This article was first published here in Australian Presbyterian It reflects on a major attack launched against Sydney Anglicanism , ‘coincidentally’ on the week that the Anglican Synod is meeting to discuss SSM and sexuality.
Sydney Anglicanism has been, and continues to be, a great blessing for the Church in Australia. Its commitment to biblical truth and to mission is well known. But for how much longer? The devil goes round like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He comes as an angel of light seeking to deceive, deconstruct and destroy. And often he attacks from within.
One particular blessing for the Church has been its schools – not just those within the State system but also private schools such as Shore, St Luke’s, St Catherine’s and King’s. In general, these have moved from a kind of nominal Anglicanism to a much more robust biblical Christianity. That move has done incalculable good. However, now they are coming under increasing pressure to conform to the standards of the surrounding culture.
The Sydney Morning Herald, not known for its friendliness to biblical Christianity, reported that several principals of these elite schools had spoken to the newspaper stating that they were not happy to sign a document saying that they believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and that endorses sexual abstinence outside marriage.
The headline sums up the Herald’s schadenfreude: “I am livid. Anglican principals’ fury at edict against gay marriage.”The Herald then followed this up the following day with a piece by the same journalist stating that parents ‘angrily’ wrote to Anglican schools and their boards, concerned about the Herald’s revelations the previous day.
I note in passing just how quick these anonymous parents were to respond, and how quickly the journalist had that information.
Within these two articles there are some lessons for the Church which enable us to see how this particular attack will play out. And it is a matter of great concern. For if the Church loses its schools to false doctrine or the current zeitgeist, then it will be greatly damaged. Those who are not Anglicans should remember that when one part of the body suffers the rest suffer with it.
Lesson 1: There will be co-ordinated action from the enemies of the Church, both from without and within.
The two stories in the SMH stated that “this story also prompted immediate action from supporters for same sex marriage to propose a motion for next week’s National Anglican Synod.” The same journalist also reported that there is already a counter motion which “welcomes the introduction of civil same-sex marriages in Australia as providing a state-based way of recognising faithfulness, love and commitment”. There is a concerted campaign which is not ashamed to use the secular media to push its agenda.
It is ironic that the SMH in its recent advertising campaign claims to be open minded and to examine issues from all perspectives. The possibilities of the SMH allowing any other perspective on this issue, other than the fundamentalist progressive one, is about as likely as them endorsing Scott Morrison for PM! They regularly run articles and stories attacking the biblical position of Sydney Anglicans (and indeed Sydney Catholics, Pentecostals and the Orthodox). So the efforts of SMH progressives, working with their allies in the Church, to influence and overturn church doctrine is nothing new. But we should expect this to increase.
Lesson 2: Anonymous attacks and gossip will be common.
In both articles it is disturbing just how much space is given to anonymous statements and gossip. The problem with anonymity is that it enables a great deal of speculation, and it taints everyone. How many principals contacted the SMH? Was it twenty or two? It also allows the journalist to create her own narrative without ultimately being answerable to anyone.
Lesson 3: The greatest threat to the Church comes from within its own leadership.
Let us assume that the SMH were not lying and that they really were contacted by several principals of schools who were ‘livid’. If this is true, then it is deeply worrying for Sydney Anglicans because it means that they have Trojan horses working within their school system to undermine the Christian teaching of the church. It is an act of supreme cowardice for a leader in a Christian organisation to write anonymously to a secular newspaper – knowing how that newspaper is more than happy to print negative perspectives of the Church. If the principals genuinely believe what they are reported to have said, then why not say it openly? Why trash the Church in the media?
Lesson 4: We must be aware of where the battle is.
“The principals, who spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity, were worried about their gay students and parents, and felt the singling out of gay marriage in an otherwise general statement of Christian faith was ‘aggressive’ and ‘contrary to the laws of the land.’”
Assuming the unnamed principals really said this, it is hard to believe that they would be that ignorant and illogical. A statement which declares that the Christian view of marriage is between a man and a woman and that sex outside of marriage is wrong, is not against the laws of the land – yet! And if it were, then those of us who are Christians would abide by the law of God, before we will bow down to the godless laws of the State. Furthermore, upholding the Christian teaching on sex and marriage is not harmful to students who are same sex attracted, but rather for their good. Unless the principals believe that what the Bible teaches is wrong. If so, they should do the decent thing and go and work for an institution which reflects their own values. They should not be taking money from a diocesan school while at the same time seeking to undermine the diocese.
But what about the ‘aggressive’ point?
“One principal said they ‘struggled with that. My colleagues do [too]. I don’t understand why you would insert that, over substance abuse or gambling or domestic violence,’ they said. ‘It seems remarkably aggressive.’”
Again, I find it hard to believe that we have a principal of a top school who cannot work out the difference between a statement on marriage and sexuality, and one on substance abuse, gambling and domestic violence. The latter is something which society as a whole would condemn. But the Church is out of step with the current progressive zeitgeist on marriage and sexuality. If we want our schools to be distinct and different, then we need to ensure that those who lead them uphold the standards of the Scripture, not the standards of the SMH! Ironically, here the aggression is all on the side of the SMH and those cowardly nameless principals with no principles, who are using the secular media to undermine the teaching of the Church.
Lesson 5: We must decide where our loyalties lie.
“If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” So said Martin Luther (he may not have said it but the point remains).
Do we want to follow Christ and his Word, or do we, as so many have done in the past, just want to use his name, while following the current fashions of the world?
