The Most Rev. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, endorsed the new Church of England guidelines.
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In new rules to counter bullying in its 4,700 schools, the Church of England said on Monday that children should be able to “play with the many cloaks of identity” in the classroom, fueling a debate over the handling of gender among the very young.

The discussion has illuminated deep divisions between Anglican conservatives defending traditional values and those seeking a more liberal approach.

In a directive called “Valuing All God’s Children,” the church said elementary school students “should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgment or derision.”

“For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment,” it said. “Childhood has a sacred place for creative self-imagining.”

The Most Rev. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who leads the Church of England and is the spiritual leader of the world’s 80 million Anglicans, endorsed the guidelines.

“We must avoid, at all costs, diminishing the dignity of any individual to a stereotype or a problem,” he wrote. “Church of England schools offer a community where everyone is a person known and loved by God, supported to know their intrinsic value.”

The Church of England issued rules to curb homophobic bullying in its schools in 2014, but the latest guidelines greatly expand the reach of its concerns.

“All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide,” Archbishop Welby wrote. “This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.”

While Britain has many kinds of schools, ranging from fee-paying to state-run, those affiliated with the Church of England are often prized by parents for offering a high standard of education.

But, in an era of increasingly vocal opposition to discrimination against people on the basis of sexuality or identity, the church itself is in turmoil over its handling of such issues.

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SOURCE: New York Times, Alan Cowell