There are so many moving parts with the recent issues around the transgender issue in schools it is hard to know where to start, but one thing is certain, it’s the most complex matter that faith-based schools have had to face.

The transgender issue is the most complex matter that faith-based schools have had to face.

And the way the narrative is going, this could be the issue that sinks Christian schools that hold to an orthodox understanding of sexuality. Right now, it looks like sinking the Religious Discrimination Bill, which was there to offer some measure of protection. The timing of Citipointe Christian College’s statement last week could not have been more dreadful.

So why is it all so complex and intractable?

Well, foundationally, it’s because the transgender issue is the front line trench of the culture war. It just is. For Christian schools to hold the line—whether they do it badly as Citipointe did, or whether they try to nuance it as many other schools wish to do—the progressive culture warriors are looking in every nook and cranny to flush out resistance.

It will not be good enough to declare that we affirm every child for who they are, made in the image of God.

What do I mean by that? Simply this: Unless Christian schools offer total affirmation and celebration to the self-perceptions of transgender children, the ideologues will not be satisfied. It will not be good enough to declare that we affirm every child for who they are, made in the image of God and hence infused with value, dignity and worth on that basis. No, it will only be good enough when we affirm and celebrate who trans students believe themselves to be.

And that is where the tensions and conflicts arise. With a media that is too lazy to ask the hard questions and simply throws out the “transphobe” term, there will be no opportunity for schools to explain themselves.

Clearly the Citipointe issue did not help, but from the conversations I have been having, all that the college’s actions did was precipitate a conflict that many other schools were already trying to prepare themselves for. There is no getting away from this one. It’s coming for us—has come for us.

Let’s be clear. Activists opposed to the Christian understanding of what it means to be human are more than happy to fuel the discontent with Christian—and other faith-based schools—in this matter, and will be only too happy to sign up young students who identify as trans to their cause. From what I know—and I know a good deal in this area—most Christian schools are exceptionally sensitive and helpful when it comes to families of students who identify as trans. Yet activism has no interest in that.

Concern and Consternation

There is no agreed approach amongst Christian schools at the moment. Some teachers believe that love for students means using their preferred pronouns in order to create a safe environment for them. 

Other teachers believe that love for students demands that we don’t use their preferred pronouns because that makes them complicit in a massive cultural lie that is bound to—already is—having serious psychological, social and physical consequences for those young people who are encouraged to take life-altering drugs and consider irreversible body tranformations.

Meanwhile, for schools grappling with this, there are all sorts of complexities around bathroom facilities, uniform choices, sports etc. There will be girls—and they are primarily going to be girls—who feel uncomfortable allowing a trans boy to use their bathroom or change-room while they too are using them.

Christian schools are trying to navigate this space carefully, tiptoeing past the sleeping dog without trying to wake it.

Christian schools are trying to navigate this space carefully, tiptoeing past the sleeping dog without trying to wake it. I know of no Christian school that has even attempted to expel a student who identifies as trans. Yet that seems to be all anyone is talking about.

But in the end, I fear that all of the careful navigation will be to no avail. The movement is implacable. Nothing less than full affirmation and celebration will be tolerated. Given that the ALP will likely be the next Federal Government (which means Mark Dreyfus as the next Attorney General), I predict that Christian schools will be told to fall into line upon threat of sanction—by which, I mean affirm and celebrate

Ways Forward

Is there a way forward that gives Christian schools the freedom to hold the orthodox line, teach the orthodox sexual ethic, yet still welcome students? That will be tricky. Once again, if “welcome” means affirm and celebrate the trans position rather than the God-made person, then no.

Christian schools need to come up with a coherent strategy. Will they—if they haven’t already—start to formulate and articulate what being human means and where identity lies? Can they paint a positive picture of what gender is supposed to be about? Can they find a way to present the biblical narrative about why God created humans the way he did and what the purpose of complementary gender is?

If they can do that, they will also have to find a way to articulate why things are not the way that God intended them. And that’s going to be the tricky bit because it won’t allow affirming and celebrating gender dysphoria.

And if these efforts aren’t good enough for the government of the day, then schools are going to face a monumental task to either remain Christian, or if they want to stay Christian, to stay open. 

The Deeper Issue

For the trans issue is not merely about children with gender dysphoria—oh, if only it were so simple! It is part of a complex web of meaning-making that has at its heart, the deep desire to supplant the long held theological view in the West—whether affirmed by everyone or not—of what it means to be human.

As Carl Trueman points out in his exceptional book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self:

… the sexual revolution, and its various manifestations in modern society, cannot be treated in isolation, but must rather be interpreted as the specific and perhaps most obvious social manifestation of a much deeper and wider revolution in the understanding of what it means to be a self. While sex may be presented today as little more than a recreational activity, sexuality is presented as that which lies at the very heart of what it means to be an authentic person.

Christian schools are not merely up against a hostile ideological campaign but a fundamental redrawing of what it means to be human.

When we put it like that, we realise that Christian schools who hold the line on this are not merely up against a hostile and spirited ideological campaign by minority activists, but a fundamental redrawing of what it means to be human; a redrawing that, while it goes unrecognised philosophically by the average punter, is nevertheless experienced existentially by almost everybody in the West.

Does orthodox Christian education have a future in Australia? Maybe, but maybe not in the conventional tax-payer funded way. Already we’re seeing a plethora of smaller, robust, orthodox and creative examples. Change in the sector is coming whether we like it or not. Perhaps the positive way to see it is “pruned, it grows,” as Benedict XVI said of the church. We shall see.

But it’s not just been Christian schools. As mediating institutions, they are merely the latest in a long line of those who are being forced to pay the price to achieve the widespread cultural authenticity that this Sexular Age so eagerly believes is just around the corner. And so too, sadly, are many of the young lives that the hard ideological edge of this movement claims to care so much about.

First published at stephenmcalpine.com