A Ramsgate school has removed its support for a charity campaign after a couple with a child at the school complained about the connection with American Evangelist Franklin Graham, who is known for his views and comments against same-sex relationships and Islam.
Last year St Lawrence College ran Operation Christmas Child where parents and pupils fill shoeboxes with items to be sent to children in poorer and/or war torn countries.
But Operation Christmas Child is connected to Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organisation which has Franklin Graham as president. Rev Graham has publicly aired his views against same-sex relationships.
The complaint resulted in the school dropping its support for the campaign but this has now angered other parents.
The Thanet parents first complained in November 2021 but had to escalate their concerns through a three-stage process. The complaint was originally dismissed by the school at stage one and two but finally upheld in part by a Panel which notified the parents of its findings in January this year. The couple were backed by the Humanists UK organisation which supports non-religious beliefs.
The parents said: “We were concerned that the school had decided to support the Operation Christmas Child charity, which is run by a right-wing US evangelical organisation. .
“We’ve been through a long complaints process and during this, we learned that the school considers itself to be an ‘evangelical Christian foundation’ – though we say it hides this from parents.”
The couple say they were disturbed at the ‘fundamentalist’ ethos of the 39 Articles and the Doctrine of the CofE expressed by the school’s chaplain and, they say, by extension the school. This dictates that marriage can only be between a man and a woman and other relationships are a sin.
The couple complained that they believe the view is homophobic, adding: “This is particularly worrying, we feel, for any children who may be confused or uncertain about their sexuality.”
The panel said further due diligence on Samaritan’s Purse should have been carried out, as the college owes a duty of care to all its pupils whatever their religion, gender or sexual orientation. Supporting Operation Christmas Child, because of its connection to Samaritan’s Purse, meant the college failed in its duty of care.
It also found that the college should be clearer about its evangelical status saying it wasn’t a lack of honesty but there was a lack of clarity.
The panel findings added that a narrow reading of the Thirty Nine Articles, representing the Christian ethos of the college, may be in conflict with some UK legislation but was in line with the law of the Church of England.
Panel members found the Chaplain expressed belief in that ‘narrow’ reading and it was said this also represented the Christian ethos of the college.
However, the personal view of the Head of College was found to be ‘more liberal’ and the school’s Equal Opportunities Policy said to be inclusive of sexual orientation and gender.
Statement to parents
A school statement to parents said: “The College carried out due diligence on Samaritan’s Purse… and believed its values were in line with the College’s Christian ethos. We now accept our research, which was conducted in good faith, did not give sufficient consideration of the wider potential impact that supporting Operation Christmas Child may have on the existing College community, or a proper assessment of the charitable purposes of Samaritan’s Purse. We have therefore decided not to support this charity in future…
“Having reflected on the implication that supporting Operation Christmas Child is an endorsement of Samaritan’s Purse, we recognise that it sent a confusing message to our pupils, who are entitled to fair and equal treatment irrespective of their religion, gender or sexual orientation.”
The parents said: “Current and prospective parents should be aware of the school’s “mission as an evangelical Christian foundation.” In an email to us they said clearly that they recognised supporting the charity would “alienate some members of the community”. They had all the facts at that time but still chose to go ahead.”
Anger at decision
However another parent, who wished to be anonymous, has objected to the ditching of Operation Christmas Child, saying: “I feel very let down as the school has failed to stand with Christian children and parents on this issue. It is a betrayal of the purpose for which the College was founded.
“Many Christian parents, especially in Africa, have spent vast amounts of money sending their children to board at the school because of its Christian ethos. They would expect their children’s faith to be respected and not for support for a charity to be dropped on these discriminatory grounds.
“The school is trying to have a foot in both the secular and Christian world, which just won’t work.”
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, said: “This school has an amazing history linked to its Christian roots and has sadly bowed the knee to pressure from a small minority pressure group – Humanists UK.
“How sad to see a Christian school, with such an amazing heritage, pressured into abandoning its support for one of the most effective emergency relief organisations in the world just because it won’t water down what it believes in.
“Franklin Graham is a man whose faith drives him to serve the poorest and most in need across the globe. What he has achieved through Samaritan’s Purse is nothing short of miraculous. He’s a faith hero just like his father Billy.
“This is another in a long line of cancel culture stories where the pressure of an ideological LBGT lobby has forced people in charge into submission because they are scared to resist. This has to stop.”
Christian Concern is an advocacy group described as ‘one of the most prominent evangelical organisations in the United Kingdom.’ The group says it “communicates God’s truth in public debate.”
St Lawrence College declined to comment due to “obligations of confidentiality.” The school website states: “The school remains true to its Christian foundations but recognises the needs of a community from many backgrounds.
“People with different world views are part of our family, bound together by mutual respect and recognition of the importance of faith and morality.”