“[The principals] are also worried that the move will significantly decrease an already-small pool of potential candidates for principal positions and compromise the quality of school leadership.”
It seems as though the quality of school leadership is already being compromised – if we have the leaders saying that they need to appoint leaders who hold to non-Christian views in order to have ‘quality.’ The concerned principals are forgetting that what should make these schools distinctive is not that they are wealthy, elitist and ‘quality’; but rather that they embody a Christian ethos and teach from a Christian perspective. Remove that and all you have is a posh boys/girls club with an outward veneer of Christian respectability.
“They’re engineering their boards to think in a morally conservative way that’s harmful for their students,” said the woman, also on the condition of anonymity. “It’s going to limit new principals – you’ll end up with a whole set of socially engineered principals across Anglican schools in the Sydney diocese.”
The lack of self-awareness in this, yet again, anonymous woman’s comment is breathtaking. Yes, there is social engineering. That is after all what most education nowadays has become. But the place you are least likely to get it is in Christian schools which uphold the teaching of the Word of God on human sinfulness, salvation by grace not works, and humility. But this anonymous woman wants all our children to be socially engineered in the ‘right way.’ She thinks that being morally conservative is harmful for children – when precisely the opposite is true. Moral progressivism is a not-so-subtle form of child abuse. Again, that woman has a choice. If she wishes to take the risk of sending her children to a morally progressive school, then that is her choice. But why does she think she has the right to prevent the Anglican Diocese of Sydney endorsing Christian morals in its own schools? The trouble is that well-off middle-class parents like this lady want the fruit of Christian schools (the excellent education, general morality and ethos), but they do not want the roots.
According to the second SMH article, “supporters of gay marriage within the church” claim that asking diocesan schools to agree that that marriage is between a man and a woman is a “marked departure from the practice of … individual freedom of conscience on moral matters.”
Again, note the lack of historical, biblical and theological awareness. The Church has never held to “individual freedom of conscience on moral matters.” We teach what Christ says. Adultery is wrong. Racism is wrong. Greed is wrong. Sexual promiscuity is wrong. Jesus never teaches that you have individual freedom of conscience on these matters. He does teach that unless we repent of them, we too will perish.
Lesson 6: We need to have a clear, robust understanding of the Christian worldview.
“Last week, SCEGGS Darlinghurst – an Anglican school – published a piece from principal Jenny Allum in its school magazine, saying the school believed everyone was made in God’s image. ‘SCEGGS is an inclusive community, and we welcome all – regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, or religion,’ it said.”
This is the worst kind of woolly thinking. Which Christian does not believe that every human being is made in God’s image? And which church or school does not want to be welcoming and inclusive of all? But these are code words. They sound nice, but in the progressive newspeak they really mean that we are accepting of people as they are, however they identify, and we will not bother them with the standards of Jesus Christ – because we know better than him. SCEGGS says that it is welcoming of all regardless of ‘orientation.’ Do they really mean that? Would they be welcoming of those whose sexual orientation is toward sadomasochism, paedophilia, promiscuity, adultery? I would hope that they would welcome the people, but not affirm the orientation. In other words, all schools draw the line somewhere. For Christian schools, is it not a good idea for us to draw the line where Christ does? We welcome sinners (because we are all sinners), but we don’t affirm or endorse sin.
Lesson 7: We need clarity and boldness – not politics and compromise
There are many people who will agree with what the Bible teaches but who want to keep it quiet, hoping that the current zeitgeist will either change, or that we will be left alone to get on with our calling. Neither of those things is likely.
Let me give a personal example of how the dishonesty, intimidation and bullying of the progressives works – even in Christian schools. I spoke at one of the schools mentioned in the SMH article. I was not speaking about sex and sexuality at all, but during the course of the talk I mentioned the need to be clear in our use of language and gave as an illustration the use of the phrase ‘love is love.’ I pointed out that without content and context, it was meaningless. That was all. But all hell broke loose. One teacher started a petition to have me banned from the school and then turned up at a Q and A I was holding a couple of days later. To say that she was aggressive and intimidating would be to put it mildly. She accused me of being anti-LGBT etc. I pointed out that I had not mentioned the subject and that I upheld the position of the school in which she was a teacher – that marriage is between a man and a woman. While I was thankful to be able to uphold the teaching of the school (and, more importantly, of Christ) in the face of such intimidation and rage, I also suspected that her intimidation would work. I doubted that the head teacher, a good Christian man, would invite me back, because he just didn’t need the hassle. And therein lies the success of the progressives – even in Christian schools. They intimidate, harass and bully into silence.
There was a time when I would have considered it unnecessary to ask head teachers at a Christian school to specifically uphold the Bible’s teaching on marriage. But, ironically, the actions of the principals who have spoken to the SMH have shown just how necessary it now is. If the head is rotten, what hope is there for the rest of the body? There are a few principals who secretly uphold the progressive viewpoint and are working within the system to undermine Christian teaching. There will be many others who disagree with the progressive viewpoint but who think that this is not a battle we should be fighting and so, in effect, surrender. But for the sake of our children, our churches and our communities, we need Christian leaders – in school and in the Church – who will not be afraid to stand in the gap.
Please pray for those principals who know and love the truth – that they would have the courage to stand firm. Pray also for Archbishop Kanishka Raffel and those other Anglican leaders who seek to remain faithful to Scripture, particularly as they navigate some choppy waters over the next few days. They are in the enemy’s firing line. The least we can do is pray for protection and stand with them.