Sunday, 15 August 2010

Defending our children - or denying them?

There are two stories side by side in the Church of England Newspaper this week which caught my eye. They both relate to alleged discrimination against Christians who hold conservative views on homosexuality.

The first is about a teacher who has was suspended from his job at a primary school in Scotland, apparently because of his traditional views about homosexuality, published on his website. The second is about a vicar and his wife who have been rejected as potential foster parents because of their unease about the hypothetical situation of having a to welcome a gay couple to stay in their home as part of a 'handover' to them as adoptive parents.

Both these stories have given me food for thought, not about the merits or otherwise of these particular cases - I certainly do not know enough about either situation to offer any view on them. The issue which arises here for me is about what these stories tell us about our attitude to children, because in both cases, concern for children was cited to be the main issue.

In the school, the concern appears to be that the teacher might express his views in class, which were at odds with education policies. Similarly, the vicar and his wife were concerned that their children, aged 5 and 7, might begin to question why some families have 2 mummies or 2 daddies.

Indeed concern for children is often raised as an issue in considering the right or wrong approach to homosexuality, as if it were somehow different from all other moral questions and dilemmas.

When my pro-gay views became public in the parishes where I am vicar, I held a public meeting to explain them and invite questions and debate. At that meeting (which was a model of gracious Christian dialogue between people of a range of viewpoints) the question was asked "But what about your children?" as if our views would somehow undermine their fragile lives! At a PCC meeting sometime later, in a similar discussion, the idea of potential confusion or embarrassment among children in the church was held up as a reason not to publically declare our church to be a church which welcomes LGBT people.

Yet my observation of children is that they are more adept than most at listening to and pondering conflicting ideas about life, the universe, and everything. Indeed, that is what growing up is all about. Whenever my own children ask about something where different people hold different views, whatever sphere of life, I always try to explain that some people think 'this' and some people think ' that', and sometimes there are others who think something completely different!

In my present parishes we have excellent relations with 3 schools, (2 church schools and one community school) and I am delighted to be invited in to lead assemblies and some lessons. In those schools, I precede my statements about the Christian faith with the phrase "Christians believe that ..."; and if there is a question on which different Christians see things differently, I will say "Some Christians believe this ... while others believe this".

This is not rocket science, and I know that many of my colleagues use similar devices to ensure that children are equipped to make their own decisions in life as they grow - indeed that is the very heart of good education, whether in school of in the home.

So why do we get so concerned at applying this to the question of sexuality?

Is it that we are more afraid of the questions which children might ask of us as result - exposing our own lack of clarity? Is it that we are too tied up in protecting our own world view that we seek ways to allow no other viewpoint in? Do we really want to bring up a new generation just as hung up and prejudiced as we are, having heard only one side of the story (whichever side that is).

My own children (both of school age) are fully aware of my views on homosexuality. and that those views have changed over the years. They have no difficulty with this.

Similarly in schools, it would be sad day when all teachers have to hold the same opinions on all moral matters, in order to be allowed to teach. If this should ever happen, we would not be making the world a better place, and we would not be preparing the next generation for the moral dilemmas of life.

Children often have much more capacity to see the wood for the trees than we who are trying to 'defend' them from a diverse and sometimes confusing world. We need to equip them for their own decisions, not limit the supply of knowledge, belief and opinion, as long as it is presented in a way which allows them to decide for themselves.


  1. I think there's also fear about allowing children to ask and get answers about the world. A 7 year old at church asked who's the daddy out of me and my partner - we explained that in our house there's a Mummy and a Mama who live together, and our child's Daddy and Papa live together but somewhere else. Then I asked him what happened in his family (he lives with his Mummy and Daddy). The 7 year old has returned to the question periodically and we answer whatever he wants to know.

    But I think these conversations I have with him strike fear into most churchgoers!

  2. Agree with Lesley.
    And with anonymous - so much fear, too much fear among churchgoers wrt unfamiliar territory!

  3. Thanks everyone - why are people so afraid of genuine questions? I prefer a good (even difficult) question to a well rehearsed argument anyday!