Religious freedom and grace to the vulnerable

Closing doorsOver the weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald posted this article about a bid to overturn NSW laws “allowing private schools to expel students simply because they are gay”.

You can read the article for yourself, but one of the key points it raised was the threat to freedom of religion and ethos for the schools in question. It’s a real issue – one to which I’m extremely sympathetic, and one that requires serious, ongoing thought in countries like New Zealand and Australia.

However, that’s not the only thing that caught my attention. As I read the article, I wondered: Why would any Christian school turn away a student solely because of that student’s sexuality?

Wouldn’t it be far better for a Christian school to:

  • Welcome that student with thankfulness and open arms (as long as they weren’t being enrolled simply to ’cause trouble’ or to ‘make a point’, and that the student and his/her family understood your school’s ethos);
  • Unashamedly teach them what the Bible says about sex and sexuality, but do so in the context of a safe, caring environment where the student (indeed, where all the students) understood that disagreeing with someone’s views or behaviour doesn’t mean you hate them;
  • Make sure that the student left your school 100 per cent clear that Christianity is about God’s wonderful grace to us in the Lord Jesus Christ (not about wanting people to embrace a narrow view of sex, as is often portrayed in the media today);
  • Do everything in your power to make sure that no student at your school is bullied in any way, and that all your students (especially the Christian students) learn to relate to those who are ‘different’ from them with kindness, respect and (genuine) tolerance?

Or am I missing something?

Again, I don’t want these questions to muddy the very real issues surrounding religious freedom, and I certainly don’t want to encourage Christians (or Christian schools) to change their views on what the Bible says because of pressure from the wider community. I’m certainly not questioning the motives or concerns of the Christian spokesmen quoted in the article.

But while this issue may present some level of danger, can it also present an opportunity? How can Christian communities extend grace, support and compassion to vulnerable young people? And I can’t help but remember that Jesus became notorious for spending time with those on the margins of his society – so much so that, in his case, he became known as a ‘friend of sinners’ (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). Though we live in a very different time and culture, maybe it’s worth asking whether we’re in any danger of facing a similar accusation.

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