Tag Archives: Church role

THE ARCHBISHOPS’ LETTER TO PARISHES

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have written a letter to parishes, challenging the thinking of Christians about the upcoming election.

Education features throughout their letter, acknowledging its significance in nurturing a strong, stable society and raising some relevant questions about our education service. They state: ‘If our shared British values are to carry the weight of where we now stand and the challenges ahead of us, they must have at their core, cohesion, courage and stability. Cohesion is what holds us together’. Education can be a powerful force for nurturing cohesion, but it shouldn’t be used as a tool of force. Instead of seeking to impose further centralised control over curriculum content, the government should be acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of our education service, the role that the Church has played in its formation over centuries, and the right of parents to choose the education which most closely matches their parenting values. Cohesion is not uniformity – cohesion is living at peace with difference and showing respect for fellow humanity. These should be the British values which we share in a pluralist society.

The letter calls for ‘education for all’. For this to be effective, it requires us to acknowledge that we are all uniquely created in the image of God, with different gifts, skills and aspirations. To achieve meaningful education for all which nurtures individuals and promotes human flourishing, we must stop the current ‘one size fits all’ approach to education. We should create an environment in which schools of all types, including Christian schools, can thrive without fear.

We are called to act with courage, which ‘also demands a radical approach to education, so that the historic failures of technical training and the over-emphasis on purely academic subjects are rebalanced’. It is time to reverse an education culture of constant high stakes measurement, which values nothing but results and predictions of future economic prosperity. We need to develop an education service which focuses on the holistic development of people. Careers education, for example, should be about reflecting on individual identity, values, interests, aspirations and ambitions, rather than measuring the effectiveness of careers education purely on consideration of maximising income.

The Archbishops further write: ‘To our concern for housing, health and education as foundations for a good society, we add marriage, the family and the household as foundational communities, which should be nurtured and supported as such, not just for the benefit of their members, but as a blessing for the whole of society’. Yet the new Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) requirements, made statutory in the Children and Social Work Bill that received royal assent this week, require schools to teach all relationships as being equal.

There is a growing body of evidence that children raised in stable families with two parents who are committed to each other in marriage are much more likely to achieve their potential academically, socially and personally. Yet despite highlighting the importance of marriage and family in the past, the government does not privilege them in any of the new policy proposals. Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, recently called for faith schools to reach ‘common ground’ with the LGBT community on sex education. Why? Faith schools should be allowed to genuinely teach according to the tenets of their faith. Further, the right of parental opt out should be extended across the whole of the RSE and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) policies. To do otherwise is to open the door to state indoctrination on matters of morality and ethics.

Regarding the issue of assumptions of secularism, which now inform all education policy formation, the Archbishops state: ‘Contemporary politics needs to re-evaluate the importance of religious belief. The assumptions of secularism are not a reliable guide to the way the world works, nor will they enable us to understand the place of faith in other people’s lives’. This is nowhere more evident than in the teaching of science. Government advice states that ‘Any explanation or theory which holds that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity and complexity of life on earth and therefore rejects the scientific theory of evolution cannot be permitted in science classes’. This limits open consideration of a range of theories about our origins, including creation.

Finally, the letter raises the issue of religious freedom, positing that, ‘The new Parliament, if it is to take religious freedom seriously, must treat as an essential task the improvement of religious literacy’. The RE Commission, a non-statutory body, is currently gathering evidence with a remit to make recommendations designed to improve the quality and rigour of religious education and its capacity to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain. Any changes to the framework or policy must acknowledge the religious diversity of Britain, the distinctiveness of each faith, the right of parents to make decisions about their child’s involvement in religious education and the right of schools to determine curriculum in a local context. We must avoid the imposition of a centralised curriculum, which is the route to totalitarian control. It is also time to put an end to the practice of safe spaces and no-platforming in further education institutions which limit the rights of Christians to express their views openly in the public square.

 

 

POWERFUL CURRENTS: FAITH AND SECULARISM

David Cameron, it seems, is assuming the mantle of Mandela. Not with a long walk to freedom, but a long walk to a greater Britain. Nothing wrong with that, on the surface, but there’s a problem embedded in the narrative.

2015 saw an unprecedented centralisation of power from a government that once talked about autonomy and Big Society. It saw a relentless focus on growing a global economy at the expense of growing people. It saw a sustained, opportunist attack on freedom of speech under the guise of preventing terrorism and, for people of faith, it saw a constant, steady pressure to conform to a liberal, secular ideology. So it all depends on how you define a greater Britain.

Towards the end of 2015, I sent an email about the inspection of private faith schools, the proposed monitoring of out-of-school education settings and the possibility of the state grabbing church school lands and buildings. It amounted, I suggested, to a form of faith cleansing, with only home education remaining uncleansed. I wish I hadn’t written it, because a few days later, Nicky Morgan announced a crackdown on home schooling which was closely followed by Nick Gibb saying that British schools overseas must actively promote an LGBT/gender identity agenda, even if it lands head teachers in prison for doing so. David Cameron chillingly talked about the state being the parent of children in care – not acting in loco parentis, but usurping the parental role. He also now includes ‘loyalty’ as a British value, although, as with all British values, loyalty remains an ill-defined drift net which can be cast wide. A greater Britain, or a totalitarian state, with an imperialist attitude towards the laws of other countries?

