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The bleeding obvious is still news to too many…

29 Jul

That was my initial thought as I read Freedom 2 b[e] :: View topic – …the death of alex…, which came my way through Anthony Venn-Brown’s latest newsletter, though this forum post is itself a couple of years old.  The writer is a gay Christian and the occasion of the text was a resignation speech delivered at a Christian school.

I have been involved in Christian education for over 15 years. It has been an amazing privilege to impact the lives of these kids and even more so now that they’re adults as some choose for me to continue to be part of their lives. As an art teacher you have a strangely close relationship as kids grapple with trying to best conceptually express some very personal ideas. Sometimes I feel like a therapist. The opportunity to produce major events and to have artistic licence with crazy creative teams has been fun for me. I really appreciate Sue taking a chance with me with my marketing suggestions and very casually telling the Exec to change the college’s name …and the blank expressions when I told them that their logo needs to be more organic! …and also for trusting me with Senior School and the strong team who has built this big HSC boat and have confidently set sail in choppy shallow water…

I find myself in a strange situation where as a gay Christian in a non inclusive Christian environment, I feel a little like the character Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady where she is from a working class background but trained to mix with the upper class. Towards the end of the story Eliza discovers, to her horror, that now after her training …she doesn’t appear to fit in either group! I have come to the same horrifying conclusion that I don’t really fit in. In the same way, being gay all my life but also a Christian for 24 years, I find that I can no longer live with the internal conflict between my sexual orientation and a Christian culture that views me as sick, dysfunctional or some kind of super sinner…

After 15 years, it has only since being at Charlton, I now realize that Christian education is not ready for the Iain Wallaces [the writer’s name] of this world at this point. I tell others that Charlton has the most caring staff I have ever experienced, but it is actually here that I…

– have been told to word advertisements in a way that gay Christians won’t apply for jobs.
– have been told by a staff member that all gay people are diseased
– have read the hatred of gays in most of the job applications …and we seem to be ok with this.
– have been told by a staff member that all faggots should be shot in the head

As Christians we have been trained to be black and white. The greyer cultural issues of the Bible are treated as some sort of threat. The church has changed its position over the years often embracing a new understanding but never actually admitting we got it wrong. We have to concede that it has not been Christians but the scientists and social commentators who have helped us see new truths about God and the Bible. For example, we know now that…

– mental disorders and epilepsy are not actually demon possession
– black people do not suffer under the OT’s ‘curse of Ham”
– women ‘deserve’ the relatively recent basic privileges of voting, holding office, manage a business or a school, preach or pastor a church.
– the OT and NT’s approval of human slavery is no longer acceptable.
– there are many good reasons for divorce other than infidelity
– killing other people because they worship other gods is intolerable …yet we seem to be more okay with men holding guns than with men holding hands…

 

As I said, the bleeding obvious. But such things cannot be said often enough.

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14 responses to “The bleeding obvious is still news to too many…

  1. AV

    July 29, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    have been told to word advertisements in a way that gay Christians won’t apply for jobs.

    One of the reasons I blog anonymously is that parallel attitudes exist in the private education sector towards non-believers; hence, in order to broaden my job prospects (given the proportion of schools that belong to the Catholic/religious independent sector) I have to keep mum in real life about my lack of religious belief.

    have been told by a staff member that all faggots should be shot in the head

    I wonder what this staff member would say if he/she were asked how such an attitude squares with being a “loving Christian?”

    Probably something derogatory.

     
  2. Neil

    July 29, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    That’s an interesting one, AV, as (believe it or not) I would myself not touch most of these Christian schools with a barge poll, let alone work in one — and that was my view even twenty or thirty years ago when such schools began to appear.

    I have worked as a non-Jew in an Orthodox Jewish school, however, and the only declaration I had to make there — in 1988! — was to agree to oppose racism and incorporate environmental issues into my lessons wherever possible! I also worked four years in an Anglican school, a more old-fashioned mainstream kind of affair. I was not examined about my beliefs there either, and there was a considerable range in the staff. Among the students, so far as I can tell from some continuing association with some, probably more atheists emerged from that school than from the state schools in which I worked.

    Sexuality, on the other hand, has been — and continues in many cases to be — a far more contentious matter.

    As for the all faggots should be shot in the head remark I agree entirely.

     
  3. Bruce

    July 29, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    While not entertaining proof from induction where the majority of the set isn’t known, I’ll settle for the assumption that homosexuals get it worse than atheists in religious schools.

    That being said, I know of a couple of no-atheists-here-thanks. Termination and expiry of contract decisions, not an up front declaration arrangement.

    Heck, I’ve had it whispered to me by a staffer that my atheism got me excluded from consideration from an SSO role some time back. On the other hand, I got a phone call from a Christian about a position and he knows I’m an atheist. Too bad I couldn’t help him out. 😦

     
  4. Bruce

    July 29, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Towards the end of the story Eliza discovers, to her horror, that now after her training …she doesn’t appear to fit in either group!

