It is impossible to avoid talking about morality when it comes to Relationships and Sex Education and we should be free to discuss it.
Last week, one of the Tory leadership candidates at the time, Esther McVey was declared “unfit to be an MP” for having the temerity to suggest that parents could withdraw their children from the new Relationships and Sex Education lessons (RSE) in schools. These are being introduced in September 2019 and will be basically mandatory.
McVey wasn’t even questioning the content of the lessons but merely affirming the right of parents to choose whether they thought it was age-appropriate, especially when dealing with LGBTI relationships. According to some of her fellow MPs, to suggest that parents should decide over sex education for very young children is “illegal, immoral and deeply dangerous”.
Christian parents know that it is primarily their responsibility to educate their children. Of course, the state can provide a range of resources and educational skills for children, within an environment that should protect them from harm or neglect. But ultimately it is we as parents who have the responsibility before God to bring up our children – and this includes both the formal and informal education that they need.
Recently the Rev Peter Hughes from St Albans voiced his concerns about the ideology behind some of the new teaching materials to be used in our schools. He wrote in his parish magazine:
“Christian parents need to wake up to the danger posed by cultural Marxists targeting their children with LGBT ideology… Christians should love those who self-identify as LGBTI along with our neighbours, but this cannot mean we are obliged to celebrate LGBTI ideology and lifestyles and promote them to our children… the UK Government’s proposed Relationships and Sexual Education Programme is nothing but state-sponsored child abuse.”
Paul Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer and former leader of Sheffield Council, said “He’s a fool, I think he knows nothing about what’s going on. He doesn’t have the right to use these opinions to stop young people being taught to understand the world they inherit.” I am glad to hear the language of tolerance and inclusion being employed by the noble lord.
Certainly Rev Hughes’ language is rather inflammatory and in
a culture that is highly sensitised to these issues it may generate more heat
than light. But was he fundamentally wrong to express a view? He reflects the
very real concerns of some Christian parents, educators and clergy all over the country. Even if some
disagree with his views, surely he has the right to express them and for them
to be heard and weighed, not simply condemned outright?
At some point in a child’s education there does need to be a consideration of the fact of differing sexualities and relationships in society, and teaching that to hate or bully those who are different is unacceptable. But the issue of age-appropriateness is very important too, especially when it comes to very young children.
And it is naïve to think that these new lessons are morally neutral. RSE teaching often uses materials that assume that all manner of relationships, not just male-female marriage, are valid contexts in which to bring up children. These lessons are not merely acknowledging that other kinds of relationship exist. They either implicitly or, more often, explicitly say that these relationships are to be accepted as good and right and for anyone to suggest otherwise is wrong.
Many with deeply-held religious views do believe otherwise. Some may not like this, but these are very sincerely held moral opinions. It would be interesting to ask teachers whether they would be willing to teach a Christian or a Muslim view in RSE lessons as well – in the name of equality.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to speak freely on issues that get close to moral judgments about sex and gender. As if to prove the point, this week Dr Jules Gomes was banned from giving a lecture entitled “Feminism was women’s great enemy – until transgenderism came along” at Oxford Town Hall. Apparently, according to the council, the lecture “would not accord with our core commitment to valuing diversity”. The talk was to be of a classic academic style with the proposition that Gnosticism (with links to classical Hinduism) forms the foundation for radical feminism and transgenderism because they both reject the ontological and biological basis of womanhood and gender. It sounds like an interesting topic whatever side of the argument one may take, but something clearly not permissible in this high-profile university city; free-thinking is so last century.
It is easy for Christians to just keep screaming “foul”. We can see the unfairness, the logical inconsistencies and the tragic trajectory down which these developments are taking our society. We recognise the harm which all this is doing to people and because we love them we need to call it out for what it is. But in the end what we need is a revival of Christianity on such a scale that the whole of society is transformed; where its foundations become once again based on God’s word and his revelation of what is good and best for us.
So yes, we should complain as we are able and defend our historic rights – we do not want to become an Orwellian state. But we must also pray hard (and work hard) to tell people about the Jesus who loves them as they are – but who will take them to where they long to be.