Julian Mann has been vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire since 2000. Before getting ordained he was a reporter for Retail Week. He is married to Lisa and they have four teenage sons.
Yes, the head of religious education at a large comprehensive school in a major UK city really did tell the Anglican clergyman from Jos, Nigeria, not to say that his friend had been murdered by a Muslim.
The teacher had invited the young Nigerian minister for a preliminary meeting to discuss how he might contribute to the peace and conflict course for Year 11 GCSE students. After some initial enquiries about his experience of growing up in a Christian family in a mainly Muslim area of Jos, he was asked to participate in the session on forgiveness and reconciliation.
Asked what he would say about this from his own experience, he related that in 2008, when Christians in Jos and their churches were subject to a spate of attacks by Islamist militants, he witnessed a Muslim hacking a close Christian friend of his to death with a machete.
He movingly described how forgiveness does not come easily but the process of forgiveness begins with the intention to obey Jesus Christ’s command to love your enemies and to pray for them. See, for instance, Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus commanded his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount: ‘But I say unto you (in contrast to the Pharisaic practice of loving neighbour but hating enemy), Love your enemies and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you’.
This line of thought appeared to be acceptable to the teacher provided the Nigerian did not tell the class that the man who murdered his friend was a Muslim. Why not? ‘I don’t want a debate kicking off with the Muslims in my class.’
Is this an isolated incident in a British state school? Hardly likely given the culture of political correctness pervading our schools, which I have personally encountered as both a Church of England minister and a parent, though the suppression of educational reality in this case is surely – dare one say? – extreme. It is painfully ironic that this incident occurred shortly before the tragic deaths in Nairobi when Islamist terrorists targeted non-Muslims in a shopping centre.
Apart from being educationally immoral, such suppression of the truth is also crass because 15- and 16-year-olds use the internet. They only have to Google in Jos, Nigeria and they would learn from reputable news sources that since 2001 Islamist militants have been terrorising Christians. I myself saw a church that had been firebombed when I visited in Jos in early 2012.
Furthermore, the British Muslims in the class are also being ill served. Within a supervised discussion in an RE lesson, should they not be allowed to say that the Jihadist killing of Christians does not reflect their understanding of Islam or that it does? If they owned up to the latter conviction, which happens to held by many Muslims around the world, then surely the teacher would have the professional responsibility to explain that acting on that conviction is morally wrong universally and so rightly illegal in Britain.
In the real world our school children are living in and, God willing, going to be working in, is that not precisely the sort of discourse British tax-payers committed to freedom under the rule of law want to see ‘kicking off’ in class rooms around the country?