I was recently asked to complete a survey about how seriously my son’s school takes character development. The survey was fascinating, because it imagined a very different kind of education to our current secular model with its results-based obsession. Survey questions focused on whether or not the school defined good character, had methods in place to develop good character and gave parents feedback on how their son’s character was developing and maturing. I scored the school very low on every question because the school, like most schools, fail to develop character. There is substantial effort made in schools to ensure children buckle down and develop a work ethic and quality of mind, with all manner of motivational techniques, bordering on the manipulative and coercive, for kids to tow the line and “get the grades they are capable of.” But there is no definition of good character and no intentional character development at the “outstanding” schools where all three of my children started their secondary education.
The last survey question asked for my remarks on why I had answered as I did. What are my observations? My answer focused, critically, on multi-culturalism and secular values.
“Multi-cultural” is a label used to describe the clustering of society into sub-cultures based largely on ethnicity and religion. Each cultural group is defined by outward appearance, origins and most importantly by deeply held values and behaviour. Secular society believes in the freedom of religion and promotes only two values in this arena, namely tolerance and respect. Sevular leaders cannot, therefore, promote any other values without risking being seen to favour one religion or ethnic group over another, thereby breaking its own rules. There is no model for good character and so character development is left to chance in school.
Secular society finds itself trapped between mainstream culture and the assumptions it makes about guest cultures and their deeply held values. Secular schools are on the front line of this clash of culture. They cannot aspire to develop character in our children when different cultures hold very different values and see “good” in quite different ways.
The Church of England has found itself in a similar mess, of its own making. The church has divided into sub-cultures with very different values. The response has been to develop the sub-Christian mottos “Good disagreement” and “radical inclusion” which simply mirror secular society’s values of tolerance and respect. But good disagreement (respect) and radical inclusion (tolerance) do not promote true peace as debates at our synod have shown. Given this unhappy situation, how should Christians respond?
First, let’s agree on what we have done. We are promoting tolerance and respect and this should trouble all Christians. The Church of England has adopted a new language which mirrors the values of the secular society she exists to serve and transform, rendering us powerless as the church to do good.
Second, we should understand the complex reasons behind the ” good disagreement” and radical inclusion” mottos. The Church of England has become a multi-cultural church in the wrong way as it fails to distinguish between good diversity, where all peoples of all tribes and nations are united under Christ as servant-ruler (Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus), and ungodly diversity, where everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). Church leadership finds itself trapped between a morally divided church and a skeptical secular society and is paralysed by fear, the fear of upsetting people. Rather than take a lead on developing a true unity of faith, character and morality, leaders have taken the easier road with their call for tolerance and respect. Sadly, and paradoxically, by failing to take a lead, the Church of England fails to create the peace it longs for within itself. As a direct result, the watching secular world moves further away from Christ. It is time to be bold and courageous. God is with his people to bless and unite as we meditate on his word day and night and are careful to do everything he commands us to do (Joshua 1:8ff).
Third, Jesus is the only true model of human character and values, he is God incarnate, the unspoiled image bearer of our Creator Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is uniquely fully human. It is by knowing Jesus, the only fully formed and true human being, and becoming like him, that our character and values are transformed and redeemed. Discipleship means knowing Jesus, following him and becoming like him, transformed into his image (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Forth, leaders can’t lead by calling for tolerance and respect when values and cultures clash. If “good disagreement” means God loving and valuing one another because we are his image bearers, then we can say a loud “Amen”. If it means agreeing to disagree about who Jesus is and what it means to live like him, then disagreement is bad, divisive and destructive. We will never achieve true peace when wars are allowed to continue over what values and character are true and good. We are only disagreeing about who Jesus is.
The mottos need to change. I believe “radical agreement” and “good inclusion” closely reflect the true Christian witness of the church, but that’s for another post.
It’s time to chose which God we will serve, the God of this age or the true and living God, revealed in Christ and the scriptures by the work of the Holy Spirit. As for me and my family, we will surrender to and serve the one who loves us and gave himself for us to redeem for himself a people who are eager to do good.