We often tend to think that the big changes in a nation’s history are the obvious and dramatic ones: wars, the fall of governments,financial crises and so on. Yet often it is the little events, largely unnoticed, that over the long-term are truly significant.
The campaigning organisation Christian Concern has brought to my attention one such ‘little event’ that is potentially of profound significance. It is the proposal, quietly announced, that from 2020 all children in England in both primary and secondary school should be subject to compulsory or statutory teaching on relationships and sex. Now I’m fully aware that the precise elements of what will be taught are at the moment ill-defined.
Nevertheless, beneath the vague and seemingly harmless generalities, the currently fashionable ‘progressive’ agenda on relationships and gender is clearly recognisable. The government has clearly decided that from the earliest possible age every child in England must be subjected to teaching on sex and gender that most Christians (and many people of other faiths) would find objectionable. The content is troubling but even more troubling is that this teaching is to be made compulsory and statutory.
Contrary to common opinion Christians are not obsessed with issues of sex and gender, and in fact most of us have long been reluctant to engage in battle against ‘progressive’ ideas in this area. We are quiet people:we like to be liked and hate to be hated, and, in general, we are quite prepared for other people to do what they want to do in their own lives. Yet this legislation demands a response.
Should it be enacted in anything like the proposed form then it would mark the shift of the ‘progressive’ agenda on sex and relationships from something some people choose to believe for themselves to something that is being foisted on all our children as truth whatever their parents think. It’s worth remembering that as Christians we have a vested interest in children. In fact, in one of his strongest statements Jesus himself warned, ‘If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me –to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea’ (Matthew 18:6 niv).
Christian Concern is challenging this proposal and I’m happy to support them. There is an online petition and there was a rally outside the Palace of Westminster on Monday 25th February at 4 pm. This issue raises a question: on what grounds should we oppose this legislation? Clearly there is a very strong Christian argument against any ‘progressive’ teaching on relationships that seeks to undermine the biblical ideal of sexual relations being exclusively in the context of a lifelong faithful marriage between a man and a woman. The Bible is clear on these matters.
Yet if we are to seek the widest possible support against this, what other arguments can be made? Let me suggest three appeals.
First, we can appeal for caution. The change of values to be imposed on our children is something entirely driven by a cultural mood; something created by a few and adopted unthinkingly by the many.Precisely because it lacks any scientific foundation this legislation represents an astonishing gamble in social engineering on a national scale.Surely common sense dictates that because human relationships are complex and sensitive and, if mishandled, potentially capable of giving rise to lifelong unhappiness, any teaching in this area needs to be carefully thought through.In areas such as the environment a widespread guide to action is the‘Precautionary Principle’ where, in the absence of adequate scientific knowledge, you do nothing that might risk the possibility of harm: in other words, ‘when in doubt, don’t’. While the traditional Judaeo-Christian marriage pattern has been tried and tested over three millennia, there is little research on the long-term effects of the proposed alternatives.
Second, we can appeal for clarity. Precisely because this liberal agenda is driven by mood there are real questions that should be asked about where it’s all going. Suddenly we have found ourselves in the position of passengers on a bus driven at high speed by an unseen driver to an unknown destination. Given that there seems to be an unquenchable thirst to push the ‘progressive’ trend in relationships ever further, what, we may legitimately ask, is our next destination? Are we, for example, to see incest,paedophilia or bestiality re branded as merely alternative ‘lifestyle choices’?There are no rules now: after all, once you have rejected the biblical anchor point of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman, why shouldn’t marriage be possible for three or more individuals of whatever gender,or for a man and a cat? What, if any, are the limits? Could someone please stop the bus so that we can ask questions about where exactly we are going to?
Third, we can make an appeal to conscience. The compulsory teaching of sexual ethics completely ignores the principle of individual liberty. We live in some sort of free society and that concept surely includes the notion that we may agree to differ. What Christians are seeking here is not the outright banning of ‘progressive’ teaching on gender and sexual relations but merely the ability to withdraw their children from that teaching. To refuse that wish is to clearly ride roughshod over the rights of the individual.
Graciously, gently and without the slightest hint of anger or threat, we who are Christians need to let our voice be heard. By all means let there be discussion on the nature of marriage and even the nature of gender. But, in the meantime, can we leave our children out of it?
Revd Canon J.John