Sexual Identity and Religious Education

The nature of inquiry learning encourages students to develop their inquiry skills; their understanding of topics and how to evaluate sources and synthesise knowledge into comprehensive and practical ways. This inquiry focus within learning means that the way curriculums are written includes inquiry questions. Supporting the teaching and learning around these questions are resources, textbooks and websites for teachers and students to access that support all of them to access and explore content.

The Diocese of Parramatta, its Bishop and leaders in Religious Education have been criticised for the ‘culture of inquiry’ in its curriculum along with supposedly teaching non-Catholic doctrines. This story continues to provoke righteous anger within me at the injustice around how these leaders, as well as teachers, in this Diocese have been targeted and abused on inaccurate information. Among the criticisms of the new Religious Education curriculum in the Diocese of Parramatta (NSW, Australia) is that the curriculum teaches:

“…about gender fluidity and atheism while supposedly fostering a culture of inquiry. A draft version of the curriculum contained questions about sexual identity but the curriculum did not list definitive answers to the questions.” Catholic News Agency

If you look at other curriculums in Australia for all other subjects, you will also see inquiry questions without definitive answers. As mentioned above, the structure of curriculums is informed by the inquiry method and supported by teacher professional learning, resources and textbooks. The issue that seems to have occurred as people interpret this new Religious Education curriculum is that the terms and inquiry questions have been misunderstood. Those condemning this curriculum are interpreting the inquiry questions and the content out of context and through the current political trends connected to gender and sexual orientation.

In the Year 10 unit What is the relationship between human dignity, sexuality, love and human flourishing, the words “gender fluidity” are not used at all. Where did this term, this interpretation, come from? Considering how politicised this topic has become in Australia, perhaps this inference has come from politicians.

The phrase “sexual identity” does appear in the most recent draft of this new curriculum. Let’s look at what this means in the Catholic context and in the context of the curriculum. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out. By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the one and the other. (CCC 2333, 2393)

This is what informs the teaching approaches of sexual identity in the Catholic Church. Fundamentally, we teach and respect the human dignity instilled in human beings through their creation. The misinterpretation of this term “sexual identity” in the current criticisms of the Diocese of Parramatta are very likely the result of political agendas within Australian society.

In the context of the highly misunderstood Religious Education curriculum of this Diocese, sexual identity is explored through the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality (a topic I have written about separately to show you how I am teaching this topic in this unit). As I mentioned earlier, there are inquiry questions in this curriculum (like all curriculums informed by inquiry-based learning) and there is Scripture, Church documents and essential content that inform what teachers need to address in their teaching and learning.

Among the Scripture used to inform the teaching and learning in this unit are:

  • So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
  • No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. (Luke 11:33–34)
  • Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)

These verses from Scripture are connected to and inform the Catholic Church’s teachings about human sexuality: “All that the Catholic Church teaches about human love and sexuality comes from this truth: that God, who is love, created all people in his image — male and female he created them — to share his love and therefore to reflect his love in the world and in their lives.” (USCCB)

This Religious Education curriculum provides a respectful space for students to explore and understand their value and dignity as human beings, hopefully dispelling the misconceptions around Catholic teachings. Catholicism is not a hateful, discriminative religion; Catholicism is a faith that promotes and supports human dignity and human flourishing. This unit in the new curriculum from the Diocese of Parramatta is about developing student understanding around their identity and dignity through the Church’s teachings on sexuality.

A high school teacher challenging the system and fighting injustices.