Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The Case for Liberal Evangelicals 3

posted by xscot mcknight

In a delicious irony, I was finishing up Balmer’s 3d chapter on education and democracy while on the TV in the living room Ann Coulter was being interviewed by Chris Mathews on MSNBC. They were outside; young students were in the audience. The mic was given to a young woman who asked Coulter how she could call herself a Christian and speak the way she had just spoken of Al Gore. Coulter was stunned a bit, and resorted, instead of addressing how Christians ought to address others in the public forum, to calling this young student a “Miss Smarty Pants.” In the same few minutes she criticized Democrats for not addressing the substance of her book but instead addressing only her words. Ah, Coulter, look in the mirror.
I don’t like it that she wears a cross about her neck. It doesn’t fit.
But this post is not about her, but about Randy Balmer’s book, Thy Kingdom Come. In part, it is about her, because Balmer’s book is directed in part against such views.
This chapter can be found in thesis on p. 93. Here goes:
First, “Whatever common culture we have attained in this country has come about largely though the agency of public education. At the risk of sounding mawkish, I truly believe that public schools served to make America what it is by helping us forge a mutual understanding of one another as Americans” (93).
Second, “Homeschooling, school vouchers, and charter schools all diminish the possibilities for such understanding” (93).
Third, this produces a “ghetto mentality” and to “heightened segregation” (93) while it accuses public education as “government indoctrination centers” (91).
Fourth, therefore, “real Christians, those who take seriously the teachings of Jesus, should be fighting against voucher programs and charter schools because they perpetuate divisions, rather than reconciliation, within society” (93).
Fifth, “The future of American democracy hangs in the balance in the tussle over homeschooling, school vouchers, and public education” (95).
Sixth, withdrawal of both students and funds from public education exacerbates social problems like intolerance, racism, and economic inequities. It favors the wealthy.
Balmer trots around America in this chapter and dips into a Lutheran and public school in Cleveland, the legal cases over public funds being used for religious education, and to Patrick Henry College. Christian parents, he says, have every right to religious education but “at their own expense” (82).



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Chris Jones

posted July 28, 2006 at 6:58 am


Scot,
You mentioned homeschooling in point 2, does he include homeschooling in pts 4,5, & 6?
I have a few points for Balmer.
We homeschool (and I agree that even homeschooling favors the wealthy..though we are not wealthy) but it does not reduce funding for public school. Our county in Georgia provides ‘services’ that allows them to collect funding for our children. All we have to do is fill out some forms and the county can count our children.
Second, we homeschool in order teach our children about the kingdom and about justice, something the public schools do not do. Our prayer is that our homeschooling will be used by the Lord to mold young people to be blessings to the nation and not simply good, American consumers. I think (though the publc schools are good at teaching the three r’s) the common culture created by public schools is a culture of competition and consumerism.
Third, though I disagree that non-public school education leads directly to his concerns, his concerns are concerns christian parents should take seriously. These are issues we have been conscious of since we have been homsecooling. We have been conscious NOT to fall into a ghetto mentality.



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rick

posted July 28, 2006 at 7:07 am


Scot-
Does he admit to concerns/problems with the current state of public education which may encourage parents to remove their children?



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 7:10 am


Rick,
Yes, he acknowledges the problems and wants Christians to remain to help fix them.



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Chris Jones

posted July 28, 2006 at 7:19 am


But can we ? I struggle with this issue: should we stay or should we go? What would it look like to fix the problem? Higher sat scores? But why do we want higher sat scores? So that folks can get into college and get a ‘good education’ i.e. a high paying job. But who has decided that a pharmacist should be paid more than a school teacher? Yhwh, the God of Justice? Probably not.
In my view, the whole educational system is partial while our Lord is impartial. For many, education is an idol.



