3 December 2017
Valuing All God’s Children
A NEW edition of Valuing All God’s Children has just been published.
The first was issued in 2014. It provided guidance to Church of England schools about how to stop same-sex life-style people from being bullied.
The new edition gives guidance on how to deal with those who bully people who think it is a valid life-style choice to have sex with a person of the same sex (homo-sexuals), with both men and women (bi-sexuals), and those who want to change sex (trans-sexuals). The guidance calls such bullying HBT bullying.
The guidance affirms the commitment of the Church of England to see provided in church schools an education that enables every pupil to flourish (pages 1, 3 and 5). And it reminds us ”bullying of any kind” can have a devastating effect upon any child or young person (page 7).
We endorse the aim to ”eradicate” and ”combat” in church schools all bullying including HBT bullying (page 5). And we are grateful for the way the guidance seeks to provide a summary of existing laws, as well as model policies and templates (see Appendices A to G).
However there are at least two areas of concern, neither of which is insignificant.First, the guidance lacks a proper robust theological foundation. It fails to provide a summary of what the Bible teaches about mankind. Such is essential. Why? Because our first duty, irrespective of who we are, is to God. We need to know how he would have us behave both personally and towards each other.
We recognise that God wants us to obey the civil authorities in all things lawful. That is why we take seriously the laws enacted in Parliament. However, we also recognise that we are to honour God in all that we do. Jesus sums up this our dual duty to God and man in these words:
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
It is very sad that the guidance, which seeks to set out the legal framework within which schools are to function, does not tell us what the Bible teaches about mankind and how God wants us to live! Why is it missing? It is crucial. We should not assume that we all know God’s will for us.
It is common in church schools to hear mentioned these words of Jesus:
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Those words are quoted in the recently published: The Church of England Vision for Education: Deeply Christian, Serving the Common Good (2016). They are also referred to some seven times in Valuing All God’s Children (on pages 1, 5, 10, 17, and 21). The promise of abundant life is a dominant theme.
Yes, Jesus did come to give life and to give it abundantly. It is a great, life-transforming promise. But it comes with a condition. The abundant life Jesus offers mankind is only enjoyed by those who become God’s children.
The guidance assumes that we are all God’s children. We read ”every one of us is loved unconditionally by God” (see pages 1, 11, 29, 31). Now we readily affirm that the testimony of Scripture is that the love God freely offers to each and every person is unconditional. But the Bible also distinguishes between those who are slaves to sin and those who are slaves to righteousness (John 8.34; Romans 6.19). Jesus describes those who sin as being of their ”father the devil” (John 8.44).
The way into God’s family, Jesus teaches, is through the door. There is only one door and Jesus is the door. The words of John 10.10 need to be read in context. The context is important. Without it you will miss the point he makes. And central to that is the need for us to listen to his voice (verse 3; see also verses 5 and 8). We are not to listen to those who would lead people astray. They are hired hands, thieves, robbers and strangers. Jesus Christ alone is the Good Shepherd.
We therefore need to proceed with care. We do not want to give the impression that a person is right with God if the opposite is true. God’s love is unconditional but salvation through faith is not. Faith is required. A faith which does not merit God’s grace, but which rests on Christ alone for salvation. A faith that leads us to forsake sin and, by the power of God’s Spirit, to do God will.
All people owe their existence to God. Mankind was created by him and for him. We are created in his image (able to care, communicate and be creative). But we are in a state of rebellion. Our free-will is bound by an inclination to do evil. From that each one of us needs to be set free. Freedom is enjoyed by those who entrust themselves to Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Door through whom we may enter God’s fold.
Without a sold foundation we shall not care for people as we should. Our duty is to care for all people – the staff, pupils, and parents or carers of the pupils in our schools. It is true that a range of views on human sexuality (pages 6, 18 and 24) can be found among those who attend churches. It is also true that not all the views held express faithfully what God teaches us in the Bible. If we are to strive to ensure that all church schools are bully free safe havens (page 20), we need to know who we are, and how God would have us behave.
Secondly, the guidance lacks adequate advice about how we are to be faithful to God whilst we provide appropriate support for those who face HBT bullying.
The guidance, we are told, is part of ”an on-going and evolving contribution” (page 1) that is provided to help each church school address bullying ”within the framework of its Christian vision, values and beliefs” about each and every pupil (page 20). Yet, within it, there are statements that can be (and will be) interpreted as endorsing uncritically the inclusion and equality agenda being pressed upon us by non-Christians.
Consider the definition of HBT bullying offered (page 7). It comes from HM Government Equalities Office. We are told that it ”can be defined as behaviour or language which makes a person feel un-welcome or marginalised because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” It begs an important question. Would a school be deemed to support HBT bullying, directly or indirectly, if a pupil, member of staff or parent felt unwelcome or marginalised when the teaching of the Bible about sex and sexuality is taught?
Consider also the advice that schools should speak ”clearly about LGBT equality” (page 18). Does that mean church schools are to promote as valid life-style choices both same-sex sexual intimacy and the theory that your male or femaleness is determined by your feelings or thoughts rather than the genetic sex that is expressed in the cells of your body?
And what are we to make of the assertions that HBT bullying can be ”prevalent in schools” (pages 3 and 8) and the claim that ”bullying is a significant issue in primary schools” (page 20). What evidence is there to justify the use of the terms prevalent and significant? A recent survey (in 2017) of some 10,020 people, aged 12-20, found that the majority of incidents of bullying are because of a person’s appearance (50%) or hobbies (40%). Those relating to sexuality (4%) or gender (3%) were at the bottom of the list.
No one doubts that the issues raised in Valuing All God’s Children are to be taken seriously. However the questions raised above indicate that more work needs to be done. It is hoped that it will be very soon.
What we need is guidance that will help each school provide a safe haven in which the teaching of the Bible is honoured. There is a real danger that it may be side-lined by an alternative man-centred agenda.
We cannot make people change their views. But, out of love for all people, Christians make known what God has made us to be and how he wants us to live.
In the first two chapters of the Bible, we learn that to be made male or female is part of what it means to be created in God’s image. It is an essential part of our God-given physical identity.
And in Genesis chapter 2 we learn that the God-appointed sphere in which sexual intimacy with another person is to be enjoyed is the marriage bond of one man with one woman.
Those who value all God’s children know that these truths are integral to the abundant life Jesus Christ gives.
George Curry 26 November 2017