As the government reviews its school trans guidance, the Church of England should do the same.
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Not very long ago these words from the first book of Genesis would not have been particularly controversial, nor would wishing to raise one’s children in accordance with this belief be viewed as bigoted or ‘phobic’ in any way. Culture has indeed changed radically over the last few years, and belief in basic biology and Scriptural truth is now vilified as hate by woke warriors. Our schools have also become a battleground for ideologues and campaigners who wish to impose their claims on others through shame and naked threats.
Five years ago, at a primary school on the Isle of Wight, Nigel and Sally Rowe embarked upon a long journey which would see them eventually going to the high court and winning a commitment from the government to review its position on the trans affirmation on children. In doing so, they have taken a major step in reclaiming a cultural landscape where children can be free from nefarious campaigning influences within the four walls of the classroom. What makes this victory all the more special is that the Rowes were the very first family in the United Kingdom to stick their heads above the parapet on this issue and stare down an incredibly hostile national media in the process.
Nigel and Sally Rowe are Christian parents who sought to bring up their two children in accordance with their Biblical belief that God created humankind in His image, male and female; biologically and sexually different but with equal personal dignity. The Rowes firmly believe that any repudiation of one’s biological sex and any attempt to physically change, alter or disavow one’s biological sex from conception as proscribed by God’s Word and creation order is sinful.
In seeking to raise their children according to their Christian beliefs, they sent their two sons to a Church of England school on the Isle of Wight. Within two school years, both of their children, ages 6 and 8, found themselves in classes with boys who, under their parents and the school’s direction, were to be identified as girls. As a result of the confusion and discomfort suffered by their older son, who had grown up alongside one of two children, he was removed from the school and has been home educated since 2016. Nigel and Sally attempted to work the matter out with the school in relation to their youngest son as the family had strong ties to the school and the local community.
In a response to a letter they sent the school asking about anti-bullying measures and their own parental rights, the school responded by suggesting that anyone who could not believe that these children were girls or refused to use female pronouns would be viewed by the school as being transphobic and thus akin to bullies. The school also announced their intention to educate parents and students alike in accordance with gender identity belief.
The school, which answered upon the advice of the Portsmouth diocese, held out transgender affirming guidance as well as the Church of England’s Valuing All God’s Children as justification for their stance. The result of the school’s letter was that Nigel and Sally removed their youngest son from the school and commenced legal action.
The Judicial Review
With the support of the Christian Legal Centre, the Rowes sought a judicial review of the Department for Education’s holding out of transgender affirming guidance as best practice. In doing so, schools across the country were given cover to adopt woefully liberal transgender affirming policies without regard for the safeguarding risk to the gender dysphoric children involved or the rights of the other pupils and school staff.
After the High Court granted permission to go forward with the judicial review, the government settled the case with the Rowes and agreed to review their departmental policies and guidance over the issue. As part of the settlement, the Rowes were also awarded £22,000 in legal costs.
The approach of schools toward the protected characteristic of gender reassignment has proven particularly contentious since the Rowes initially brought the issue into the public square.
The Attorney General recently warned in a speech to the thinktank Policy Exchange of the gold-plating of gender reassignment as a right. Her message identified the core issue of separating certain rights as being special, noting that inclusion should not trump fairness. She further questioned whether it is right to allow minority groups to impose their claims on the rest of society.
This despite recent judicial rulings which have made it clear that gender identity belief is a philosophical view, and that many who identify as transgender are in fact not protected under s. 7 of the Equality Act 2010 (gender reassignment). The courts have also had to wrestle with the safeguarding concerns inherent with transitioning and young people and whether under 16s even have the mental maturity and legal capacity to consent to such a decision.
Valuing All God’s Children
With a significant cultural shift over how these issues will be presented to our children looming at the governmental level, the question remains what role, if any, the Church of England will choose to take over this issue. With nearly 5,000 Church of England schools in England and Wales, the question is a significant one.
To date, the Church of England has essentially played the role of transgender affirming campaigner through Valuing All God’s Children. It has shirked its responsibility to deliver Christ-centred education and largely sold out to the culture wars.
Church of England schools have an amazing opportunity to affect the hearts and minds of their students with gospel truths. The Valuing All God’s Children guidance, whether intended or not, undermines biblical teaching on sexuality and gender and injures the mission of the church at large. The role of the church is not to acquiesce to the cultural zeitgeist, it is to speak to eternal truths. Times and social attitudes change, biblical truths do not.
More than this, the guidance is being viewed by others as an endorsement of homosexual behaviour and transgenderism. Christian Concern is aware of numerous Church of England primary schools that have used Valuing All God’s Children as a pretext for adopting a full-on acceptance of Stonewall’s promotional material.
Tolerance cannot be mistaken for Christian love, nor can it ever trump safeguarding. The statistics related to self-harming and suicide rates indicate a public health crisis among gender confused children, but the policies the Church of England have adopted do far more to harm the children they are intending to assist than to help them.
If we accept God’s truth about sexuality, marriage, and gender, and robustly defend it in our pastoral approach to these children, then we have a genuine opportunity to help those struggling with these issues. While tolerance may mean affirming a child’s gender confused views (or those of their parents), genuine love asks more of us.
If we really want to lower self-harm and suicide rates, acceptance without getting at the root causes of the suffering of these children (which may be gender dysphoria or any number of other co-morbidities), we will never get to the heart of the problem.
What the Rowes have accomplished would have been unthinkable five years ago when they embarked on their journey. It is a very significant achievement that can lead to the safeguarding of countless children who otherwise would have been unnecessarily led down a path towards transitioning before being given a chance to naturally pass through puberty.
My sincere prayer is for the Church of England to take up a similar mantle and put the well-being of children first. They cannot continue to be lukewarm on these issues. Too much is at risk. The time for them to act is now.
(Legal Counsel with the Christian Legal Centre)
This article first appeared on the Christian Today website and is used with permission.