November 2017

Keeping young people safe?

The Junior Common Room of Balliol College, Oxford, recently went back on a decision they had made to bar the Christian Union from having a stall at their Freshers’ Fair. The original decision had been made on the grounds that they wanted to create at atmosphere that was ‘secular and safe’. I find this intriguing, especially given those two adjectives hanging together, but let’s just unbundle them.

First of all, secular. There is a strange logic that seems to underpin some people’s attitude to the ideas and thoughts to which young people should be exposed, and it goes like this:

To teach people that there is a God is a clear example of indoctrination.

To teach people that there isn’t a God isn’t.

If anyone can dig me out of that conundrum, I would be most grateful. Personally, previously as a teacher and now as a parish priest, I have always felt that young people need to be able to discover for themselves what is important to them in their lives, and a basic understanding of the differences between faiths and the difference between holding a faith or not is so important to this, and they cannot develop that crucial understanding if they are subjected to a protective shield. Adults need to have confidence in the ability of young people to make their own decisions: a reluctance to do so would seem to me, at any rate, to be a sign of a lack on confidence on behalf of the adults concerned in what they would claim to believe.

And then there is safe. Well, of course, history is littered by those who, under the nominal banner of Christ, have committed unspeakable acts: but if that were the main argument, then it is equally littered - and somewhat more recently - by secularists like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. At the heart of the Christian message, however, is the gospel of love and forgiveness - a gospel of relationships based on mutual love, trust and understanding, and, while there are some Christians today - including some Christian leaders - who seem to propound a message hugely different from that, I have no idea where they get it from. Last month, I wrote about how the simple command ‘Love your neighbour’ can only mean that, just as Christ made no distinction between who or what anyone is, neither should we. And, while I may be accused of being biased,  I feel that a life based on that gospel is likely to be all the richer and fulfilling. And when it comes to safety, I look at the world around and ask ‘If more people lived believing in a gospel of love and forgiveness, would this be a safer place?’ And when I see that adults feel that this is something from which young people should be protected, then the alarm bells really ring.