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Artillery Row

The Church of England has failed on gender

To pursue kindness at the expense of truth is self-defeating

Two years ago, a number of Church of England grandees, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, signed a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson that stated that “To be trans is to enter a sacred journey of becoming whole”. This view pithily summarised an earlier document produced by The Church of England Education Office entitled “Valuing All God’s Children” in which is guidance for Church of England schools as they seek to challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. 

Now, we might consider this to be a laudable aim. Bullying is unpleasant and distressing for the child being bullied — though it also often points to difficulties, whether at home or elsewhere, for the bully as well. 

However, this is not guidance aimed at merely rooting out and preventing bullying. In fact one gets the sense that this isn’t really about bullying at all. It is, in the foreword by the current Archbishop of Canterbury, “guidance [that will] help schools offer the Christian message of love, joy and the celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion”. Furthermore, the Executive Summary states the desire that “each pupil to fulfil their potential in all aspects of their personhood: physically, academically, socially, morally and spiritually … that … all may flourish and have an abundant life”. This is the language of affirmation and confirmation, which is of a different stripe altogether.

Now at one level I am all for this; it sounds great, kids should be affirmed and encouraged, shouldn’t they? However as with all these things once we get below the grand statements and into the detail then we start to hit some challenges. My first check is when I see the wrap up of transphobia alongside homophobia and biphobia and so the CofE Education Dept seems to have simply gone along with the falsehood that it’s basically Section 8 and the 1980s all over again but this time for trans people. The L, G and B are useful to provide cover, nothing more. In my opinion, there is a world of difference between someone coming out as Gay when 16 and being supported in what can be a challenging period, to someone being encouraged in the belief that they have been born in the wrong body, and this is where the guidance starts to fall apart.  

For while a child has a belief that says in order to fulfil their potential they need to be recognised as a different sex from what they were born with, and that they also need to be put on puberty blockers or some other form of medication and finally wish to press ahead for “bottom” or “top” surgery — all while still at secondary school — then in my opinion these glorious,  elysian, heroic  goals of the Church of England Education Department are not worth the paper they’re written on. Why? Because they have failed in their basic duty to protect the children under their care from dark, heinous, and corrupt claims. 

Ah, the suitably grave and mildly condescending response will come, but these are complicated situations. The guidance is full of such phrases like “there is a need for wisdom and sensitivity”, but almost every time that there is any sense of a slight pause, then very quickly the sentence follows “but it is important to challenge every hint of HBT bullying” and off we roll. The case has surely been overstated, and even more so when the statement is made that “No school can proudly claim to be a safe, loving and protective institution whilst members of the school community are suffering and being made unhappy through bullying”.

Perhaps I’m wrong in this but I get the sense that a lot of the wording around this … actually sets up institutions to fail

Now, I’d argue that the job of a school is to prepare the child effectively for adulthood and provide them with the skills needed to succeed in life, not to provide an alternative to the job of the family. Jonathan Haidt has written extensively on this very subject and that the desire to create “safe, loving and protective institutions” do children no favours in the long run. Of course, bullying is unpleasant and vicious and no school worth its salt is going to let it carry on unchecked and quite rightly so. However, the emotional kilter seems off in the statement; it seems to be reaching too far, too high and will invariably fail to be achieved. Perhaps I’m wrong in this but I get the sense that a lot of the wording around this — while superficially seen as a positive thing — actually sets up institutions to fail which in turn means they and the poor souls who work or study there must be “educated” further. It is not designed to ever hit a finishing point truly.

This guidance, you may be surprised to read, was funded by Stonewall, and as such bears all the hallmarks of the madness that seemed to have infected our institutions from the mid 2010’s until the present day. I write “present day” because fortunately an adult appears to have entered the discussion, done some research, come to some considered conclusions and has said, “I’m not sure this is straightforward as has been made out to be”, the conclusions being reached by the like of the Church of England Education Office and others seem to be lacking.”. 

Now this essay is not going to be able to go into the nuance of the Cass Report, however what is clear is that it should act, at the very least, as a firestop and encourage greater research, rather than just the endless slogans of affirmation. 

What I am interested in however are the implications following on from the guidance offered by the Church of England Education Office and indeed within large portions of the Church of England itself, and that I expect a mighty reckoning coming for the Office, the Diocesan Boards of Education, the Multi-Academy Trusts, the schools and teachers who have unambiguously been promoting the idea that “compassionate acceptance” is the way forward. 

Already we see that there are rumblings in the distance, Anna Fazackerley writing in the Guardian just the other week has highlighted that schools which have used a “Trans Inclusion School Toolkit” produced by Brighton and Hove Council may well have breached equality and human rights legislation. Interestingly the wording and conclusions between the CofE and the Brighton and Hove Council guidance are not miles apart — and while history may look back on this period as when a sort of madness took hold of Western society — driven by social media, fragmentation of families and communities, COVID and whatever else — I doubt it will look kindly on the institutions that we might have expected to have said “hold on a minute, let’s have a closer look at this”. 

How many children are likely to look back and state in a court of law that “I was a child, I did not know what I was doing, my hormones had just exploded like a small nuclear device and you the school encouraged me in a delusion that I was the wrong sex. I am never going to be able to have children of my own”. Hidden within all the right sounding phrases and words about fulfilment, joy and flourishing was a massive, dirty lie and it is a tragedy that the Church of all places has been so complicit in it.

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