Proof of secular creep in our society, should it be needed, came this week from William Nye, a former senior civil servant who now works for the Church of England. He talked frankly about the silencing of Christians and the steady secularisation of our government, shaped by the people who surround and advise the Prime Minister. It’s not the done thing to be a Christian in the civil service. Or in education. Or anywhere else in public life.

So why does the government appear to espouse the Christian faith? I would suggest that its reasons are two-fold. One is to maintain the warm, cosy glow engendered by nominal belief in a benign God and a Church of England which is perceived as being as much a British value as fish and chips, or cricket on the village green. The other is more cynical: the government needs Christians’ commitment, time and money in order to sustain social welfare programmes that it couldn’t possibly fund centrally. The government really needs Christians in order to create a greater Britain. It just doesn’t want the inconvenient faith that motivates our actions.

But there’s another picture of 2015. It’s one of the many, many Christians working in education; of parents and carers involved in a myriad of ways in their local schools; of burgeoning Prayer Spaces in Schools and of rapid increases in Open the Book assemblies. TLG has experienced similar growth as it meets the needs of students who struggle on the fringes of education and whose families struggle on the fringes of society. It’s a picture of churches who embrace the idea of loving their local school; of people who feed hungry children and of those at Pray for Schools who find endlessly creative ways to encourage us all to pray for education.

The Bible often uses river imagery to describe things that threaten to overwhelm us and also to describe our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit – there are, apparently, 4260 biblical references to rivers or streams. As we’ve seen yet again this winter, water is a mighty force that cannot be stopped. As Christians, we are rivers of living water (John 7:37-39), a mighty force which cannot be stopped by human endeavour. And so it is with the many rivers of living water that flow through education.

There are too many organisations to mention them all here, but one of the aims of Christians in Education this year is to profile as many of them as possible and create a database of those profiles. Another aim is to encourage more churches to love their local school and a third aim is to support Christian teachers to live boldly.

Looks like 2016 is going to be a busy year of challenge, inspiration and encouragement ….

PRAY DAY 2015

For those who are new to the idea of a Pray Day, it’s a day each year which is set aside for people across Europe and the world to pray for education. It includes everything from nursery to university; it encompasses everyone, from students, staff and governors to parents, youth and church workers. If you’re involved in education in any way, you will be prayed for during the day – this year, Pray Day is on Tuesday 17 November.

There are various ways of getting involved. You might pray alone for the people you know in your own context. You might organise a prayer group in your church, your school or your college. You might lead a school assembly or an RE lesson to explain what prayer means to Christians, or you might organise a prayer walk. The Pray for Schools Pray Day page has lots of resources and suggestions which are adaptable to your situation.

This year, the UK theme is a Prayer Marathon inspired by Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, in which he wrote: ‘Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith’ (Hebrews 12:1—2). The idea is that you choose a time during the day when you can pray for 30 minutes, before handing the prayer baton on to somebody else.

The resource provides hourly themes, derived from the concept of a marathon. They include Persevere; Stay Focused; Be Rooted in the Word; Be Aware; Encourage Others; Trust God, and Be Thankful. Each theme has a number of prayer points, many of which you can personalise to your own context.

Maybe you’re reading this and wondering why you should pray for education in particular. The answer is because there are so many issues that we need to pray about. Our children and young people are under great pressure to achieve academic success. They are growing up into a world which measures value and accords social status based on material success. Anxiety levels and mental illness are reaching epic proportions.

Education is a tough place for Christians to be at the moment, as the pressure of a secular culture attempts to silence the voice of faith. We should pray for Christian staff and students, that they are afforded a fair space to talk about how their faith informs the way they see the world.

Nurseries, schools, colleges and universities are communities which rely on positive relationships to be effective. We should pray for those relationships and for the building of communities which support and nurture whole people.

We hear every day of the hundreds of thousands of children and young people who suffer in silence; who cannot go to school because they are displaced, or because it is too dangerous. So we can pray for the global perspective, for peace, for stability and access to education for children around the world.

It’s an opportunity, too, to be thankful for the excellence of much of our education service and for the many thousands of people who work so hard in schools and colleges on behalf of their students.

When I profiled the work of Pray for Schools earlier this year, I wrote: ‘Just pause for a moment and visualise your local school or college cocooned in a prayer wrapper. Then visualise a bigger prayer wrapper encompassing our whole country.  Think what it might mean for the wellbeing of our children, our teenagers, our families and ultimately our society’. That’s why we pray.

However you decide get involved with Pray Day, pray in the strength of Christ’s promise: ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’ (Mark 11:24). Be blessed as you pray.