I’ve had a few people ask me questions about the situation described in my GoFundMe appeal, and also about my response to the situation. Let me try and answer a few of the most common ones:
Shouldn’t you have just kept your opinions/politics to yourself and then you would have avoided the whole situation?
Well, yes and no!
“No” because one of my accusers has made it clear that it wasn’t just the fact that I made my views public that was the problem. The problem is that I have these views at all. This is a direct quote from their notes to the Local Authority Designated Officer (responsible for safeguarding referrals), “Even if Peter removes posts, everyone knows that he holds these views“. (To this day, they haven’t stated what “these views” are).
“Yes” because if I’d kept my views private then maybe they would never have been found out.
What my situation has highlighted is that there is a narrow range of “acceptable” views; views which are “approved”. It is OK to hold & express these views (one of my accusers regularly did so on their own, public social media accounts), but it is not OK to even hold the contrary views – even privately.
It’s only a very short step from saying “you can’t have those socio-political views and work with children” to, “you can’t have Christian views and work with children“. In fact that is closer to the truth in this situation than you may think. Most – if not all – of the contentious issues I have commented on, I have simply reflected orthodox Christian doctrine. [Many of them would be shared by conservative Muslims too – that would make them more palatable I suspect].
I don’t like your views either. I’m not comfortable with someone in ministry having them.
That’s fine. There’s a very strong probability I’m not comfortable with some of your views either! But I don’t believe you should be barred from having them or from expressing them. Nor do I suspect they make you a safeguarding risk to children. If I only allowed people whose socio-political opinions I completely agreed with to educate my children, it’s highly likely they’d still be completely illiterate!
The idea that there is a very narrow set of social, philosophical & political views which can be held, and anything outside of these constitutes a “safeguarding risk” to children is a very frightening, tyrannical prospect.
I am not asking you to agree with my views. But I am asking you to agree that I can hold my views and still be an exemplary & conscientious youth & children’s worker – one who has proven over a very long period of time that my views present absolutely no safeguarding risk to the children or young people in my care.
I am more than happy to discuss & debate any of my views with anybody – and even explain my theological justifications for them. The liberty to freely exchange ideas is actually essential for a healthy, thriving society. Indeed, as one of the local schools I worked in was commended by Ofsted for encouraging this very thing amongst the pupils.
I’d really, really encourage you to please listen to this conversation to grasp the importance of the right to speak freely. It echos my experience this past year uncannily.
Why don’t you just let God vindicate you?
He has! I have already been found “not guilty” by everyone that matters. I am very grateful that the people making the judgements about me were rational, level-headed and balanced. They understood that although some of my views might be considered fringe/radical/contentious, they are also reasoned and reasonable parts of social, theological and political discourse. And – crucially in this instance – they present absolutely no safeguarding risk to children.
I am not pursuing this case for personal vindication, but because I sincerely believe that what is at stake are much more important, broader principles.
Isn’t this going to have a negative effect on being able to share the gospel?
I don’t know is the only honest answer. But what I do know that the only way not to offend anyone is not to say or do anything of substance or significance. As Jesus said, “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you“.
I believe that God is able to use all circumstances for His glory and purposes – even painful & divisive circumstances. At the heart of my situation is the ability to share thoughts, ideas & beliefs which others might disagree of even find offensive. If we allow that freedom to be eroded or removed, then we lose the freedom to share the gospel full stop.
Again, I would urge you to listen to this discussion on the fundamental importance of free-speech to all our other freedoms. Even if there are some short-term opportunities lost, history teaches us that handing over the liberty to speak freely is a greater threat to the gospel.
Shouldn’t you “turn the other cheek”?
If this were just a personal slight to my character or my reputation then yes, I should probably turn the other cheek. But here are some questions I have considered since this situation arose:
- How far do we extend this principle? Would Jesus have said, “If anyone cuts off your right arm, offer them the left arm also”; “If someone attacks your livelihood , offer them your life savings too?”
