Church of England admits belief that homosexuality is ‘wrong’ has fuelled bullying and abuse as it tells schools to become like a “Bedouin tent” where all are ‘honoured’
The Most Rev Justin Welby has said that the Church still had a “long way to go” as he spoke of the scars suffered by campaigners in favour of women’s ordination
By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor
Children at Church of England schools must be taught to “revere” and “honour” gay and lesbian people despite its centuries-old teaching that homosexual acts are a sin, new rules published by the Archbishop of Canterbury insist.
Guidelines intended to combat homophobic bullying, make clear that words such as gay must not be used in a “derogatory” or “negative” way in Anglican schools.
The Most Rev Justin Welby, insisted that the Church’s official stance – that sex between people of the same gender is sinful – had been clear “for centuries” and had not changed.
But he said that even if the Church taught that it is “wrong”, that did not justify bullying or discrimination.
The document, sent to all CofE schools, says primary school pupils should be taught about same-sex relationships as a basic “fact of people’s lives”.
It adds that church primary schools should draw up policies specifically recognising the needs of transgender pupils.
Meanwhile older children who decide to come out are to be given “unequivocal support” from teachers and chaplains.
Secondary school children should, it adds, be given frank information to help them to “explore their identity”.
Meanwhile traditional Church doctrines on homosexuality are to be presented only alongside a range of alternatives.
It urges heads to ensure the atmosphere in church schools is like a “Bedouin tent” in which “different views can be aired and honoured”.
The 72-page document was drawn up following a call from the Archbishop last year that the Church must face up to a “revolution” in attitudes on sexuality. His remarks came just weeks after he had voted against the introduction of gay marriage.
The document acknowledges that the global Anglican Church is deeply divided about sexuality and that many clergy in England openly disagree with official teaching.
“Within the Anglican Communion there exists a wide spectrum of beliefs about this issue and it is a very divisive matter for the Church at this time,” it says.
“Within a school community of pupils, staff, parents and governors many different views may be held and it should be acknowledged that this is a sensitive topic.”
But it adds that church schools already have teachers who live with same-sex partners and that pupils will have gay friends and parents.
“This is the lived reality of educational contexts in modern England,” it says.
“To deny this reality is to choose to be blinkered.”
The document cites, at the top of a list of reasons why pupils might be involved in homophobic bullying, the belief that homosexuality is “wrong”.
But the Archbishop said: “No sense of something being right or wrong justifies another wrong.
“There is never a point in which because you say that a particular form of behaviour – whether it is this or any other – is wrong that that justifies you saying that it’s OK to bully someone.”
Asked if this meant the Church of England would continue to teach that homosexual practice is a “sin”, he said: “The Church of England’s statement on this is absolutely clear in its canons and has been for centuries.”
The Archbishop, who was educated at Eton, added that he had seen anti-gay bullying at school and had been “appalled”.
During a visit to Trinity Church of England School in Hither Green, South London, he joined a discussion with pupils about homophobic bullying.
Among them, 15-year-old Ruby Tarrant described how told how Christians had told her she was “going to Hell” after she came out aged 12.
“I was made to feel that I wasn’t a girl, I was pushed down stairs – I was told constantly that I was wrong, there was something wrong with me,” she said.
“In the changing rooms they would push me to change in the showers.”
Benjamin Cohen, publisher of the website PinkNews, who campaigned for same-sex marriage, said: “I think it is really positive that he is talking about it and listening to pupils – but there is a fundamental challenge.
“How can you tell 11-year-olds that it is OK to be gay and that it is wrong for people to be bullied for being gay but at the same time, theologically, to say that being gay is wrong and that same-sex relationships are not of equal value?”