Events dear boy, events
When British Prime Minister Harold McMillan was asked what the biggest challenge was to the role of a leader, that was his reply. Events.
In other words, you can plan all you like, go full steam ahead with your vision for whatever it is you are leading, but events – actual stuff happening that you didn’t predict – these are the things that derail your plans, or push them in a direction you did not expect. Events blindside all of our carefully laid plans. Events force sudden change, ripping up our timelines and messing with our trajectories.
The furore around Queensland’s Citipointe Christian College over its sudden and, many would say, ill-advised, requirement of parents to signs statements of belief and practice around sexuality matters, specifically homosexuality and trans, is the mother of all events for Christian schooling in this country. Citipointe is a tipping point for Christian schooling in this country.
Not all Christian schooling it has to be said, only those faith-based institutions that have been determined to maintain an orthodox sexual ethic among staff, and as far as they can, among students. For many Church based schools these Rubicons were crossed years ago, either with a resigned air, or in the case of more liberal institutions, with an exultant shout.
A lot has been said about Citipointe’s haste in pushing through the agreement with next to no consultation among staff or with parents and students. For some parents (and it looks like a small minority) it was the equivalent of holding a moral gun to one’s head. And from what we can see in the now gleeful (and permanently outraged at Christianity’s sexual ethics) MSM, a good number of former students are gay or trans, and indeed the current debacle was seeded by the desire for a trans student to wear a dress to an actual event – the school ball. I am not sure how the school did not see this coming to be honest.
The problem is clear: The school tried to back-engineer a statement around sexuality into its doctrinal statement, one that already painted broad brushstrokes about what the biblical perspective of sex and gender was. But the school was being too smart by half. It saw the need to renovate over the school holidays. Legal advice to Christian schools has been to avoid such back-engineering as it is drawing attention to something that perhaps the school does not want attention drawn to.
And it looks like an act of bad faith. No matter if you agree with the school’s theological perspective, Citipointe’s rejigging of its statement is a little like a house with a poorly designed addition that does not tie in well with the original house. Visitors can see the joins and perhaps even get an idea of what the addition was supposed to, but fails to, achieve.
None of this is to make any judgement about the theological convictions behind the statement. If, as I do, Citipointe’s leaders believe that all sex outside of a covenant marriage relationship between a man and a woman is viewed as sinful behaviour by God and a rejection of his good creation plan, then of course it makes sense to lump everything in the same “sin” basket.
But at the same time I DON’T view my homosexual neighbours on the corner of our street the same way I would view a paedophile on the same street. And nor would you. Yet Citipointe’s statement didn’t know how to make that distinction primarily, I think, because its authors failed to think through some other important theological matters centred around the created order in its fallen state.
I hope those who have backed Citipointe publicly on social media, can see that even what I have just said above about sexuality would have me kicked to the kerb in a flash in the same setting.
However this is not the same setting. It is a blog post by a private citizen. Citipointe is a school seeking to dance in the public square that is the education system of Australia, a country that has for the past few decades not only tolerated faith-based schools, but actively championed them, not least of all for the fact that it takes a huge financial burden off the State and Federal governments. It’s far more expensive for the government to fund a public school student than it is a private school student. And all parents know how hard it is – and how confronting – to have to change schools at short notice. That’s the position it put some families in – and all this off the back of a torrid time for students in Australia because of COVID lockdowns.
But anyone could have told Citipointe that the dance is becoming more dangerous, or more macabre. Times have changed. The rise and triumph of the modern self is here to stay. That’s what winning means! We have lost this battle, and all that is happening is that many are fighting increasingly more futile skirmishes in the mopping up operation. The Sexular Age is in the transcendent. Expect further hostility and persecution if you wish to remain faithful to Jesus’ own words around sexuality.
Faith-based schools are up against it privately in the halls of power, with many progressive MPs in the mainstream parties hostile to the idea that biblical sexual ethics and practice should play a part in staff selection or student enrolment. They want to get their grim, grubby and hostile secular fingers into as many educational pies as possible. They’re rapacious.
And let’s be clear, this is not because such progressives are neutral in their attitudes. Far from it. They are pushing hard in the public school sector to promulgate the Sexular Gospel to students at a younger and younger age. Many Christian parents and educators are now no longer seeing public schooling as an option.
