A few months back, NW Anglican Blog expressed support for the members of Burnaby’s Board of Education in their policy development initiative directed at enhancing the protection of GLBT students and staff from homophobic bullying. As a former Burnaby secondary school administrator, university based trainer of teachers and Christian, I wholeheartedly supported and continue to support the Board’s efforts – which are quite in line with similar school district policy development around the province. Public social policy development, after all, is all about justice and enhancement of respect and safety for all citizens. Our corporate diaconal ministry as people of God is based on this imperative. Where the Church falls short of protecting and supporting those who may become victimized through no fault of their own, we fail the One we call Lord and Master.
Last Sunday’s Gospel sums it up powerfully: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” It’s this ethic of care that informs our Christian response to people, and it’s the ethic of care upon which any adequate system of public education is based.
This powerful ethic of care was the subject of a guest lecture by well known educational philosopher and ethicist, Dr. Nel Noddings at the celebration of the tenth anniversary of Trinity Western University’s School of Education last Thursday evening. Dr. Noddings, professor emerita at Stanford University, powerfully addressed the issue of ‘caring for the least of these’, stressing that positive human relationships are the basis of the educational enterprise.
Fortunately, members of Burnaby’s Board of Education understand this basic principle. It seems that many of those who wanted to oust them in Saturday’s municipal election, calling themselves “Burnaby Parents’ Voice”, unfortunately do not. This group chose to present candidates for elected office who for the most part reflected a one-issue, one-track approach to an important educational and human issue. It is no surprise that they were soundly rejected as the ‘voice’ of Burnaby’s parents and voters at large.
I think Burnaby Board of Education chair, Larry Hayes, was quite correct in his post-election analysis, stating that misplaced opposition to anti-homophobic initiatives on the Board’s part likely galvanized support for incumbent trustees – who were all handily re-elected. The argument put forth by Burnaby Parents’ Voice that the policy infringed on their right to educate their children, simply does not stand up. Parents have a right to impart moral and ethical viewpoints to their children, but the duty of any public education authority is to maximize provision for the protection of the dignity and personhood of all people under its care.
As Hayes stated to Vancouver Sun reporter Bruce Contantineau in the November 21 Sun paper, “The issue polarized a portion of the population, which is unfortunate. We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that the community knows exactly what we were doing in bringing the policy forward.” Members of Burnaby Parents’ Voice – if they should choose to continue their group – owe it to themselves, and to the community at large, to find ways of engaging in positive, reasoned dialogue that would lessen the kind of polarization they helped to create. If they name the name of Jesus in connection with their dialogue with the rest of the community, and if, as many of them profess, to be committed to building the Reign of God, then they must do some serious soul searching and ask themselves, “what would Jesus do?”
Meanwhile, the voters of Burnaby have spoken and the positive direction in policy development around GLBT issues in its schools that has been undertaken by the members of the Burnaby Board of Education can now confidently – and rightly, I believe – continue.
Rev. Steve Bailey is deacon at St. Laurence Anglican Church in Coquitlam, and one of the administrators of NW Anglican Blog. A retired Burnaby school administrator and university based teacher educator, he now works with the BC Retired Teachers Association as well as the Provincial Standing Committee on Ministry of the Anglican Province of BC and Yukon.