Religious Schools and Bill 18

CCS Principal Maylanne Maybee was asked by a reporter from the University of Manitoba newspaper to respond to some questions about the response of some religious schools to the Manitoba Legislature’s proposed Bill 18 (an amendment to the Public Schools Act to provide protection for students around the issue of bullying).  Some of her comments were used in the article “Anti-Bullying Bill Creates Contention” in The Manitoban.

Here are Maylanne’s comments in full:

Response to Questions posed by Rachel Wood, The Manitoban
Maylanne Maybee, Principal
The Centre for Christian Studies
February 28, 2013

On why religious schools seem to be adamantly against Bill 18:

The substantive concern seems to be the obligation that the legislation would place on all schools to accommodate students who want to use the name “gay-straight alliance” for school-based initiatives that promote an environment of respect and inclusivity of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

The claim is that this obligation goes against their religion. Since they call themselves Christian and so do we, there are obviously big differences in how we understand our religion!

I think some Christians sincerely believe that homosexuality is prohibited in scripture, and is therefore morally wrong and against God’s will. The Centre for Christian Studies does not share this position. Our roots are in the United and Anglican tradition, both of which take into account history, reason, tradition, and religious experience as a lens into scripture that help us to interpret ancient truths in every age. While there are passages of scripture that appear to prohibit homosexuality, we do not see these passages as defining or reflecting the character of the God in whom we believe – a God who names all creation as good, who creates in God’s image, who wills abundant life for all, who declares that no harm be done, who wills justice and peace. Nor do we see these passages as defining or reflecting the good news of Jesus Christ or the movement of the Spirit who makes all things new.

I think another reason for the vehement opposition might have to do with “phobia” – the fear of what is not known, understood, or familiar. Again, at the Centre for Christian Studies we have looked at questions of gender identity and sexual orientation very directly. Many of our staff, students, and members of our governing body have direct experience of gender and sexual diversity, either personally or with close family members. We have explicitly adopted a justice stance and an “Affirming and Proud” position that says, “We want to embrace gender diversity, we want to affirm individuals for who they are and where they, are as embodied, sexual and spiritual human beings.” And within that framework, we want to uphold responsible, ethical behaviour that does no harm and protects the vulnerable.

On the kind of bill that might satisfy religious schools:

I’m not able to second guess what would satisfy independent schools in Manitoba. One improvement they seem to be seeking is a clearer definition of bullying. They seem to question how to interpret behaviour that cannot be externally verified. The other change they are seeking is either to be exempted from the legislation or to have it withdrawn altogether in favour of local anti-bullying initiatives that could be adapted to their religious stance.

In spite of widely divergent assumptions and values and interpretations of scripture, I believe all adherents of the Christian faith support love of neighbour and protection of the vulnerable.

However, love of neighbour is read by some Christians as “love the neighbour, hate the sin” (that is, “love your neighbours but remake them in your image”, or “love your neighbours but heal them to be what we think they should be.”) Love of neighbour, as I understand it, demands respect for people as they are. Jesus showed love and respect to people who cried out to him, whom society hated and rejected, who were vulnerable. In the parable of the Good Samaritan he held up as an example of neighbourly love someone who was regarded by religious authorities as unclean, heretical, and morally reprehensible. In his conversation with a Syrophoenician woman Jesus learned that even he had to expand his boundaries of love and respect.

It’s hard to imagine how an adolescent struggling with sexual identity or orientation would feel loved, or protected from being ostracized and isolated, in a school that says that supportive gay-straight alliances are against their faith. I think a person’s right to that kind of protection trumps “religious rights”, just as I think loving our neighbour and keeping people who are in our care safe trumps any judgment about sexual or gender identity.

Response to the statement, “Bill 18 would force some public and independent schools to act in ways that are against their community values and religious beliefs.”

My response is that we at the Centre for Christian Studies don’t share those values. The society around us is discovering that long-held assumptions and prejudices against a diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities are harmful. We are learning that our schools and institutions need to nurture this diversity responsibly.

The Centre for Christian Studies believes that churches have an important role in this society, that we can be a significant source of community and spiritual support and hope for people who have been or are at risk of being isolated and ostracized because of identity and orientation. This is especially so among youth and young adults who are just beginning to discover who they are. We want to encourage and support young straight students who form alliances of support for their GBLTQ peers. The support groups being proposed in this bill are a way to offer hope for kids who live in a sometimes hostile environment, hope that they can grow up healthy and whole adults. The adults who encounter the Centre for Christian Studies were once those kids.

On CCS’s beliefs on homosexuality:

First, I don’t think homosexuality is something we “believe” in; our belief is in a loving God who created human beings with wonderful diversity and who calls us into a relationship of love with each other and with God.

Second, our position on diversity is clear. The Centre for Christian Studies…

  • Seeks to work toward just and right relationships in CCS and beyond;
  • Supports and welcomes the full participation of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer in this community, the church, and society at large;
  • Is willing to challenge and open to be challenged, on homophobia (fear of homosexuality) and heterosexism (privileging people of heteroxesual orientation);
  • Is committed to work at communal and personal self-examination toward a climate of inclusion, equality, compassion, and right relationships.