Bethlehem College’s Message to Gay Students: “Be Celibate”
As my old school awaits a report from the Education Review Office, it makes its stance clear. In a very murky way.
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I first wrote about Bethlehem College in June of last year. My old school had snuck some stuff into an agreement parents had to sign indicating that marriage was only for the straights. Not the most inclusive message for kids.
This was hardly a surprising belief from a Christian school, but it was an issue because the school isn’t completely private - it’s state integrated, meaning it gets big lumps of taxpayer money. And it has to follow guidelines laid down by the Ministry of Education - like being inclusive.
After a bunch of media reports, the Ministry of Education decided to take some action and The Education Review Office (ERO) has visited Bethlehem College several times since Webworm’s stories.
As Bethlehem College awaits the ERO report, I figured they’d keep their heads down about what got them in trouble in the first place - so I was surprised to see they had an upcoming talk posted on their Facebook page: “The Bible, Gender and Sexuality.”
The Facebook post from early August noted that Sam Bloore would be talking at the event. “With a background in medicine and theology, Sam brings a wealth of knowledge around the topics of gender and identity,” a further post announced.
I was curious what the talk would be about – especially given the ERO was specifically interested in the school’s stance on LGBTQI matters – so was thrilled when someone who has links to the school told me they’d go along and report back.
This is what they wrote to me a few days ago:
I was apprehensive to attend but thought it only fair to try and hear their side of the story. Maybe they had been misunderstood and they are actually pretty progressive and reasonable.
The talk started out well and I was feeling hopeful. Lots of empathy, lots of talk of how this guy has spoken with many people going through this personally, lots of talk about the realities and pain that people are facing who are grappling with these issues. I thought, “Oh great, they are finally putting themselves in other people's shoes and now thinking about how to support them better.”
But then it just started to go down another path and my only conclusion at the end of the talk is it’s safe to say… if you are a student at Bethlehem College and identify differently from the hetero norm… you are pretty much fucked.
It does make me sad that kids have to grow up with all this guilt shit, masked under a smile, a bunch of flowery words and a “caring and empathetic” listening ear.
Moral of the story - in a nutshell despite all the fluff and random rants that the message seems to go on - we need to empathise and support people who are dealing with these feelings, but basically the Bible states clearly that there isn’t any wiggle room in the scripture. Acting on homosexual desires is an abomination to the Lord.
Alternative options proposed for those who have same-sex desires… which were kind of pitched as viable options that we should be celebrating the benefits of more and more:
1. Enjoying a life of celibacy
2. Being single can be really meaningful too. And maybe we should be realistic about how hard marriage is, so you could consider being single instead.
3. Remember your sexuality isn’t your identity (it’s apparently only a small part), so you just need to learn to suppress those desires and find all the other ways to build your identity outside of the sexual piece. Apparently that part of your identity will magically shrink down to insignificance because you filled your life with everything else under the sun to distract you from your sexual desires.
Sam Bloore seemed to suggest celibacy can be a great way to live.
They ran out of time for questions… I was quite keen to ask the guy, “Well if you think celibacy is such a great option, why don’t you go down that path yourself? Or are you just grateful that you like women so… phew…lucky you?”
It seems even though they admit now that your sexual orientation isn’t a choice and that you are born that way… they’ve just moved the “choice” part down the path slightly.
So now you don’t choose who you are attracted to… but you do still choose if that becomes part of your identity and whether you want to act out any of the behaviours.
The talk left me feeling sad, deflated and icky. Especially surrounded by a bunch of people nodding and agreeing along.
I have now officially lost hope that anything is really going to change at Bethlehem College. The school itself didn’t have anything to say at the session. They just got this “expert” in to pretty much be the mouthpiece.
I was curious to find out a bit more about Sam Bloore - a man seemingly encouraging the gay kids of New Zealand to explore a life of celibacy. I quickly came upon the Venn Foundation:
Venn Foundation is an education institution. We help people embrace the riches of Scripture and the Christian tradition for the good of their homes, workplaces, universities, churches and communities in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
After graduating from medicine and bioethics at Otago University, he worked as a doctor for five years before a gradual career change saw him join the staff of his church and complete a Master of Arts in Pastoral Theology.
One of the first things that comes to mind when reading his bio is that he appears to not have indulged in the joy and fulfillment that comes with a life of celibacy himself.
“He and his wife Julia are happiest on, in or near the sea—and their three young children, [names removed by Webworm], take up most of their spare time.”
Sam’s website also announces that he has joined the board of the Parenting Place.
That organisation made the news back in 2020 for being associated with a counselor called David Riddell. If you want to feel a bit ill, you can watch Riddell’s unsettling YouTube videos here. He practices conversion therapy, and the Parenting Place had listed him as an “approved counsellor.”