    I can’t tell you just how true this is for me at the moment, albeit not about religion or sexuality. My mixed class-heritage (middle class education and tastes mixed with lower class schooling in dealing-with-really-nasty-101) is becoming only more alienating amongst mostly middle class teachers, and its also becoming easier to recognise the class-based stuff-ups that I mentioned in a prior post.

    It’s becoming a real penny-drop and while being a more explicit manifestation of what’s been driving me to become a teacher, it’s also making other things more explicit than I’d prefer, which I’m sad to say means I’ll be putting my own teaching aspirations on hold until later in life when either the profession has changed or until I’ve changed enough to accommodate these new challenges.

    I find it impossible to betray my rather entrenched lower-working-class idiosyncrasies (especially when relating to kids from a rough background – no off-switch for caring) although like Eliza, my middle class aspects are causing me some alienation with my own roots. Conflicting to say the least.

    I wonder if there are any humanist chaplains for rough schools and what it would take to become one…

     
  5. aluminium

    July 30, 2008 at 7:50 am

    That sounds like my school, and the other schools in the CSA network. And I, in my youthful enthusiasm (?), thought that the best way to combat them was to influence from the inside – but as I have discovered, it’s very hard to manage-up, or lead those who believe themselves to be better than you. I do like some aspects of my school, but for the most part, I find it to be quite destructive spiritually and I see its negative influence on my students. I much prefer my time in the public and Anglican schools.

     
  6. Neil

    July 30, 2008 at 9:07 am

    I wonder if there are any humanist chaplains for rough schools and what it would take to become one… They’re probably called School Counsellors!

    Thanks for the interest in this post, people. Aluminium’s comment is especially interesting, coming as it does from “the inside”. For those who don’t know, CSA is Christian Schools Australia.

    A point I should have mentioned is that all schools, in my experience, do ask prospective staff members if they will support the ethos of the school — and that includes state schools. At interview stage in non-government schools that often leads to a question along the lines of “you know where we are coming from, can you work with that?” And that’s fair enough…

    A small anecdote about the Jewish school. The Israeli flag flew alongside the Australian there, and the Israeli national anthem was regularly sung alongside “Advance Australia Fair”. There was also security — guard dogs roaming the place after hours for example — at a level unusual in Australia in 1988. There were of course good reasons for such precautions. But the Israeli teachers — of whom there was a fair sprinkling — were a very interesting lot, and discussions of such issues as Palestine, among staff and informally, were more diverse than you may have expected. One Israeli Jewish Studies teacher caused quite a stir when she told her class that if she was Palestinian she would join the PLO! (She is now working elsewhere, or was when I last heard, in a tertiary setting; she was quite brilliant.) The rabbi, I might add, was a really delightful and open-minded person.

     
  7. AV

    July 30, 2008 at 10:58 am

    That’s an interesting one, AV, as (believe it or not) I would myself not touch most of these Christian schools with a barge poll, let alone work in one — and that was my view even twenty or thirty years ago when such schools began to appear.

    Unfortunately, there are advantages to working in private schools as opposed to state schools, particularly when it comes to behaviour management. I realise that this is something of a sweeping generalisation, and I acknowledge that socioeconomic factors play a large role (which is why there can be good public schools and bad private schools). Be that as it may, this can be a make-or-break situation for many young teachers starting their careers, especially when you take into consideration the hoops they must jump through in order to secure employment in the government system (including “tours of duty” in rural and remote locations), and also the fact that enrolments in private schools has been growing at the expense of the public sector.

    At interview stage in non-government schools that often leads to a question along the lines of “you know where we are coming from, can you work with that?” And that’s fair enough…

    Like yourself, I would avoid schools at the fundier end of the spectrum (I know you dislike that term), and would be happier working in most Anglican or even Catholic schools. Schools at the fundier end of the spectrum are less likely to filter out applicants at the “are you prepared to work with the school ethos” stage, and more likely to filter them out in the employment section of the newspaper, when they require prospective employees to supply a letter from their pastor. (Or, in the case of one Islamic school in Perth, require teachers to have a belief in God.)

    Yet even in the more moderate Catholic and independent schools there is always the danger that your sexuality or your non-belief can be used against you. (Well in keeping with the teachings of Jesus, I trust.) An acquaintance of mine, employed as an English teacher in a Catholic school, was fired when it was discovered that he had a blog containing views which his employers felt were not in keeping with Catholic teaching. He did not advertise this blog to the school or students.

    Religious freedom is one thing. The government endorsement of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or stance towards theism, via the funding of schools which discriminate in these ways, is quite another. I think these schools should be allowed to discriminate (which is not to say that I think they should discriminate), but they should not be allowed to do so and at the same time receive taxpayer funding.

     
  8. Neil

    July 30, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Thirty years ago — OMG! — and more — I resigned a very cushy job in a good Anglican school because I felt guilty about being in such a cushy job… I also felt education really belongs in the public sphere, and still feel that deep down.

    Now whether that was the right decision I will leave you to speculate on.

