Accelerated Christian Education back on the Jeremy Vine Show

Another thing Leaving Fundamentalism readers may have missed during my Great Blogging Silence: in January Accelerated Christian Education was discussed again on the Jeremy Vine Show, the biggest news discussion radio show in the UK. I was on it again, and this time the pro-ACE faction was represented by one Andrea Williams (here in her capacity as director of the Christian Legal Centre, although Williams is equally known for doing the same role for Christian Concern).

Not many people listened to the show on this kind of radio. [Image: Alan Levine, Flickr]
Not many people listened to the show on this kind of radio. [Image: Alan Levine, Flickr]
For the first time we debated ACE on Jeremy Vine back in 2014, listen here.

The context for this appearance was a pile of snap inspections of ACE schools that were reported in December 2016. Ofsted found nine ACE schools inadequate in one day. The Christian schools cried victim, a line the right wing media reported uncritically, while the Independent took a tougher line. (A lot happened while I wasn’t blogging.)

I can’t listen to the episode again because I get anxiety just listening to the introduction, but here’s the recording I have:

As I recall, this recording cuts off the subsequent phone-in, which is a shame because a former ACE home school student, Benjamin Thomas, called. His contribution was pretty spectacular, and he hadn’t previously spoken about ACE in public.

I’d like to pick up on the point I made about balance in my previous post. When this segment was broadcast, there were a fair few listeners complaining on Twitter that a creationist was being given equal time in a debate on the BBC. They suggested that this was false balance akin to including climate change deniers in debates, which the BBC had already been reprimanded for doing.

[I’ll preface this by saying that I think the BBC gets more stick than it deserves over bias. Neutrality is clearly an impossible task, but the BBC generally does a pretty good job.]

Andrea Williams is indeed a creationist. In a 2008 documentary, David Modell asked her how old she thought the world was. She guessed 4,000 years. She also characterises Islam as the work of the devil.

Here are some other facts that listeners to the Jeremy Vine Show weren’t told:

  • In 2012, Andrea Williams defended a psychotherapist who was struck off for offering gay cure therapy.
  • In 2015, she spoke at a gay cure conference
  • Christian Concern, Williams’ other organisation, publishes a book called Jephthah’s Children: The innocent casualties of same-sex parenting. At the time of the Jeremy Vine broadcast, their Twitter banner was dedicated to promoting this book.

Some observers have characterised Christian Concern as a hate group for these and similar reasons. This is who Christian Education Europe have chosen to represent them.

When ACE is discussed in the media, it is right that there is someone there to stick up for them. My goal in all my campaigning has been to stimulate a robust public debate about faith schools, not to insist that all my opinions should be made government policy. Where there are reasonable points to be made in defence of ACE and similar schools, the public should hear them. But it should be a requirement that the points made are true, and that audiences are aware of relevant information about who is making them. Where accusations of hate speech exist, the BBC should consider carefully whether the speaker is worthy of a platform.

I am also aware that it might appear that my criticism of Andrea Williams verges on ad hominem: You believe in gay cures, therefore your defence of Christian schools is invalid. That is not my argument. One of the central arguments against ACE is that the curriculum and the schools that use it are homophobic. It is therefore relevant that the public should be aware that ACE was being defended by an advocate of gay cures. This did not happen. I might have pointed out myself, but I didn’t find out until after the broadcast.

If you listen to the segment, you will also hear at different points Andrea and I accused each other of misrepresenting the facts. Listeners were left with a he-said she-said version of events with no easy way to judge which of us was telling the truth. It is surely not beyond the BBC’s fearsome fact-checking abilities to provide an independent assessment of each of our claims.

My mum recently contacted me, contrasting my Jeremy Vine experience with that of a celebrity she’d heard interviewed about the experience of growing up with an alcoholic father. The interviewer was deeply sympathetic. The BBC did not invite a representative of the alcohol industry to come on the air and argue that there is no link between parental alcoholism and child neglect, and that the celebrity’s difficulties were attributable to some other cause. Yet I had to go on and deal with Andrea’s attacks, which grew increasingly personal.

Of course, the idea that children are better off with non-alcoholic parents is uncontroversial, whereas the idea that parents shouldn’t give their children an anti-scientific, homophobic, sexist education in a cultish private school is apparently not yet a settled matter in British politics. Until it is, it is fair that the BBC includes their defenders in programmes. I just wish they’d let their viewers know those people’s credentials, and point it out when they’re economical with the truth.

EDIT: This post originally linked to a recording of my 2014 appearance on Jeremy Vine, not the January 2017 one. That has now been corrected.

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