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a different rick

posted July 28, 2006 at 7:20 am


My daughter (18) and son (9) have always been in public schools for these very reasons – to form ways in which my family and I can engage in the public schools and be forces of good – lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness – bringing Christian worldview into relationships rather than yielding turf to those outside of Christ. It has created many positive opportunities and relationships. As for the impact on my children, I wouldbe hard-pressed to find children of their respective ages who are more faithful disciples than they – and I amnot the only person who has said so.
I guess all that means I agree with Spencer’s Balmer’s concerns about the withdrawal of many Christians from schools.
Rick
Covenant Pastor



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chris jones

posted July 28, 2006 at 7:40 am


I think this issue is so contextual: the school system and your children. This is an issue that takes wisdom and discernment for each parent. The question is not results (not all homeschooled kids embrace Christ and not all public schooled kids embrace christ) but faithfulness as parents. Is our educational decision as parents an expression of faith? If so, amen to your decision.



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Danny Zacharias

posted July 28, 2006 at 7:47 am


For many homeschooling parents, the issue of socializing and rubbing shoulders is the biggest struggle and something they work at. Their kids are involved in other activities and sports, etc., to keep their “candle lit”. I haven’t read the book (though I intend to) but this kind of argument seems so surface and unfair to the reasons why parents choose to homeschool. Perhaps it is different in Canada than the states, but homeschooling “favoring the wealthy” is certainly not the reality in Canada.
Danny



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 7:52 am


Chris,
Thanks for your comments. Since my father and others in our families are public school teachers, I tend to agree with Kent on the homeschool and Christian school front. Having said that, no one can contest the right of private schools.
But Balmer’s issue is not about the right or the advisability in specific situations, but the trend and the rationale. The trend is a massive increase in homeschooling and private Christian schools. The rationale tends to avoid the long term impact such moves will have on the American Democracy and the capacity for Christians who have been so educated to understand the diversity of the American public and to find their way into tolerance of others.
In other words, Balmer’s chapter is about Christians deconstructing democracy through private education. Imagine, if you will, all Christians doing this — what would the impact be? Massive and dangerous segregation.



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Jacob

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:05 am


I think Balmer sees a real problem and is trying to guilt trip Christians to accept his solution – which won’t work.
First, if public schools have made us what we are, then his complaint about who we’ve become (i.e. homeschoolers, pro-voucher private schoolers, etc.) is really a complaint against public education.
Second, the current public school system is already divided by geography and income, favoring the wealthy, and in no way providing an equal educational experience to attendees. People (not just Christians) who can afford it quickly move into wealthy neighborhoods so their children can get a better public education. Schools are funded by property taxes. So the only way for Christians to make a difference would be to move into slums and build expensive houses in those slums – but that would depend on the presumtion that Christians can afford to build expensive houses, and that enough of these wealthy Christians would move into the neighborhood to significantly raise the property taxes. None of this is dependent on these “wealthy Christians” even having children.
The only way to “fix” the inequity of public education is to break the way funding is done. Instead of tying funding to local property taxes, let’s give an equal number of dollars toward the education of every student in a state, including federal, state, and local, and private funding sources. Funds raised through other means (i.e. donations, fundraisers, etc.) should also be thrown into the kitty and evenly distributed. Given the fact that we make decisions about education through a democratic process, this will never happen. Neither of the two prominent American political parties is really concerned about the education of the poor or the system would have been fixed a long time ago.
Concern for public education of the poor is important, but Balmer’s “solution” looks like a swing-n-a-miss to me.



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Paul D.

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:09 am


Well said, Scot. Our observations confirm the “ghetto mentality” and intolerance prevalent among the Christian school community.
As a public school teacher, my wife Diana, readily attests to the positive influence of Christian teachers and parents involved in public schools. I served as a local school committee chair for several years.
Our three daughters (25, 24 & 23) all attended public schools, including “inner city” schools with highly diverse populations. It was not always easy — one of the most difficult times was when our eldest daughter witnessed a knifing incident on her middle school bus. But the overall experience was definitely positive.
Our girls gained an understanding and empathy for people of other cultures, as well as for their own Christian world-view in perspective. And they are able to defend their faith intelligibly and respectfully, and involved with their world.
We whole-heartedly endorse the plea for Christians to be involved in public education.



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Paul D.

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:14 am


By the way, I am likely much more conservative socially and politically than Balmer. I agree with Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, more often than disagree, though I do find their style obnoxious. I much prefer George Will (and a great baseball fan as well).



