It would be sadly ironic if the unintended consequence of the Government’s proposed counter-extremism laws were Christian Sunday schools and church youth groups closing down. Ironic because the message of God’s love being taught in many of these groups is actually the best antidote to violent religious extremism.
Much more effective on the ground than anything the secular State can muster.
Thankfully, MPs and peers on Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by Harriet Harman, have ably exposed the flaws in the Government’s approach to tackling religious extremism.
To quote The Christian Institute’s helpful summary, the Committee found that:
- The Government offered “no impression of having a coherent or sufficiently precise definition of either ‘non-violent extremism’ or ‘British values’”.
- Without a clear definition, authorities would have “wide discretion to prohibit loosely defined speech which they find unacceptable”.
- Civil orders on extremism will “potentially interfere with a number of human rights including freedom of religion, expression and association”.
- The Government’s approach seemed to be based on the false notion “that there is an escalator that starts with religious conservatism and ends with support for jihadism”.
Floating around the planned legislation has been the threat that religious organisations that instruct children out of school for six to eight hours weekly could face Ofsted inspections, potentially catching Christian children’s and youth work.
Please realise, Mr Government Inspector, that local churches rely on Christian volunteers to run Sunday schools and youth groups. Many of these volunteers are, in the right sense of the adverb, extremely busy people, with significant family and work commitments of their own.
Any more State-imposed bureaucracy really could push many of these voluntary groups over the edge, which may of course be welcome to politically correct activists in powerful positions. It stands to reason that such people would be unlikely to mourn the closure of church youth work that upholds traditional Christian teaching about the exclusively heterosexual nature of marriage and other counter-cultural views.
But the loss to our country at the grass-roots would be incalculable and it is necessary to go to the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion to explain why. Article XIX – Of the Church – describes ‘the visible Church of Christ as a congregation of faithful men (people), in the which the pure Word of God is preached’.
That pure Word of God, namely the saving message of the Christian Bible, clearly teaches people not to murder other people but to love and serve them. The inspiration for this ethos is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10v45 – Authorised Version).
So, provided biblical teaching is taking root by God’s grace in minds and hearts and being acted upon, there are good grounds to argue that the more Christian Sunday schools there are in our country, the stronger the safeguards against violent religious extremism.