Teach What to Your Children?
Had a very interesting evening last night with a few old friends, one of whom is just back from New Zealand for a short time. It was probably all the more interesting after 2 hours listening to a briefing on church finance reports in the light of the new charities laws.
But during the conversation someone mentioned a former teacher and leader in Scripture Union who was involved in a low level "scandal". This triggered an explosive response from one of my friend's, who claimed that this just goes to show that everything that this man, and his fellow SU leaders, had taught us, was rubbish (he used stronger language), and that to influence young people with a black and white view of religion/spirituality in schools in wrong. It must be said that this particular teacher, whilst being very affable, had portrayed a particularly black and white picture of Christian faith that I, even in my tender teenage years, was uneasy with, and I suppose it is that which makes his "fall from grace" seem that more stark... But whilst I was at first taken aback by the vitriol of my friends outburst there are some very real issues to be wrestled with here.
In school (and Sunday Schools too) we are dealing with children and young people at a critical and vulnerable period of their lives. As Christians we, following the Judaic tradition are encouraged to "teach these things" (the Law of Moses) to our children (see Deuteronomy 4: 9,10; 6: 7; 11: 19), but what about other people's children? And how can we teach what are timeless truths without telling them that everything we say is the truth, the whole truth and the only truth there is? I have appreciated the role of Scripture Union in my life, and am currently involved in trying to resurrect one within a local school. But I would be wary if it was perceived, as my friend now sees it, as a means of brain-washing children, or establishing a culture among young people that the way to "get on" was to join the God-squad (which was another of his, probably justifiable, accusations about our old school)
But for me this whole thing is cast into stark relief by a documentary that is due to be broadcast later in the week. "The Virgin Daughters" in Channel 4's Cutting Edge series, is looking at another dimension of the growing "sexual purity" movement in the USA (first we had the"silver ring thing" now it is "Purity Balls"). Now it wouldn't be Channel 4 if it didn't sensationalise things, particularly if there is a religious dimension in the story, but some of the coverage of this documentary and the movement it is about, is frankly, disturbing... The stills of young girls in diaphanous white dresses carrying in a large woodens cross to a candle-lit room and making vows of chastity before it, are like something out of a cheap and nasty 1970s Hammer horror movie. And the idea of making girls as young as 6 participate in such rites is worrying. How can they possibly know what they are saying?
Many of them, apparently promise not even to kiss a boy until they are married... Saving that first kiss for when they are pronounced man and wife in the marriage service. Now according to one of the friends I was with last night, according to the new sexual offences act it will actually be an offence for two fifteen year olds to kiss one another, then perhaps this pledge isn't all bad!
But no... I jest... I do understand the desire for parents to protect their children, particularly their daughters from the dangers of this over-sexualized culture... But this is not the way... I equally want fathers to play a full role in the lives of their children, but the role that fathers have in the lives of their young daughters in this movement is slightly unnerving.
But what is the difference between this attempt to influence children for a percieved good and the role of Scripture Unions in schools, or of Sunday Schools? Where does the line lie? What do we tell our children? And who should do it? Where? When? Answers on a virtual postcard please...