A recent report has shown that fewer and fewer young people are practising Christians or becoming Christians. It would seem then that the role of Religious Education and of Church Schools has never been more vital. It was, therefore, shocking to read that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had joined forces with Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) and others to sign a letter opposing lifting the 50 percent cap on the number of pupils a new school can select on ground of faith. This cap has meant that the Roman Catholic Church has not built new schools at the rate one might expect, as to reject a pupil whose family is Roman Catholic because the cap has been reached breaks Canon Law. The letter states that it is ‘difficult to bring to mind a more divisive policy, or more deleterious to social cohesion’. The authors argue that to lift the cap would be to ‘label’ children and cause entrenched divisions. This seems to ignore that fact that existing faith schools are already models of diversity and inclusion, where all faiths are taught, explored and experienced. In Catholic schools alone 26,000 Muslim children are educated, never mind the number of faiths represented in Church of England and Catholic schools together. The authors of the letter worry about a lack of diversity when it seems Faith Schools encourage and explore diversity, not stifle it. It is vital that all churches seek to assist in the education of our young people across the country, and that church schools in particular are outstanding centres of excellence. The likes of Richard Dawkins and other humanists, with whom Rowan Williams has allied himself on this occasion, would argue that church schools are places of proselytising and conversion. This is simply not the case, and Bishop Williams should know better. Through carefully crafted curricula and collective worship, church schools are places where young people can explore a diversity of ideas and opinions. Rather than stifling thought, they are places of exploration, both of pupils’ own identity and that relationship with the world around them. The vocation of a Christian teacher is an important one in the life of the church and one that should be encouraged. The role of faith schools is very important in building a cohesive and vibrant multicultural society. It is sad when our Bishops are unable to speak up in support of the growth in their number, which can only be of benefit to the church and to society in general.
Proposals to liberalize the laws for abortion in this country are to be resisted. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) are running workshops around the country to highlight the damage this will do. They highlight that each week in this country 4000 babies are killed in the womb – this is the equivalent of 20 passenger jets crashing. Since the legalization of abortion 50 years ago there has been a whole industry built up around it which places pressure on women to have abortions, and also makes having access to an abortion far easier than it has ever been before. This new campaign also points to the damage abortion does to women, who are often not offered support to help with the trauma they may have suffered. As catholic Christians we have a very clear understanding of the sanctity of human life and the importance of the principle that every person and every life matters. In these days when the sanctity of human life is even more under threat, it is surely time to take any opportunity we can to think carefully about these issues and also to work with Christians from other denominations who share our commitment to this important area. Do look out for details of talks and seminars in your area to learn more about the SPUC campaign. Whatever their precise views on abortion, all Christians should have some knowledge of the facts and the issues surrounding those facts. We need to reflect on that important question of what it means to be created in the image of God.
As you read this editorial we will be well into Eastertide and the summer will be just around the corner. For many the summer is filled with festivals and celebrations in our parishes. If you don’t already do so, why not support some of the parishes of the Society in your area as they celebrate the feasts of the church? By visiting and supporting one another we can build up a deeper fellowship as we walk the journey of faith as catholics in the Church of England. We have been given the structures to grow and flourish, and now we need to support one another in this vital work as we seek to go Forward in Faith together.