School Choice and the Evangelical Church
Every year at the end of January school choice becomes a topic of yellow scarves and celebrating the ability of parents and students to choose which kind of education best meets their needs. Many people around the country find it exhilarating, but for most, they just miss the whole issue. It is a shame, but it happens with hundreds of issues each day in our media-driven culture.
However, one of the voices that continues to be generally absent in this conversation is the evangelical protestant church. Now, I am not naive, I understand that this has been true generally for many years. However, the question I would like to ask today is WHY DOES THIS CONTINUE TO BE TRUE? I’d like to propose that it is a cultural bias that we must address as a Christian community if we are to be culturally relevant as the FUTURE evangelical church in America. We know from the most recent Barna research that pastors do not refer their parishioners to Christian schools (ACSI-Barna, 2017). From anecdotal research, we know that at times there is at best, a tense relationship between the evangelical church and Christian education. Have you ever wondered why?
Historically, the protestant church in America has been in love with public education since its inception. It started out as a reflection of the culture which was, by and large, significantly immersed in Judeo-Christian values. Although everyone in society wasn’t Christian, generally, culture reflected values that were Christian. One of the early challenges to this concept in education was the influx of Catholic education as immigration impacted our growing country. At that time, immigrants brought with them their chosen method of education, Catholic Christian schools. Those schools were very different than the public, primarily Protestant influenced, schools of the time. That moment in history pitted a challenge between private Catholic schools and public schools. With the Blane Amendment, the Protestant church pushed to make sure that Catholic schools and families could not receive the benefits that families in public schools received. The Blane Amendment movement was a significant reinforcer of what has become a strong partnership: public schools and the Protestant church. Interestingly enough, that partnership has withstood many tests: worldview in which the modern public-school movement (Dewey, etc.) has challenged the Christian worldview in the areas of science, history, educational thought, and other critical areas of life. The partnership has grown even stronger. Public Education delivers one of the engines that moves our culture more and more post-Christian. Not because it is evil, but because it is part of a cyclical reinforcing cycle that mirrors a secular culture and reinforces it. This relationship has survived the challenge of taking prayer out of public schools. Initially, the evangelical protestant church reacted strongly (including a push toward the establishment of Christian schools). Recently that conversation has shifted toward the aggressive trend of advancing gender diffusion, the loosening of sexual values, and much more. The relationship between the protestant church and public school proves to be a strong bond. One that has been a two-way street. Public education has provided paths to financial stability for many Christians through employment, incredible opportunities for the individuals who work there, and experiences for students. It is a very strong connection; I get it.
The challenges to the relationship are continuing. If you look at some of the most recent research about culture, we are seeing some interesting things. Did you watch the Barna/Impact 360 multicast about Generation Z recently (Barna, 2017)? If you have been concerned about negative trending of Christian values in age groups, there will be more to pile on. Our 19-year olds and those coming behind them are increasingly unsure of the reality of absolute truth, believing the lack of truth about gender identity. They believe a battle exists between science and religion (the Bible), and see little value in the church. This trend has only increased in recent generations, and we would believe will continue as culture continues to digress.
Is it time to look at Christian education as a more relative tool for impacting worldview, perspective, thought, and the biblical reality of relationships? Although it is far from perfect, if you look at the Cardus Study (Cardus Education Survey, 2011) it would appear that the Christian school movement has the opportunity to impact these things more than most other societal influences. And when partnered with the church and a stable, Godly family, it almost always becomes formidable in supporting the development of Christian values.
So, my challenge to the church is to consider moving into the area of discussion around school choice, and perhaps consider a new partner for the next generation that may be more suitable as a way of helping students connect the dots. Christian schools aren’t for everyone. Neither are public schools. But could it be possible for the church to become a significant force in helping parents have an opportunity to really choose? I am hoping for that miracle, because our future as the Evangelical Christian Culture may just depend on it. Happy School Choice Week!
Dr. D. Merle Skinner
Executive Director of the Christian Family & Children’s Center which operates Champion Christian School in Western PA