Julian Mann has been vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire since 2000. Before ordination he was a reporter for Retail Week.
Irrespective of the electoral threat from UKIP, it would surely be reasonable to expect Conservative politicians to take a principled stand for the right of Church of England schools to foster a distinctively Anglican ethos.
This is because their party has traditionally been in favour of conserving an established national Church with the monarch as Supreme Governor. This historic disposition has never been renounced in any Conservative manifesto, and indeed the party’s current leader as recently as last Easter described Britain as “a Christian country”.
That is why it is so baffling that a Conservative-led administration is apparently allowing the distinctive spiritual ethos of church schools to be threatened by new “diversity” standards that came into force in September.
These were introduced to combat Islamist extremism in British schools but, in a legislative narrative, that has become increasingly familiar in recent years the outworking of them appears to be creating unnecessary difficulties for decidedly un-extreme people.
The Christian Institute reported recently that it has “uncovered that Ofsted inspectors, following the new criteria, have scolded a CofE primary school in Bolton for failing to celebrate “religious and cultural diversity” – even though it already celebrates Eid and Diwali, alongside holding regular Christian collective worship. If this is what they are doing in a liberal CofE school, what will Ofsted require of a traditional Christian school?”
It continued: “Forcing multi-faith celebrations on church schools is a gross interference in their religious rights, which have been protected by law for centuries. We know that what happened in Bolton is not an isolated case. We are investigating other reports.”
Perhaps surprisingly in the light of its contemporary image, the CofE’s official teaching very far from supports multi-faith worship. In fact, the Church by law established teaches that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and rejects any claim that individuals can be saved by their non-Christian religion.
This is explicitly stated in Article 18 of the CofE’s 39 Articles of Religion, which remain its official doctrine as enshrined in Canon Law. Entitled “Of Obtaining Eternal Salvation Only by the Name of Christ”, the Article rules out salvation by “the Law or Sect” a person professes and affirms that the Bible sets out “only the Name of Jesus Christ” by which people must be saved.
This, it needs to be said, is a belief about God’s gift of salvation to mankind. As such, its practical implementation entails peaceful persuasion motivated by the love of Christ and never underhand manipulation or violent coercion.
Traditional Anglican spiritual beliefs may be unfashionable in Westminster and Whitehall. But in church schools around the country that wish to uphold them they surely do not deserve to be undermined by bureaucratic interference marked by politically correct ideology, rebellion against which is driving ever more voters to UKIP.