I have already warned that the Christian Churches need to get their acts in gear and influence the RSE curriculum in any way they can given the expected strong emphasis in RSE on abortion. Here’s a link to an earlier article.
Some evangelical Christian groups are already out of the starting blocks. Earlier this month, the Evangelical Alliance and Love For Life groups held a very well-organised and highly informative Sunday evening session in Portstewart Baptist Church.
The key question seems to be, how much of an input into the final curriculum content will the Christian Churches and evangelical organisations have come January 2024?
Likewise, what rights will parents have to withdraw their children from RSE lessons if they feel there is too much of an emphasis in the curriculum on abortion as a solution to pregnancy?
On the flip side of the coin, will Christian teachers have the right to refuse to teach the RSE curriculum if the content goes against their Biblical principles? In practical terms, could a teacher be disciplined, suspended, or even sacked for refusing to take RSE classes?
Organisations like Evangelical Alliance and Love For Life have taken a very responsible and pro-active approach to RSE in terms of wanting to educate parents and pupils about having conversations around RSE.
At this stage with weeks to go before RSE ‘goes live’ in classrooms, the pragmatic situation which Christian teachers and students should adopt is that they must be allowed the freedom of expression to deliver a Biblical perspective on RSE.
The primary reason the Christian Churches have been left behind in the debate is that many denominations - because they view sex is only for marriage - wait until marriage guidance classes when the couples are engaged before any talk of sexual matters is debated.
In reality, the Christian debate on RSE should begin in the church Sunday schools, Bible classes and youth fellowships rather than waiting until couples are in their very late teens (at least) for marriage guidance.
By following this pro-active strategy, the hope would be that by the time pupils are facing formal RSE classes in post primary schools, they will have already gained a sound knowledge of the Christian Biblical truth on RSE through Sunday school lessons.
However, like the Old Testament Garden of Eden, there is a dangerous snake in the grass - the lunatic fringe of militant fundamentalism. It has a track record of outlandish behaviour to such an extent that laws could be brought in which bans all Christian debate on RSE in schools and colleges.
Last month, the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Act (Northern Ireland) 2023 came into law, establishing safe access zones at medical clinics which offer abortion services. Naturally, these zones were opposed by the overwhelming majority of pro-life Christians.
But the bitter medicine must be faced - did the Christian faith bring this law on itself because of the actions of militant fundamentalists’ protesting at abortion clinics?
In short, has the broad pro-life movement within the Christian faith been hijacked by the lunatic fringe of militant fundamentalism and the latter’s activities outside clinics left legislators with no other option but to bring in tough laws to protect those who work or are treated at such clinics?
The same situation could also be facing many evangelical Christians who act responsibly during open air witness. The post pandemic world, especially in urban areas of Northern Ireland, has seen the emergence of the so-called street preachers who use high-powered public address systems and questionable terminology to ram a very narrow perception of the Christian faith into people’s ears.
Legislation and by-laws could be brought in whereby such so-called street preachers will be required to have a licence to preach, perhaps limiting them to certain locations and times.
For generations, many Christian denominations have embarked on responsible open air evangelical and witness without the need for ‘in your face’ confrontations with sections of society.
The problem which militant fundamentalists is that their activities and tactics are so extreme that laws are introduced which tar every Christian outreach worker with the same brush.
There can be no doubting that RSE will be a contentious curriculum area, but the Christian Churches and evangelical organisations must ensure discipline in their ranks.
The Churches must avoid a situation whereby responsible RSE lobbying gets hijacked by militant fundamentalists and we begin to witness the lunatic fringe picketing schools where RSE is taught.
The Christian Biblical view of RSE can only be expressed through influencing the curriculum from inside the school using responsible lobbying - not standing on street corners, outside schools or the headquarters of the Education Authority screaming at workers through high-powered PA systems.
The Churches need to understand that this was why the safe zones act was introduced - because militant fundamentalists could not lobby responsibly outside abortion clinics.
The message to churches is simple - learn from the mistakes suffered by the pro-life lobby which found itself infiltrated by militant fundamentalists. I also fear new draconian laws will be introduced, aimed primarily at the lunatic fringe of the street preacher movement, but in reality such laws will seriously hamper the effectiveness of genuine and responsible open air witness Christian workers.
Indeed, if militant fundamentalism has its way in terms of methods of protest and aggressive lobbying as in the anti-abortion debate, then it will only hand a gift horse’s head on a silver plate to those in the education system who want any reference to the Christian faith eradicated altogether.
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Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.