CEO Greg Fleming says the goal of the organisation is to see “every child to be deeply loved and every person to be truly known”.
I recognised Greg Fleming’s name… because in 2015 he was made CEO of the Venn Foundation, the organisation where Sam Bloore is a teaching fellow.
Greg Fleming has been CEO of the Venn Foundation which he co-founded to provide unique educational opportunities for young adults keen to be involved in social innovation.
I mean this is all fine and well, I just think it’s interesting that these people all exist in the same spaces, and often can be found giving each other jobs.
Fleming is now standing for National in the Maungakiekie electorate. If he wins, he’ll bolster the party’s powerful Christian caucus, which includes transport spokesperson Simeon Brown, who opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage and the banning of conversion therapy, and Ōrākei MP Simon O’Connor, who in recent speeches to parliament has noted the Nashville shooter wasn’t a “white cis man”, and stressed that it should be the responsibility of the “mother and the father” to raise a child.
But back to Bethlehem College.
I decided I wanted clarity on the message Sam gave, so wrote him an email:
I am currently writing about the talk you just gave at the Bethlehem College performing arts center on the topic of “Sexuality and Ethics”.
I have notes from your talk, and wanted to clarify some of the points you made about people who are not in a heterosexual relationship:
1) Do you teach that homosexual relationships should be non-sexual, and that gay people should develop ways to enjoy a life of celibacy?
2) Do you teach that being single is good advice for someone that finds themself attracted to the same sex?
3) Do you teach that sexuality is not your entire identity, and so homosexuals should just learn to suppress those feelings and find other ways to build their identity?
4) When did you join the Parenting Place?
5) Are you celibate and if not, do you believe you would enjoy a life of celibacy?
I didn’t get a reply, but he did call me.
I made the idiotic mistake of agreeing to speak off the record when he asked. Off-the-record is fine when you’re talking background with the CIA or a whistleblower - it’s the absolute pits when you’re talking to someone who you just want some simple answers out of.
I’d summarise those 33 minutes as a combination of him trying to find common ground with me (listing friends we had in common, telling me positive things about my work), whilst ducking and diving around answering anything in any meaningful way.
After 33 minutes I became frustrated, telling him I sent him very clear questions he could answer if he wanted to. I hung up.
To his credit he did reply by my 5pm deadline the next day. Unfortunately he did what he did on the phone and refused to answer any of my very simple questions directly.
My main takeaway is that yes, he suggested celibacy as the solution. But he used slightly odd reasoning, explaining it wasn’t his advice per se, so much as other people’s advice that he was relaying. “Don’t shoot the messenger” is how I’d describe his take.
Essentially, I was drawing on material from books written by Christian authors who describe themselves as gay or same-sex attracted and who have chosen a celibate life-style.
The Plausibility Problem: The church and same-sex attraction – Ed Shaw
Gay and Catholic: Accepting my sexuality, finding community and living my faith – Eve Tushnet
7 Myths About Singleness – Sam Allberry
Gay Girl, Good God: The story of who I was and who God has always been – Jackie Hill Perry
Spiritual Friendship: Finding love in the church as a celibate, gay Christian – Wesley Hill.
They note that celibacy for single Christians – whatever their age, status or orientation – is just one option. They know that it is not an option that will be right for everyone, but it is one that they feel doesn’t get much airtime in 21st-century culture – it earns them ridicule in most non-Christian settings and, increasingly, in church settings as well. Nevertheless, they claim to have found genuine contentment in that decision to remain faithful to their interpretation of the traditional Christian ethic.
It’s strange when you think about it: Bethlehem College using Sam as a mouthpiece for discussion so they can keep a distance, and Sam keeping a distance from his own logic by saying he’s simply “drawing on material from books.”
No-one in the entire system is taking any kind of responsibility for the outlandish messages they’re handing out.
When I’d talked to him, before I hung up the phone, I’d told him that a message of denying who you are - of locking part of yourself away - is a horrific take.
As I wrote about earlier in Webworm, it’s what a Christian therapist told me to do over 20 years ago. At the time I listened and tried very hard - and let’s just say I’m still sorting that shit out. Also - that was over two decades ago. Have we not learnt a fucking thing in 20 years? Some people around me have. Bethlehem College has not.
To be clear - it’s not the celibacy. It’s the active loathing of your sexual identity. Celibacy is fine if that’s your thing. But the active suppression and hatred for your authentic self that compels it is not.
Webworm reached out to the Department of Education for comment, who said the ERO is yet to file their report they started over a year ago.
Webworm reached out to the ERO to ask how the report was coming along. They said they couldn’t make my deadline.
Webworm reached out to Bethlehem College for comment. No comment was received.
Sunday, August 27 update: The ERO has released this IOA document related to their investigation into Bethlehem College.
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