A school takes its pupils to a wildlife safari park. The parents have consented. The school is known for its eco-friendly ethos and quality education, which is one reason the parents have aggressively elbowed their way into it. The children return from their trip. Some are excited to have seen chimps swinging on trees. Others were scared by Siberian tigers baring their fangs and growling.
The snowflake parents go into meltdown. They storm the headteacher’s office to criticise the school’s ‘extremist’ views on nature. ‘We thought you were taking our children to a wildlife park where tigers are de-fanged!’ they chorus. ‘How dare you expose our children to nature red in tooth and claw? Couldn’t you take them to Pets R Us or Toys R Us and teach them about nature by getting them to hug teddy bears and Kermit the Frog?’
You’d think this is the worst tragedy to strike crybaby parents at St John’s Church of England Primary School in Tunbridge Wells since the bubonic plague.
No doubt the hypersensitive parents protect their children’s tender feelings by telling them that we don’t kill little sweetie pigs for bacon at breakfast and Grandma Ethel did not die but lives on Unicorn Hill with the fairies. These overprotective guardians are now seething with fire-and-brimstone indignation because their child prodigies are being told that Christianity is not about Santa’s elves but about Jesus’s death on a cross.
For crying out loud, the parents know it is a church school – they are desperate to get their children into the best schools available, which most often turn out to be church schools. Headteacher Dan Turvey’s welcome in the first paragraph on the first page of the school’s website spells out a meaty in-your-face Christianity that the school wishes to promote.
‘Welcome to our website. St John’s Primary School is a Voluntary Controlled Church of England School situated in Tunbridge Wells. Christian values are at the heart of all we do and our Christian ethos is very strong.’ Can’t the parents read simple English? Or is Jabberwocky their first language?
In spite of this online red flag waved by the headteacher, the dazed parents are genuinely baffled when a school trip to a wildlife safari park exposes their children to wild animals! The problem is that the parents have visited many wildlife parks where they have seen nothing but fluffy toys. They have been to C of E baptisms (getting your baby ‘done’), confirmations (an excuse for a party), weddings (great photographs outside a pretty church building), and funerals (the nice vicar told us that everyone, including Stalin, will go to heaven).
In these wildlife parks, C of E bishops and archbishops address the nation from televised pulpits during national events such as the funeral of Princess Diana and the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The Tunbridge Wells parents have friends from the chattering classes who go to the parish church and sell homemade jams for Jesus (or marmalades for Mary if the parish is Anglo-Catholic).
The parents even watch the Vicar of Dibley. They know of vicars who live with their boyfriends or girlfriends in same-sex relationships. They read reports of a C of E School on the Isle of Wight permitting a boy to come to school wearing a dress and Archbishop Justin saying that a boy wearing a dress to school is ‘not a problem’. But not once do they hear nasty words such as ‘sin’ and ‘judgment’!
From the evidence, they have concluded that wildlife safari parks do not have wild animals but that if they do these wild animals ought to be domesticated and de-fanged (Option A) or slaughtered and stuffed by taxidermists (Option B). The C of E has turned its wildlife parks into amusement parks and Jesus, the Lion of Judah, into Jebus, the Pussycat of Lambeth.
Naturally, the hapless parents at St John’s C of E School in Tunbridge Wells are disoriented and shell-shocked with Post-Christian Traumatic Disorder when an ‘extremist’ Christian group called CrossTeach starts debunking this Anglican delusion and telling their children that Christianity is not a fairy tale with a happy ending for everybody. For years, the parents have been peddled the Christianity of ‘a God without wrath who brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross,’ as the theologian H Richard Niebuhr so succinctly put it.
Don’t blame the school. It has enough policies on its School Policies webpage to send a squadron of Spitfires into a tailspin. One of its policies is its Collective Worship Policy, which was ‘reviewed September 2017 by the Collective Worship Leader, RE leader & Foundation Governors’.
‘The daily Christian act of worship is central to our ethos,’ the policy states unequivocally. ‘The purpose of collective worship here at St John’s is the gathering together of our school community to learn about and to praise God. Collective worship at St John’s CEP School is in line with the school’s Trust Deed and supports the school’s ethos by providing opportunities for students and staff: to explore a relationship with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit [and] to reflect on our explicit Christian values.’
Did you not know that in Christian worship you can’t have a relationship with the Holy Trinity without first confessing this ghastly thing called ‘sin’? And did you never learn that the only antidote to sin is the Cross and the blood of Jesus? If you don’t like this yucky stuff, take your children to a Buddhist school where they can sit in yogic postures and gaze at their navels until they reach nirvana!
No! The parents want to re-define Christianity in their Tunbridge-Wellsian image and likeness – reared and carved like the Christmas turkey from Waitrose. They sincerely believe that teaching children about ‘sin’ and ‘judgement’ (as they point out in a 13-page letter) is ‘extremist’. ‘No one minds Nativity plays and Bible stories . . . I think the feeling is that it’s all too much,’ says one parent. So this parent wouldn’t mind the Bible stories of Joshua slaying the Canaanites or Herod slaying the innocent children of Bethlehem (part of the Nativity story) but the story of Jesus’s crucifixion ‘is all too much’?
So who is to blame? In 2014, the C of E’s General Synod kicked out the devil from its new baptism service. It reinstated the word ‘sin’ after parishes complained that the new service was ‘bland,’ ‘dumbed down’ and ‘nothing short of dire’. Peter Hitchens in The Rage against God traces how the C of E dumbed down the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity – sin.
For centuries the C of E used Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer as its primary text for worship. Hitchens notes that the Prayer Book ‘demands penitence as the price of entry to all its ceremonies. The hard passage from the first epistle of John, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”, is often the first thing spoken . . . We are “miserable offenders”. These are not easy words to say, if you mean them . . . Many people prefer not to say them, because they do not like to admit that this is so. The Church’s solution to this unpopularity was to abandon the requirement, replacing it with vague half-hearted mumblings, or – more often – with nothing at all.’
The C of E has taught parents at St John’s Primary School to expect ‘vague half-hearted mumblings’ about inclusion or multiculturalism or donkeys in Nativity plays. The parents are aware that the C of E believes in the Trinity of God the Feminist, Jesus the Marxist and the Holy Zeitgeist or ‘more often’ believes ‘nothing at all’.
No wonder the local Diocese of Rochester and its Bishop, James Langstaff, who ought to have spoken in defence of the school’s Christian ethos and practice, are sitting silently like soft toys stuffed by the taxidermists of the Zeitgeist. They have said nothing because they have nothing to say.