips writing in the Times [£] says:

The impulse to spread tolerance and protect children from harm is commendable but this is not the primary aim of this policy. It is rather to impose the doctrine of equal sexual lifestyle choice. This doctrine is not a neutral concept. As a direct attack on normative morality, it is an ideology that schools have no business imposing on pupils….many parents have already expressed great concern over the way sex education is prematurely sexualising their children…

but the bigger issue is the overarching power that the State has taken upon itself, to override the wishes of parents in their children’s education, assumptions that are guaranteed in various international accords on human rights. As Christian Concern say:

If parliament asserts a right to determine which beliefs a parent can or cannot instil in his or her own children, it infringes upon a fundamental liberty upon which the social order is established. By usurping a parents’ role as the custodians and guardians for their children’s development, parliament threatens religious liberty and the freedoms of conscience, belief, and even speech.

The contrast between General Synod, legislating to reflect the national decline in churchgoing and lack of interest in the things of God, and Parliament, legislating to ensure that no child escapes the new moralities of secularism, could not be more marked. It is certainly not a coincidence that, symbolically, worship becomes optional at a time when training in immorality becomes compulsory. This trend is found in other areas as well: the C of E’s ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project makes the historic and bible-based teaching on sex and marriage optional, while “full inclusion” of those living and promoting a different ethical position is compulsory. Abstinence for people who have same-sex desires is optional, but keeping hold of those desires is compulsory.

However, many well-meaning Christian parents and teachers, including those associated with Church of England schools, don’t seem concerned about the changes in sex education. “Surely we should support programmes in schools which teach children to be kind?” The answer of course is that good schools have always fostered an ethic of care and respect, making bullying and bigotry unacceptable, beginning with a relationship of mutual support between the head teacher and the parents, who should have ultimate responsibility for instilling morals and values according to their worldview. But now that increasingly, bullying, bigotry and even ‘extremism’ is associated with simply holding traditional views on sex and marriage, Christian parents and teachers can no longer assume that all is well. They may need to prepare for conflict if we are not to see the ‘sex-positive: all consensual sex is good’ message being taught to all children from an early age by default.

But should Christians be appalled at the sexualisation of children and the erosion of rights and freedoms of parents, or should we just shrug and accept that this is an inevitable result of secularism? Should we be actively involved in protecting children by countering misguided and even evil laws, or should we just do evangelism and discipleship within our local church, since what happens in schools is none of our business, and we can’t expect things to change unless people become Christians? Certainly this has never been the Anglican position: mission is not just getting individuals converted and into church, but also about changing society for the better. If people are speeding on my local road and children are at risk, I cannot simply fold my arms and say “we shouldn’t be surprised – the drivers are not Christians”. Nor is the ministry of practical care just a matter of helping those affected by a sinful world. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer, our job is not only to help people crushed by the wheel, but to stop the wheel itself.

The sexual revolution is getting out of control. If my church is not able to take a stand by at least clearly articulating the bible’s positive teaching on sex and the dire warnings of Christ for those who lead children into sin, should I perhaps think about going to, or even starting, another one?

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