Just last week parents I know well told me that their daughters, who attended a large public school in Perth that has a long history in theatre arts, and runs specific programs that provide pathways to drama and acting colleges, were forced to wear purple armbands on the Wear it Purple Day. They turned up, timidly, in their own own clothing and were handed purple arm bands with a “You WILL put this on your arm”. It’s no wonder parents are turning to Christian schools.
But secularists are turning ON Christian schools, and with a healthy enough snarl to frighten even the most resolute schools. The events at Citipointe – or shall we just call it “The Event” has now fast-forwarded the process in which funding and/or accreditation for faith-based schools will be tied to a commitment to not discriminate against LGBTQI students. Progressive secularists are as religious as we are in their gospel promulgation, and they have increasing state sanction.
But to be honest, most – indeed the vast majority of Christian schools – don’t discriminate against LGBTQI students (although teaching a biblical ethic, and refusing to teach the “You Do You” ideas being promoted in the secular curriculum may in time come to be viewed as discrimination). Christian schools – even the most orthodox ones – have generally figured out what it means to co-exist in the public square and understand that attendance at a school is not the same as membership at a local church.
My experience is that gay and trans students at orthodox Christian schools are treated like any other student, and with most Christian schools being open-enrolment these days, how do we even imagine we can force a Christian sexual ethic onto non-Christian students? I happen to agree with Prime Minister Scott Morrison that it would be wrong to expel students based on their sexuality.
My contention is that as long as Christian schools can employ those who align with their theological frameworks in thinking and practice, then that is enough. It’s never been about the students and it’s always been about the staff. And progressives know it. For the moment, legislation is holding them back, but should the ALP win the next Federal election, and all the signs are that it will, then the Attorney General (currently Shadow Attorney General), Mark Dreyfus, will make good on his promise to pull down any safeguards Christian schools have in that regard.
But surely the biggest takeaway from this is that Citipointe failed to realise that the world is closely watching how we respond to all of this. The whole episode seems to lack a certain amount of grace and wisdom, and perhaps a lack of confidence that a well-lived, well-articulated biblical understanding of humanity and sexuality can woo a student far more effectively than a “sign on the dotted line” can.
It feels like if the school could have gotten away with it they would have. And that might have been a short sugar rush of success, but the long term effects would not change. Christian schools need to face the fact that many Christian students can’t articulate a good theology of human sexuality, and even if they have been brought up in a Christian home, the current generation don’t have the same “yuck” factor that previous generations have. You can thank – or blame – social media for that, but the average Christian teen at school today expects to have a number of gay or trans students among not only their cohort, but their friendship group. We need to teach them how to live with that tension.
A Christian school is a community – often a mixed community – and if after five years travelling the school road with other parents and families who don’t hold to the same ethos that you do, you are asked to sign an agreement that will see you continue at the school, that other families you know and love cannot possibly sign, then the school is putting you in an awkward position as well.
I don’t bear the leaders ill-will, but I just wonder how they figured this wouldn’t blow up in their faces? If you’re going to lead a Christian school in these hostile times you need to be able to play smart. If you don’t play smart then your shelf-life will be very short.
I know this to be the case because two families – who I don’t know – from the school have contacted me to ask me how to navigate this space. And the sad thing is that there is a vast majority of loving, kind Christian families at the school who can cope with the tension of having students with different sexual ethics, but who are now forced to keep their heads down in the face of a tsunami if social media abuse about the school, and a MSM campaign that is only ever going to be one-sided.
Perhaps though, we should be grateful that this happened now. This event. The bandage has been ripped off quickly instead of slowly. I have long said the future of Christian schools that wish to remain true to the biblical sexual ethic (for both teachers and students) is going to face funding and accreditation struggles, and all that Citipointe’s actions have done is hasten that day.
Parents are increasingly turning to homeschooling (fine if you’re capable and have the time), or small Classical Education schools (fine if your child is capable and you have the money). Crises – or events – precipitate change more quickly. Just think how wars – and pandemics – hasten the change in technologies.
So Citipointe is not to blame for what is happening, it would have happened anyway. But it was an “event”. It was – and still is – an event that will push things along more rapidly than many of us thought they would be pushed. And if it hadn’t have been Citipointe it would have been another school. But it was Citipointe. And I feel for the whole school community and the agony they are going through in such a public way.
In a sense it’s the same agony that many Christian schools expected to go through in a long, drawn out and private process over the next decade or so, as the squeeze of politics (downstream of culture as Andrew Breitbart asserted) takes hold. Now we are all finding that “events, dear boy, events” just may have overtaken us.