This week, the ‘Ruddock Report’ into religious discrimination has been released. I am writing before this happens, but the airwaves have been full of discussion about what it will mean.
Here is what I can glean so far. First, the whole thing is mostly about schools. Second, no one wants to be able to expel a student for being gay. OK. But here is the issue.
But then comes the hard part. Some people in some schools want to be able to hire and fire staff, and teach in their schools on the basis that the school has a religious ‘ethos’ which they claim they have a right to make the sort of ‘dominant culture’ of the school.
This ethos involves the doctrine that marriage is only ever between a man and a woman; that being Gay is a fundamentally disordered state; and that sex is only moral when it is an activity of married people.
The question is ‘Can the commonwealth government make laws that allow the religious schools and other institutions to teach such doctrines, when these doctrines contradict what the law of the land is in the secular world. In workplaces for example, it is not permissible to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation (ie say that being Gay is fundamentally disordered). Companies can have an ‘ethos’, but they cannot have an ‘ethos’ that interferes with a persons sexual life.
But then, most companies are not interested in a person’s sexual life. They do sometimes have ‘meditation’ or ‘mindfulness’ sessions, and they do sometimes make claims on people’s lives as part of their ‘culture’ that I would resist. But they are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of such differences.
My problem is that the religious schools want it both ways. They want to receive government money to subsidise the school’s operation, but they then ant the government to have no say in the running of the school.
I think the debate would be much clearer if the schools said ‘Well, we want to be free to have a different ‘ethos’ from that of secular schools, so we will fund our own schools, where we can be free to hire and fire as we like, and teach what we like. This is what happens with ‘home schooling’ does it not? All this is possible.
The second thing is this. I am not sure what Christian schools are doing. I cannot speak for Muslim schools, but my experience of most Anglican schools is that they play very little part in the religious formation of young people, and I know of no research that says that ‘My current religious practice is a function of having gone to a Christian school’
It seems to me that the place for Christian formation and Christian education is the Church. A school is a community of education; a Church is a community of faith formation. I think that it is a mistake to expect a school to do the Church’s job.
Then young people can experience in their own lives what it means to be a Christian: to be in the world, but not of the world.
I cannot see why parents cannot then say to their children “Well, you are going to a secular school, the values of a secular school are not those of the Christian Faith as we see it. Experiencing this difference will be a part of your life from now on because you are a Christian.”
This was my experience. Now I might argue about the ways in which being a Christian is countercultural. I would rather, for example, that we stand against secular society in terms of compassion for refugees, that we stand against secular society regarding gender politics and sexuality. But that said, I think that saying ‘That is not our way’ when ‘our way’ represents more love, not less, and a wider embrace, not a narrower one is something for which I want to stand up.
We talk a lot about diversity, but I do not think we do very well when it comes to building in ways of expressing diversity or living with it.
I know someone who goes to a Rudolph Steiner school. There they have morning blessings and thanksgivings. Some of these strike me as not Christian, but there is a great deal about these schools that I can affirm. I would like to think that either a person would be praised for saying ‘I don’t think I can participate in this because I am not sure about it’, or that ways could be found for a participation that did not run counter to a Christian sensibility.
So in some ways too, we are being forced into a kind of uniformity of view, based on what the society at any given time thinks is a ‘fair thing’. The difficulty for me is the ‘forced uniformity’; while at the same time people are praising ‘diversity’.