     
  9. iain

    July 30, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    I must admit it does feel a little surreal finding this blog about my speech that I made 18 months ago.
    I found my experience in Christian Schools to be basically a good one. No matter which school system both staff and students will be able to recount stories of not ‘fitting in’ (does anyone truly fit in?).
    – It could be my friend who believes in the comprehensive state system as a support teacher to then find that her school has been chosen to be a selective school …does her ethos change too?
    – It could be the Christian school whose church challenged their long-standing students, staff and parents to agree with the new ethos when they changed to a radically different denomination?

    The public versus private school debate is a long one …but what I have discovered is, simply, that the majority of people who work in education are …good people. Good people with good intentions …and, yes, I am aware that sometimes the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” … but what is the real enemy here? Isn’t it ignorance?

    As for my story, which can be further read of on the Freedom 2 Be forum, I believed that as a gay Christian that one day God would heal me. Decades of this type of negative thinking merely created a self-hatred that suicide seemed the only answer (which tragically still continues in churches today as some ‘joking’ make statements such as ‘AIDS cures homosexuality’). Although it has taken me too long to say that I ‘like’ myself and that I no longer believe that I need to be ‘cured’. I now celebrate my gayness. I have been gay for as long as I can remember in the same way as I have been Caucasian for as long as I can remember.

    So, for the moment, I can’t teach in Christian schools. For some Christians I have been their first gay person they know and they still choose to love me (not ‘into the kingdom’) but genuinely for who I am. I am a good person. For some this challenges their theology as they now see that there is something deeply discriminatory about their ethos against somebody they love over something I am ‘born with’.

    This debate will go on in Christian churches, such as the current Anglican schism, and in Christian schools. Now that I have played my gay card I am silenced in this debate. On the whole, I know they are good people …albeit ignorant with this issue …which is, sort of, understandable that if you never have met a gay person why would it be a question that one would think about deeply? I was encouraging to see at this year’s Mardi Gras the brave entry called ‘100 Revs’ where a hundred reverends, pastors and ministers chose to march as an apology for the lack of welcome into their churches. Some of these straight Christians were actually risking their jobs for people like me. What a privilege it was to witness their humble yet powerful statement against ignorance.

     
  10. Neil

    July 30, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks, Iain; I hope it hasn’t been too surreal, but you never know, do you, when something is on the Web how long after the event someone may come along. As I said, having recently met Anthony Venn-Brown I am following up some of his material, including that forum — and your item was highlighted in Anthony’s current newsletter.

     
  11. DavidG.

    July 30, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Jeez, I’m not religious or gay. Life has obviously been seriously unkind to me! Can I ask for a refund?

    Cheers.

     
  12. Neil

    July 30, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Perhaps just reflect on life’s variety, David, and there being more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in… etc.

     
  13. AV

    July 30, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Thirty years ago — OMG! — and more — I resigned a very cushy job in a good Anglican school because I felt guilty about being in such a cushy job… I also felt education really belongs in the public sphere, and still feel that deep down.

    I’m not going to judge whether that was the right decision, Neil. I just can’t say I completely understand it. 🙂

    And I don’t know that I would ever describe classroom teaching as “cushy”–though some positions might be less “cushy” than others! I’m actually with you on public education, but I fear it is far too late to stuff the private school genie back into the bottle. The best thing a government can do for the sake of education and productivity is enforce academic/curricular standards in all institutions–public or private–which receive taxpayer dollars. The best thing a government can do for the sake of democracy and fairness is to make the public funding of private schools conditional upon those schools meeting the same (non-discriminatory) hiring criteria that apply in public schools.

     
  14. Neil

    July 30, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    By “cushy” I meant a school with around 400 kids and, for the time, comparatively small classes, and a fairly free hand in what one did in the class room — even though the head of English (who was also the school electrician and Chaplain!) was an Anglican clergyman — a very moderate one. Also, there were some really interesting characters on the staff, not to mention among the students, one of whom joined Sirdan and I for Sunday lunch just last Sunday. I have also lately run into another, and another, see also here… Oh, and another, who is now well known in left-wing educational sociology. Nice, really.

    A Science colleague there too — and I was groomsman at his wedding — was Renato Schibeci who is, I believe, now on your side of the country — not Japan, of course. 😉

    I was “headhunted”, actually, because at the time I was Secretary of the local branch of the NSW English Teachers Association — Dale Spender being Chair, and I thought, after 5 years in state schools and thus having served the “bond” we had then, why not? I stayed for four years. Drifting in and out was perhaps easier then too. I returned to state schools afterwards. If you are curious — or anyone else is — I have a brief CV on English/ESL here.

    I should add, too, that in the main — yes there have been exceptions — I support what Iain said: …what I have discovered is, simply, that the majority of people who work in education are …good people… Not a job for people who want to be rich, for starters… And also, another addendum, that forum he refers to is here.
    ——————————————————————————————-
    BTW — readers: don’t try putting as many links in a comment as I just did! Akismet will eat it if you try, but I of course am now on my own dashboard so that’s OK… 🙂

     
 
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