April 21, 2023

Hey Christian Schools Leader: You’re About to Be Outed.

In a whole new level of irony, leaders of Christian Schools are going to be outed over the stance on the sexuality and identity issues that so many for so long have tried to fudge.

In a classic case of role reversal, the headmaster of a renowned independent school in Sydney is being called out for trying to hedge his bets over whether student leadership roles in his church school are able to be filled by young men who are openly gay.

Why am I writing about this again? Because of the high level of interest – and the high level of importance – of this issue. That it is both interesting, and important, was demonstrated by the announced postponement yesterday by the Federal Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) recommendations around religious exemptions for faith-based schools.

The commission’s recommendations took a machete to the idea that schools should be able to staff according to their values and practices, especially when it comes to sexuality matters. The recommendations were to be reported on today (Friday 21st April), but such has been the number of submissions, this has been postponed until the end of the year. That means those who have an axe to grind with Christian schools can put their op-ed pieces by gay ex-students on ice for another six months, and keep their powder dry so to speak.

But the postponement due to the sheer volume of responses tells you that this matter is being taken very seriously indeed by both sides of the argument. There’s a huge amount at stake.

That it is being taken seriously indeed by those who wish to stop faith-based schools staffing to their ethic, is clear by the concerted campaign in the mainstream media, in which every stone has been turned in order to find a gay student, or ex student, who has something to say about their Christian school experience. T

There are two tropes. First there is the successful gay student who is part of a church school in which the staffing issue is already a non-issue because there is no requirement for teachers to be Christian, only that they assent to some sort of motherhood and apple pie affirmations around Christianised values. Such students – there was one this week who got a full column in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age – show how their school was enlightened enough to see that sexuality is not really a Christian issue at all.

What was interesting – indeed almost jaw dropping in its naivety, in this opinion piece by the Melbourne Grammar head boy, Daniel Cash, was his statement:

The beauty of my generation is its widespread, gentle disinterest for sexuality.

To which I would say “Really? You’re joking right?”

You actually believe that Daniel? Never mind coming out son, you needs to get out more! You need to speak to another Daniel, Daniel Principe, of Collective Shout, who has clearly revealed how this generation of young men, especially, is porn-addled, sexually confused, hooked on hook up culture, huge fans of Andrew Tate, and totally unclear about what it means to be a self-controlled man. And some of the worst offenders are in some of our high-fee-paying church schools. I reckon Daniel Principe could turn over a few pieces of corrugated iron in your school Daniel Cash, and you’d see some cockroaches that’s for sure.

So there’s one trope. There’s a second trope of course. The trope of the successful gay man who has survived against the odds in a Christian or church school that did not affirm or celebrate his sexuality. And here’s what it gets complex. And here’s where it gets to be a hot topic for Christian schools leaders. Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald (again!), journalist, Hamish McDonald, unpicks and exposes the issue in a far more insightful way than Daniel Cash does (as is to be expected given McDonald’s experience and writing pedigree).

While McDonald had a mixed time at the illustrious Scots College in Sydney, he points out the hypocrisy of a fellow ex-student who outed him as gay, only to come out after school as gay himself. But the point of the article, and this is the point of the whole issue, is how he calls out the Scots leadership for playing the old US military “don’t ask, don’t tell” mantra when it comes to the sexuality of its students.

Basically McDonald skewers headmaster Dr Ian Lambert. In response to the furore over the Presbyterian Church of Australia’s submission to the ALRC, McDonald says Lambert’s email to parents assuring them that they don’t go into a student’s sexuality when deciding on leadership positions, isn’t good enough.

McDonald observes:

Dr Lambert rightly acknowledges that it would be “utterly inappropriate” to ask students about sexual activity in the process of selecting student leaders. What he had the opportunity to say but did not, is that if a student is gay, this is completely OK and acceptable at the school and no impediment to obtaining any role of leadership in the school.

And clearly the reason that Dr Lambert didn’t say that it was completely okay and acceptable was that the school – and by reference Dr Lambert – doesn’t think it is okay and acceptable! That they don’t think it to be so is, after all, the orthodox Christian perspective. If you have decided to shape the staff and student leadership of your school around Christian faith and practise then it’s bound to be a consideration. School student leaders represent the schools ethos. Or they don’t.

McDonald goes on to bell the cat:

The school’s position – as outlined by Dr Lambert – is a clumsy attempt to bridge the gap between the Presbyterian Church’s desire to discriminate against some students and the obvious reality of gay, bi or trans kids going to its schools. It amounts to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which can be enormously damaging for any young person coming to terms with their place in the world. The last thing any young person needs when discovering themselves is to be isolated, fearful of seeking help, or worse, ostracised.

He’s right of course. It’s a clumsy attempt. Whether he’s right about the rest of what he claims in the paragraph is disputable, but he’s certainly right about that. And in case we were not completely sure where this is headed, McDonald finishes with a flourish:

The Presbyterian Church wants the right to discriminate. If it does not support this, Scots College has an opportunity here to demonstrate exactly what it means by its values and ethos. It can say plainly and simply: it’s OK to be gay here. It might also help if the school is explicit and open about what it teaches on the subject of being gay.

Now I know Dr Lambert from a school experience in the past, and I have to say I had a lot of respect for his insight, intellect and leadership. And no reason to doubt it now either. I also know, having been on the board of a network of independent Christian schools for six years, that gay and trans students are never threatened with expulsion or treated poorly by the schools – a message that the mainstream media ignores for its own purposes. In fact, with a majority of students now coming from non-Christian backgrounds, most Christian schools see their role as missional.

But that’s how the world sees its role too – as missional. Everyone’s on a discipleship program. And the world wants to disciple people towards the good news of self-expression, self-affirmation and self-identified sexuality. And it has a beautiful, multi-coloured palette of ideas, narratives and campaigns to prosecute that mission – a discipleship package par excellence. Faith-based schools are fighting an uphill battle.

And as the two articles quoted in this blog post reveal, the power is no longer in the hands of the schools and their executives and boards. In fact they’re running scared, and dodging and weaving the inevitable. Power is now in the hands in the students, who bypass their school authorities and go to the likes of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. The result is usually a social media swarm that leaves school leaders bruised, battered and scared. And that’s the intention.

So if you are a school leader, make sure you read these articles. Make sure you discuss these matters with your boards and your executives. Make sure you’re muscled up for what is going to be an arduous fight – and it will be a fight. There will be no prisoners taken. There will be no fudges allowed. Fudges will merely be viewed as masks for bigotry.

Make sure you know that going into the end of the year when the ALRC report comes out, and when the media doorstops you, that humming and hahhing and sending out emails to parents that don’t quite say anything won’t satisfy them. This thing ain’t going away. I reckon many Christian leaders in schools are not of the calibre or intellect of a Dr Lambert, and if he is given zero wiggle room by the likes of Hamish McDonald, you can be sure you’ll get none either.

There is a clear and implacable requirement by the cultural movers and shakers (and the legislators who are on the same page as they are), to know whether you are a celebrator and affirmer of sexual practices and identity markers that run contrary to Scripture. And the proof that you are a celebrator and affirmer is to evidenced in what you teach about sexuality and how you publicly affirm the student body through the student leadership teams you employ.

Christian schools leaders – I hope you’re ready to be outed.

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