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chris jones

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:15 am


Scot,
I do not know if the deconstruction of the American democracy is such a bad thing.
Not sure I agree that “massive and dangerous segregation” would occur if all christian parents created communities of kingdom centered educational systems.
I am troubled by the mindset of Christian homsechoolers and christian private schools. I try to get homeschooling parents to think through these issues (I am the homeschooling parent in our family. It makes me the odd man out since 99% of the homeschoolers are moms)I lament the private school system that favors the rich. I wonder how they call themselves christian.
BUT still, though no disrespect is intended for your dad, the public school system promotes injustice and the class system itself. I give thanks for Christians involved in the system but we need to be realistic about the goal of the public school system.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:16 am


Jacob,
You have legitimate concerns and an interesting resolution proposal — reducing it all to money and giving each the same and then choice.
The issue, however, is not so much the problems with public education and how to fix that, but the impact of Christians withdrawal on the American Democracy.
Some of you have surely seen this issue addressed in private school discussions. What was said?



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Denny Burk

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:32 am


Ann Coulter, a Christian? I don’t think she knows what Christianity is.



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Frank Ritchie

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:32 am


Hi Scot, good post.
I have a couple of friends who were homeschooled. It interests me how often they ask question about basic things relating to our differing cultures here in NZ. They also seem to have a strong sense of rejection of anything that isn’t within their own culture. For instance, they can’t understand why I would wish to learn to speak Maori, the other official language of our country and the language of our indigenous people.
I was considering why they couldn’t grasp it and this afternoon it dawned on me that growing up, they never had to cross the cultural borders in their friendships, they never had to learn and respect the cultures of others because they never occupied the same space… in a sense, they were segregated from our other cultures. For me it drove home the importance of placing my own children (we have our first on the way at the end of September) in the public school system…. which many Christians are very wary of here at the moment.



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Glenn

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:35 am


“real Christians, those who take seriously the teachings of Jesus, should be fighting against voucher programs and charter schools because they perpetuate divisions, rather than reconciliation, within society.”
Really? My Uncle (a pastor) founded a private Christian school in our area over 15 years ago. They did a long term study and found the county public school system spent 5x more per student than the private school and yet the private school’s academic results were by far superior. The student peer pressure is much more positive than what you might find in a public school, the teachers teach based on vocational calling and the parents are allowed greater ownership in the private school than what is possible in a public school. I think the issue for many Cristian parents who send their kids to private schools is simply – what is the best educational opportunity I am able to offer for my child. Those who support voucher programs in my opinion are simply trying to be better stewards with tax dollars and want public schools to change in order to be competitive. May real Christians who take seriously the teachings of Jesus continue to have the liberty to disagree on these issues and sharpen one another.



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Susan

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:35 am


Bravo on your comments about Coulter…but I digress…
I just completed a major paper in which I examine various views of culture and its relationship to the church. Balmer’s statement from page 93 that you quote here, Scot, is true, and this has been due in large part to the early influence on the American educational system of the writings of Matthew Arnold, who believed culture is the “pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world.” The means of accomplishing this perfection was, therefore, education. His work, “An Essay on Political and Social Culture” in Culture and Anarchy can be read online at Culture and Anarchy I do not, by the way, align myself with Arnold’s philosophy of education, though we do share a surname in common ;)
On a completely different note, one of my daughters attends Patrick Henry College. She will graduate this coming Spring. A favorite spoof on the place is found here: A Day in the Life(by the way, they now offer a few more degrees than “Government” but it is still hilarious.



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rick

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:52 am


I am concerned about the sweeping generalizations being expressed here. We are talking about influential children here, not tools for a parent’s ministry.
There can be a both/and solution, rather than an either/or. We try to encourage our kids to become more dedicated followers of Christ. How we encourage that in each child is different, since each child is different. 1 of my kids is in public school, 1 is homeschooled, and 1 is completing homeschooling and about to enter public school. Our decisions on this take into consideration our family’s missional mindset, the school system, and each child.
The question becomes: is our goal to impact public schools for Christ now, no matter the cost; or is our goal trying to raise up a generation that will impact the world for Christ, hopefully now, but certainly later.



