Polite Christianity and the future of Christian education

6 May 2022

Roger Kiska, Legal Counsel for the Christian Legal Centre, comments on the case of St Lawrence College, which dropped its support of a Christian charity because of the Biblical beliefs of the charity’s president.

“The Education of children for God is the most important business done on earth…” Robert Lewis Dabney

Last week, Christian Concern published a story about an independent school with an evangelical ethos which had very publicly cancelled its support for a Christian charity. The charity in question provides material aid to the most impoverished and war-torn areas of the world, but the school saw fit to cancel its support of them because of the complaint of a single family who are being supported by Humanists UK.

St Lawrence College, Ramsgate removed its support for Operation Christmas Child, which is run by Samaritan’s Purse. The reason? The parents of a pupil at the school issued a scathing attack against Samaritan’s Purse because of the Biblical views expressed by its President, Franklin Graham.

Franklin Graham is the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, a spiritual mentor to several US presidents and friend with Martin Luther King Jr. Operation Christmas Child has school children fill shoeboxes with toys, school supplies and hygienic items to be shipped to some of the poorest areas of the world. Samaritan’s Purse, among many other charitable missions, is providing medical and food support in Ukraine and has to date already provided medical support to thousands of Ukrainians affected by the Russian invasion.

The complaining parents went so far as to create their own website to vilify the College, Franklin Graham and the College’s chaplain, before taking the website offline, possibly for fears about being sued for defamation. The parents alleged that because of Franklin Graham’s views on homosexual behaviour and marriage, that Samaritan’s Purse by association must be a ‘homophobic’ charity, despite the fact that the charity does incredible work and has never been accused of refusing to provide charitable outreach to anyone because of their sexual orientation.

St Lawrence’s Response

In March of this year, the College issued a statement disclosing that it would no longer co-operate with Samaritan’s Purse because the Biblical views espoused by the charity are ‘not in line’ with those of the school and ‘do not reflect’ the diversity it wishes to reflect to the world. This is despite the charitable objectives of the College being very much theologically aligned with those of Samaritan’s Purse.

The statement – in essence the naming and shaming of a charity where its volunteers risk their lives to provide vulnerable people assistance in the name of Christ – says a great deal more about the governors of St Lawrence College than it does of Franklin Graham or Operation Christmas Child.

Christian Education at Risk

There is no question that recent changes in education law have made it much more difficult for Christian ethos schools to remain faithful to authentic Christian teaching. Mandatory sex education and the introduction of LGBT themes have been mandated in all secondary schools in England by the RSE regulations, regardless of the religious ethos of the school. Primary schools have more say in what content they can teach, most notably not having to offer sex education or introduce LGBT themes in their teaching. The situation gets even more complicated because of inspectorates like Ofsted, where individual inspection teams have a nearly unfettered authority to injure a school with a few strokes of a keyboard, based on ill-defined equality objectives.

It has been said that if you ask 100 people if they believe equality should exist you will get unanimity in affirming the principle. The problem is that you will also probably get 100 different answers as to what equality might look like. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that school inspectors, who have no special training in either equality law or Christian education, come into a school with their own preconceived notions about what equality teaching should look like. This creates a massive crisis for Christian education when a poorly informed inspector, empowered by poorly defined equality objectives, believes they are doing a moral ‘good’ by downgrading a school for not honouring their understanding of what a diverse and pluralistic curriculum should look like.

What is perhaps just as sad, is that in the eyes of the law, it is largely irrelevant that any number of other inspectors would have found no shortcoming in that same school had they been tasked with the visit. Challenging the findings of a school inspectorate can be incredibly expensive (a financial impossibility for most Christians schools without the assistance of groups like the Christian Legal Centre), time consuming and may take years if appeals are required. In the meantime, that negative inspection report will stay on the books until a legal case over the matter is positively resolved.

Polite Christianity

Nonetheless, there continue to be faithful Christian schools. In my humble opinion, we need them now more than ever. Authentically Christian schools, however, are far more rare than Christian ethos schools who engage in ‘polite Christianity’. Polite Christianity, the kind apparently practised at St Lawrence College, seemingly puts hurt feelings and reputation ahead of authenticity or doctrine. It is a nominal type of Christianity which embraces culture over gospel.

In fact, this kind of ‘polite Christianity’ can be found among a great number of nominally Christian schools in the UK. Often, Church of England and Catholic schools are amongst the ‘most progressive’ when it comes to promoting LGBT themes. My choice of the term ‘promoting’, rather than teaching, was an intentional one. The line between teaching children to be tolerant and promoting or celebrating other worldviews can be a fine one for some schools. For authentically Christian schools, the issue is quite black and white. Whereas for many nominally Christian schools, they seem to have no appreciation for the teaching of their own churches and go so far in pacifying progressive culture, that they willingly appease without regard for the consequences to the gospel.

Cancel Culture

The reason cancel culture has thrived in the United Kingdom is an interesting theme to explore. Certainly, one component has been the now nearly sacrosanct precept that “thou shalt not offend”. One serious flaw in this reasoning however is that those seeking to ‘cancel’ something or someone often have no qualms for themselves about offending those they view as opponents to their ideological worldview.

The parents who created the website filled with angry claims aimed against St Lawrence College and its Chaplain certainly had no reservations about offending. In fact, it seems that cancel culture warriors expend large amounts of time and emotional energy seeking out who they wish to destroy, often making their attacks hyper-personal and without any desire to understand the position of those they are wishing to cancel.

Another common reason why institutions succumb to the demands of cancel culture protesters is the desire not to be ‘guilty’ by association. These entities view reputation and their personal comfort as outweighing principle or upholding basic democratic freedoms. It is sad, but for many, fear and shame are stronger motivators than doing what is right or standing for freedom. After all, cancel culture routinely attacks many of our most substantive fundamental rights: freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of association, freedom from discrimination and basic concepts of due process.

Far from being immune, Christian institutions, including schools, are a desired target of cancel culture. Sadly, among those schools which embrace ‘polite Christianity’, they are an easy target. In cases like St Lawrence College, cancel culture offers no meaningful solutions. As a direct result of a single family, and the humanists supporting them, less children in conflict areas or who are impoverished will receive things that might mean a world of difference to them. The LGBT movement has in no way been furthered by the school’s decision. This is simply a sad situation with no winners.

Christian education is key

If a gospel culture is to be reclaimed in Britain, a key component will be Christian education. While authentic Christian schools are not immune from cancel culture, or bad school inspections for that matter, they are faithful enough to know that standing up for the gospel and for the future of our children is by far the most important thing they are tasked with as schools.

In the Old Testament, Israel conquered its much stronger opponents with far inferior forces, but only when they remained faithful. When its armies began relying on themselves and judging matters by worldly standards, defeats in battles they normally would win became inevitable.

Christian education is not dissimilar in this sense. Their key to thriving in a world that is hostile to them is faith and perseverance. Their reward will be great. Their fruit, this next generation of Christians, will be precious. It is my prayer that more schools take this road, disregarding politeness, and embracing faithfulness.

Sign the petition for St Lawrence College to restore its support for Samaritan’s Purse

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