The Church of England has announced it will embark on an anti-homophobia school campaign. Oddly enough, it does so while still affirming its opposition to same-sex marriage. Somehow, they don’t seem to see the irony.
Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury — and therefore most senior Anglican figure, discounting Her Royal Majesty — announced this campaign to a meeting of the General Synod late last week at the University of York, England saying:
“The majority of the population rightly detests homophobic behavior or anything that looks like it and sometimes they look at us and see what they don’t like,” he said.
“With nearly a million children educated in our schools we not only must demonstrate a profound commitment to stamp out such stereotyping and bullying but we must also take action.
“We are therefore developing a program for use in our schools, taking the best advice we can find anywhere, that specifically targets such bullying.”
While, yes, there is something to criticize in these plans, let’s not be too hasty and dismiss them entirely because they could do some substantial good.
Estimates say there are nearly 4,500 Church of England primary and middle schools, and more than 190 secondary schools, including more than 220 primary and secondary academies. To put that in perspective, the Church claims that around one in five school kids is taught in a Church of England school, and the UK Government is looking to add to that figure.
At the same time, campaign group Stonewall’s 2012 School Report says that, while progress is being made on gay acceptance in schools (Stonewall doesn’t deign to specifically cover anti-trans discrimination), homophobic bullying is still rampant with 55% of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils saying they’ve been bullied, and almost 99% saying they’ve heard anti-gay language.
Still, only half of gay pupils say they felt their schools were taking a stance on homophobic bullying, while only 37% said that so-called faith schools, which make up an estimated 34% of England’s schools, took an anti-bullying stance where gay slurs were concerned.
To be sure, the Church of England is not the only body to have spawned religious schools, and action like this from all the other faith schools is certainly needed, but Welby’s choosing to tackle anti-gay bullying of this kind could make a real difference.
However, it’s hard not to be cynical about these plans when the Archbishop of Canterbury prefaces his statements, as he did in making this announcement, by appearing to couch the drive as being less about concern over anti-gay bullying and more about repairing the church’s reputation:
“There is a revolution. Anyone who listened, as I did, to much of the Same Sex Marriage Bill Second Reading Debate in the House of Lords could not fail to be struck by the overwhelming change of cultural hinterland,” he said.
“There was noticeable hostility to the view of the churches. I am not proposing new policy, but what I felt then and feel now is that some of what was said by those supporting the Bill was uncomfortably close to the bone.
“Pretending that nothing has changed is absurd and impossible.”
Welby went on to say that this doesn’t mark a change in the Church of England’s position against same-sex marriage.
The view to change, then, looks slightly less altruistic.
Let us for the sake of argument though say that we fall to cliche and give the benefit of the doubt, there’s still a problem.
Putting aside the issue of whether an increasingly secular nation should be not only supporting religious schools but positively watering the garden by allowing them to select kids per their own criteria and diverge from the national curriculum, there is one other distinct problem: the church’s own glaring homophobia.
As Welby mentioned in his speech to the General Synod, the Church of England, along with many of its religious cohorts, has as a collective bared its teeth and made naked its anti-gay views now that it faces the England and Wales bill to legalize same-sex marriage — and to illustrate this we are really spoiled for choice.
We have previously investigated the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey’s assertions that same-sex marriage will destroy society, rip apart heterosexual marriage and, as a result, will damage children. Lord Carey went on to lead the charge against the same-sex marriage bill in the House of Lords last month, where he gave us much of the same waffle.
So too with the still ensconced Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali who claims that same-sex marriage is against the “wider good of society”; or with York’s own archbishop John Sentamu who has said same-sex marriages lack the “complimentarity” of heterosexual unions; or, to boil it down, that same-sex couples have matching sex organs and therefore are somehow less holy.
Then of course there has been the crying about how Church of England schools will have to “teach” gay marriage and the supposed protections those teachers will need, indicating that the teaching of reality is a painful thing for some religious schools.
So the Archbishop of Canterbury claims that this campaign is needed to combat anti-gay bullying in schools. While a welcome and even laudable initiative, it rings somewhat hollow if there will not also be action to stem the anti-same-sex marriage vitriol.
The problem is, the Church cannot be against marriage equality without being, to at least some extent, anti-gay because it needs to justify its stance and so must rely on groundless anti-gay talking points.
We must assume then that the Church of England will take action on homophobia in its namesake schools but, that said, not too much action.
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