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RJS

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:59 am


Although situations differ and there are circumstances that warrant Christian Schools and/or home schooling, and circumstances where I would consider it, by and large the removal of Christian kids and the involvement of Christian parents from the schools is a disaster and accelerates the decline.
In most cases there will never be such an open opportunity to reach parents in your community than as part of the cohort of parents working together in elementary school classrooms. I don’t mean preaching or witnessing overtly, I mean building relationships. In our community the parents know each other because of the schools and community rec.
The opportunity for witness in secular private schools is also large. In the vast majority of cases homeschooling and Christian Schools results in withdrawl (circle the wagons!).
Evangelism requires relationship – so we must be involved daily in the environments where it is possible to build these relationships.
Now I will be in big trouble, because this is a hot-button issue and most of my kids Christian friends were/are either home-schooled or went/go to Christian elementary and middle schools. And we live in a region with good public schools.



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Brian

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:01 am


For those who are interested, John Taylor Gatto provides quite a different analysis of contemporary public education. A number of his essays can be found online. Here are a couple places to start.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Taylor_Gatto
http://www.spinninglobe.net/gattopage.htm



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Susan

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:23 am


Rick,
I agree with you, and believe therefore that the most “Christian” approach (since that seems to be Balmer’s aim: to promote that which is most “Christian”) to education is to love, care for, and nurture our children in every way that helps them grow up in Christ. It is the parent’s responsibility to decide how this is best achieved for each child. My children’s educational paths were all different.
However it must be said that the mass exodous of Christians from every sector of society has not at all helped toward the climate: personally, I fault the current condition on that exodous, not on all the “pagans” out there in culture. The answer to your final question lies in what your worldview tells you about how Christian influence in culture is best achieved.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:25 am


I’ll add to this: I come from a family of teachers. My daughter teaches, my father, my fathter-in-law, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law, my uncle … and I’ve probably forgotten some… oh yes, Kris’ grandma.



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Glenn

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:30 am


Scot,
If a person is against distinctly private Christian schools for grades k thru 12 than how can one support Wheaton, Union University, Taylor University, Messiah College, Biola, etc. I’m curious how can one argue for Christian colleges and yet not support private Christian schools that go head to head with the public school system? Should we not allow tax dollars or pell grants to go to the students of Christian schools of higher education?



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JACK

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:30 am


Ann Coulter isn’t without her problems, but I wouldn’t so easily dismiss her Christianity. She’s made a name for her as bombastic and one shouldn’t be surprised she has fallen prey to going over the line with it at times (many times). And she’s still ideological in many ways. But I’ve seen lengthy interviews of her about her religious beliefs and understandings. She’s a Christian; certainly by the classical evangelical definition.
What I am more interested in is why no one has commented on Balmer’s view and what it says about the purposes of education. It seems to reduce the value of education to serving social cohesiveness. I’m sorry, but that is far too utilitarian and statist for my tastes. Think about it — would you say that you send your kid to school because you desire him to to learn how to be an American?
I’m not suggesting that public education didn’t serve that role in some way, but to suggest that is why we should all be sending our kids to public schools seems like taking the observation and running with it too far. Plus, it shows a lack of recognition of the history of our public school system and the public funding of religious schools. For example, why is there a large Catholic school system in this country? It holds a chunk of the answer to that history, which might suprise people who have come to think that but of course government run schools are secular. Haven’t they always been?



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dave

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:34 am


It is pretty easy to speak anecdotally about the social impact of homeschooling. We all know kids who are homeschooled who exemplify everything that Balmer may be talking about. Unfortunately, homeschoolers don’t hold a market share on these realities….I think most of us have also met public and private school kids who have social “issues” and model the kind of the problems Balmer identifies.
Here are a few points to ponder from a homeschooler who grows weary of “anecdotalism”:
1. the homeschooling movement includes a number of people who are not Christians…there reasons for having their kids at home are quite varied. Most simply want their kids to get a better education and find the public school options unworkable.
2. survey studies have found that homeschooled kids are more likely to be involved in civic functions in their communities. The myth of homeschoolers “withdrawing” from society just doesn’t hold up when you examine their connections with civic organizations from little league to Boy Scouts to 4H to community activities in general.
3. survey studies have also found that homeschooled kids and post homeschooled adults are not “social misfits” despite repeated stereo types in the media and culture at large.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:44 am