- If the “slap on the cheek” affects not only yourself but others, should we still offer up the other cheek? By making allegations against me, my accusers have not only ‘slapped my cheek’ but the cheek of everyone else who shares my views (and there are others I know of who work in the same schools and who happen to share many of my views).
But it is right that I should be challenged to respond to the situation in a Christian way. Let me share some of the scriptures that have challenged me in my situation:
- “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing.“.
- “Everyone must submit to governing authorities.“
- “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
- “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
I’m more than happy to explain how I have tried to put these principles into practice. But basically, the result of each attempt has been either futility or frustration. In fact, this attempt to “pay them back with a blessing“, simply resulted in me being referred to the safeguarding authorities again for potential ‘reputational risk’ (yes, seriously!!!).
Forgiveness is obviously an important Christian principle, and I have found myself having to question my own motives on a regular basis. I think I can say with all honesty that I bear my accusers no personal ill-will. However, I do not think personal forgiveness precludes seeking justice.
What are you trying to achieve?
You’ll understand if I don’t want to divulge the specific angles any potential legal case might take. However I would consider a successful remedy to the case to include these outcomes:
- Public disclosure of the specific views which were considered to constitute a “safeguarding risk”.
- A public statement acknowledging that anyone holding or expressing these views does not present a safeguarding risk.
- Appropriate disciplinary action where there is evidence of misconduct, malpractice, malice and/or prejudice
- A review of the procedural shortcomings exposed by the case.
An apology for the stress & anxiety their false allegations placed on myself, my family and on colleagues would not be unappreciated.
More broadly, I am hoping that it will give others the confidence to know that they will not be condemned as “safeguarding risks” because of their socio-political convictions. Just as Ofsted praised the children at one of the schools concerned for “…understanding everyone’s right to be able to freely express their opinion, and be listened to“, I believe the same right should be modelled by the adults.
Isn’t this a waste of your time/money/energy?
Possibly. But I’m not an accountant, I’m an activist! An example from my past my demonstrate this best …
In the 2010 general election there were no candidates standing in my constituency who I felt I could vote for. I could have moaned. I could have spoiled my ballot paper. I could have not voted at all. Instead, I decided to stand myself! It cost me ITRO £3,000 and hundreds of hours to not get elected! But I’m glad I did. A waste? Possibly. But I gave a voice for 267 people who might otherwise have felt the same as me. I stood for some principles I believe in. I gained all sorts of insights and hopefully challenged a few other people’s views too.
I certainly believe in the proverb “choose your battles wisely”. But I think the battle for freedom of speech, for freedom of expression, for freedom of thought, and the freedom from illiberal despotism and from genuine bigotry is a battle worth fighting. I think we have already conceded too much ground to the illiberal, censorious & self-righteous secular fundamentalists. This is my way small way of trying to reclaim some ground.
Even if I don’t get all the outcomes I want (which I intend to!), then if I have encouraged someone else to stand up and fight for themselves, or made some other potential antagonists think twice about making petty accusations, then it’s achieved something positive.
And finally, here’s what Jesus said when someone made accusations of Him getting involved in something “wasteful”!
How can I know the money I donate will be well spent?
GoFundMe have a donor guarantee scheme. But ultimately, when you contribute to a crowdfunding appeal or even a sponsored event, it comes down to trusting the individual involved.
In due course I will make public all the invoices and documents associated with this situation. But believe me, if I’d wanted a way to defraud people of their money I would not have chosen this way! I have already invested a great deal of my personal time & money into pursuing this case. I am pursuing it because I am utterly convinced that what is at stake are some fundamentally important principles: justice, free-speech, religious & political liberty. My case might not be much in the grand scheme of things but I believe that each of us have a responsibility to guard against the gradual erosion of hard-won freedoms & liberties.
In the event that there is any surplus at the end I shall contact everyone who has donated and offer them a pro-rate refund, or offer to pass the surplus onto some equivalent fund/organisation (e.g. Falsely Accused Carers & Teachers)