John Fairbrother, a retired primary school teacher who taught in inner Birmingham during the 1970s-90s, recalls a ‘run-in’ with the political correctness of his day.
A new head teacher was appointed to the school. She was an advisor to the city education committee on multi-faith and multi-culturism, and picked up the fact that, when I took school assembly, I always did a Bible story or spoke on a Bible theme — like ‘the use of the tongue’ — beginning by quoting words of Jesus from the Bible.
At Christmas, I told the story of Christ’s birth, using slides from the Jesus of Nazareth film. With each slide I read appropriate words from the Bible, so that the children and their parents could see where the commentary was coming from.
One day the head called me in to talk about my views on multi-faith education. I explained that I believed there was only one true faith, and so could only teach the Christian faith.
Becoming a little aggressive, she told me that I would have to teach other faiths, or she would call in our area inspector and I would have to face a tribunal hearing, perhaps being dismissed. I was given a few days to think this over.
I arranged to meet with several Christian brothers in the church for prayer and advice. One or two advised that I should agree to teach other faiths and say to the children that, though some believed them, I personally did not as I was a Christian.
But, as I pondered this suggestion, I thought that doing it this way would give the impression to young children that, because some believed false religion then that was another plausible and acceptable way to God.
One or two others suggested that I should look at good things in other faiths also dealt with in the Bible. But I felt that Christianity is not first and foremost all about good works. I knew well the verses in Ephesians 2, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works so that no one can boast’.
The next verse (Ephesians 2:10) goes on to explain that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which he prepared in advance for us to do. So if the Lord prepared them, he alone must have all the glory, and none other. I also knew that the Bible taught that we should be totally devoted to God and his will alone.
To be fair, I think some of these brothers were thinking of my wife and two young children. But my Lord’s will was greater and I could not teach other faiths. So I went back a few days later and told the head teacher of my decision.
She had already been in touch with a school inspector. She told me I would have to meet with three school inspectors in the city council offices and explain my position. I decided to face it alone — but not alone! I knew that, from my conversion, the Holy Spirit lived in me. I had committed to memory, years before this incident, verses from Philippians 4: ‘The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’.
I was grateful that the Holy Spirit brought this Scripture back to memory, as well as other comforting Scriptures. I had to wait a couple of weeks for the hearing. I did have some anxiety, but the Spirit helped me and I lost no sleep the night before the tribunal. I did not tell my wife, not wanting to cause her the pain of worrying.
In the offices that morning, I was called into a room to be faced by the three inspectors: my own school area inspector, an atheist; a Sikh; and a Hindu.
They asked me why I would not teach other faiths. I replied with the words, ‘Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me’.
Outraged by this answer, they told me I would have to resign immediately. I replied that I would not and that they would have to fire me. There was silence and then I was asked to leave and go back to my work at school, not an easy thing to do.
I heard nothing for weeks. Then our area school inspector visited the school. He came into my classroom — with bad news, I thought. But he said that he was just visiting. He looked at the children’s work, talked to them and then left with words of praise for what he had seen. A few months later, I heard that he had left that local education authority and taken a job in another.
Within 18 months, the head teacher, too, decided to leave. I never did teach any other so-called ‘faith’ and I felt sure that the mainly Muslim children respected me for this. Their parents also had more respect for someone who stood up for what he believed in, than for those who said it doesn’t matter what you believe.
After the tribunal, there were many good days when I felt God’s Spirit moving in glorious ways in the school. I continued there for a number of years and was blessed when two Christian ladies joined the staff. One was a converted Hindu, the other an evangelical Anglican, whose husband worked for Scripture Union and often visited the school to lead assemblies.
The lady converted from Hinduism was eager to share her Christian faith and one day I overheard her reading Isaiah 53 with the new head teacher.
I am conscious that today there are many teachers facing situations similar to what I faced. I have met some of them in my travels. The area I now live in, far from any big city, introduced ‘Humanism’, some time back, into its RE syllabus. It is still in the curriculum and teachers are being asked to teach it.
Every morning in my ‘quiet time’ with the Lord, after praying for my believing family, I begin with earnest prayer for nearly twenty Christian teachers I know, who value prayer for themselves in their work.