The Church of England and its leader, the Rt. Hon. and Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, whom I've observed close up, command a sizeable presence in the global Christian world. Welby is front and center in a new controversy, guidelines for Church of England schools on how to treat transgender children.
But if one recent news story is to be taken at face value, no one in the Church of England could be found to go on record as disagreeing with some of these new pronouncements.
The journalism question is: How far did the newspaper in question go -- or, perhaps, NOT go -- to find an opposing voice.
Atop a large photo of Welby, we see how The Independent headlined the story: "Church of England tells schools to let children 'explore gender identity.'" Let's dive in:
Children should be able to try out “the many cloaks of identity” without being labelled or bullied, the Church of England has said in new advice issued to its 5,000 schools.
The Church said youngsters should be free to “explore the possibilities of who they might be” -- including gender identity -- and says that Christian teaching should not be used to make children feel ashamed of who they are. ...
Guidance for Church of England schools on homophobic bullying was first published three years ago, and has now being updated to cover "transphobic and biphobic bullying" – which means bullying people who consider themselves to be either transgender or gender fluid.
However, as we'll see in a moment, there are Christians in England, and, presumably, elsewhere, who might disagree with Welby's endorsement, as reported. He condemned bullying, but then went further:
The Most Rev Justin Welby adds: “This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and the celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.”
Allow me to state, please, that I do not (and cannot) support any bullying or harassment of any child, for any reason, in any situation, without exception. Whatever opinion one may or may not hold about gender fluidity or transgenderism, there is no excuse -- none -- for treating anyone with anything less than the basic dignity and respect due any person, anywhere.
Obviously, the Christian message is open to all "without exception or exclusion." But does that mean accepting changing views of gender identity when the scripture is explicit in saying God "created them male and female," as is recorded in Genesis 5:2?
There are many Christians, including, I suspect, more than a few in the Church of England, who might have trouble with the CofE position endorsing (as the article states elsewhere) a child wearing "the tutu, princess's tiara and heels and/or the fireman's helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak."
According to The Independent, one teacher is already feeling the heat:
A Christian Maths teacher from Oxfordshire is due to appear before a disciplinary hearing to answer allegations that he referred to a pupil born female as a “girl”.
Joshua Sutcliffe claims not to have been given any instructions on how to refer to the pupil, and said he did not mean to cause any offence.
According to Christian Concern: "Since the pupil started at the school, Joshua has tried to balance his sincerely held Christian belief that biological sex is God-given and defined at birth, with the need to treat sensitively the pupil. He avoided the use of gender-specific pronouns, and instead referred to the pupil by the pupil’s chosen name. Joshua admits saying “Well done girls” when he addressed a group of students including the pupil in question. The pupil became irate at this and Joshua sought to diffuse the situation and apologised”
The newspaper does not state where Sutcliffe teaches, but I'll guess it may be in a state-run school as much as it might be a private school. There's no indication of which it is -- another journalistic error -- and there's no suggestion of any Church of England connection.
That said, I still find it odd that not a single voice among the church's clergy or laity could be found questioning the whole matter. Were there no theologically conservative bishops available? Is there not a single vicar in all of Britain who'd be willing to speak up?
My sense is that The Independent wanted to emphasize the message of the Church of England document and Welby's approval, shirt-tailing the bit about Sutcliffe to demonstrate some sort of indirect opposition.
To borrow from a familiar Bible verse, that's a form of journalism that denies the power thereof. It would be much better for readers if The Independent and its reporter would expend some effort to find another opinion within the Church of England. It's called #Journalism.