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More than a one-night stand

David Henderson talks to the man from the manse who insists marriage can't be divorced from sex education

THE minister who injected a contentious dose of morality into the Church of Scotland's stance on sex education has spoken of young people's confusion on relationships. Sex education is geared to "one-night stands", the Rev Ian Watson told the General Assembly last week.

Mr Watson, a minister in Caldercruix, Airdrie, persuaded commissioners to overturn, on a 330-240 vote, the carefully crafted approach of the Church's education committee to the Scottish Executive's sex education guidelines, now in schools.

The surprise victory commits the Church to promoting "no sex before marriage" and emphasising the value and benefits of marriage, bringing it into line with the Roman Catholic Church. "Good," Mr Watson said in a TES Scotland interview.

The Rev Jack Laidlaw, education convener, opposed the change. "We have to deal with the realities of where young people are," Mr Laidlaw told commissioners. The Church would monitor how guidelines were being introduced in schools and the place of marriage within the content.

Mr Laidlaw, former religious education adviser in Tayside, said: "I am more concerned about the processes of learning. You can specify the content but it's how that is taught, how students learn, how they take on board questions of values and judgments. It's as important as content."

He believed Jack McConnell, Education Minister, had endorsed most of the Church's concerns over the repeal of Section 2A and the new sex education guidelines for schools.

Mr Watson, however, won substantial support for stiffening the Church's resolve on sex education. He told The TES Scotland: "Young people feel pressure that it is not normal to be a virgin when you turn 16, whereas research shows that teenagers are not engaging in sex. They need to know that."

He continued: "Where young people are is confusion. They do not know what is right and what is wrong and they are taking their standards fromtelevision. The message from the media, particularly popular television programmes, tends to be negative towards marriage and positive towards a string of relationships. Young people soak up that message and what is trendy.

"The consequences of that are increased abortions, increases in sexually transmitted diseases and broken hearts. So what I want the Church to be doing is encouraging the promotion of marriage and sex abstinence before marriage. This should have a place in the school community because it's often laughed at."

Mr Watson is chaplain at Glengowan primary in Caldercruix and at Polmont Young Offenders' Institution. He is married with two young children.

This was his first General Assembly, three years after taking up the ministry. He admits drawing knowledge from materials produced by the Christian Institute while he notes the "dramatic" effect on teenage pregnancies of the "total abstinence" programme in the United States.

But is he part of a right-wing, traditionalist backlash? "I'm not right-wing in politics. But I do have a concern to promote biblical standards and values and I do feel the Church does not do that enough. I am just concerned about moral matters," Mr Watson said. Recently he baptised the baby of an unmarried 16-year-old girl who was "willing to admit she was wrong" and wanted the child brought up in the care and nurture of the Church. "It's an offence against God, and it harms yourself and your children," he advises.

Mr Watson's views on marriage would sit comfortably with those of Cardinal Thomas Winning, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, a point he acknowledges. "Most marriages are good and most marriages last. There has been a liberal philosophy that there ought to be a multiplicity of types of relationships but research shows that is not true. Actually married couples flourish, and marriage is particularly good for men," he believes.

Children needed to know that marriage was good for them - and their finances. Heaven and earth, you might say.

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