JACK and dave,
Thanks for this. Now we’re addressing what Balmer cares about in this chp (besides the occasional boxing of the ears of evangelicals, which he likes to do — oh, how he likes to do that).
Is education about inculturation? preparing folks for the American democratic experiment? for tolerance in diversity? or is it not about these things? How are these things best done?
And, dave, you may be right. I’d like to read such studies because I think they’d be enlightening. In defense of Balmer to a degree — is there not something to be said for the daily, ongoing, normal, routine interaction with others? I know as a teacher I don’t think taking exams is enough; I think students should be in class — should talk (sure, some don’t) and should interact with others and get to know one another. That sort of thing, as I read him, is what Balmer thinks public education offers.



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chris jones

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:46 am


I am not trying to promote homeschooling to anyone else, so my comments are not meant to degrade christian parents who use the public school system. It is true that there is a potential to develop relationships with the non-believing parents in the public school system; an opportunity I will never have. But for my friends that have their children in the public school system their lives are so busy they have very little time to develop these relationships.
Since we homeschool, our lives are a lot less hectic and scripted by the public school system. Therefore, I tutor inner city kids and get my teenager involved. We do volunteer work for the food bank and for a great christian justice ministry called the Open Door Community here in Atlanta.
My point is that this issue is too complex. I think it would be great if christians developed alternative schools that established their tuition on a sliding scale. A school where christianity was not taught as a subject but modeled. A school built around Micah 6:8. Just a dream…
Susun # 21, I am not so sure you what you mean by the “culture climate”.



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Bob Robinson

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:56 am


Scot,
Here’s a different twist I’ve been thinking about for a few months. What’s the difference between placing your child in a private Christian school and placing her is a private Christian college? North Park (where you teach) and Malone (where I teach as an adjunct) are Christian in that they are seeking to lead their students into a healthy Christian worldview so that they can be strong Christian leaders in their vocations, homes, communities, and churches.
How is it different to want that kind of education for a elementary or middle-school or high-school student?
I’m not convinced either way.
It’s just that I’ve been thinking about this: Our kids are in public schools now as elementary students, and I see (in my ministry in college outreach) how the public colleges function differently from the Christian colleges. I see the work of our campus ministers on secular campuses as being much more difficult than their peers on Christian campuses.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:56 am


Chris,
Thanks for this. It is as easy for us to stereotype homeschooling as it is for homeschoolers to stereotype public schoolers.



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dave

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:00 am


Scot, I think you are right about the kind of daily, routine interaction we have with others…I guess my point is that is simply easy to assume that homeschoolers don’t have that, when in fact many do, just not in a classroom context. One of the challenge in talking about homeschooling is the breadth of the movement…you have everyone from anti establishment “unschoolers” to hippies of varous sorts to…well, the rest of us out there. And the philosophy of “why” and “how” is just as varied.
I also agree with you about the issues at the heart of the matter have to do with the philosophy of education. I was quite surprised when we started homeschooling that very few people talked to us about what our kids were learning, and that most people, (who were in public or private school situations) were concerned about the social aspects.



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JACK

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:01 am


Scot,
I’m a product of public schools all the way until law school. So I can only speak to homeschooling from some distance.
But I have to say, I think a fair bit of that socialization in the public schools is downright awful. Maybe you weren’t terrorized as a kid, but I’m not sure if I’d be hard pressed to say that the kid-kid interaction even balances towards the positive. Also, I know of many homeschoolers that belong to local associations and groups of homeschoolers, so they aren’t isolated in even their education. But is that type of education not achieved in other settings and in fact, I’m curious, to what might be achieved in a home-schooling setting where all that is taking place in the context of family ties and inter-generational situtations (thinking parents and kids at varying ages).
But this also goes back again to the purpose of education. I think of the irony of what most parents want when their student is struggling to learn: a one-on-one tutor.
This is an interesting subject to me and I’ve been working through Luigi Guissani’s “Risk of Education” recently. What I have read of it so far has been provocative.



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JACK

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:04 am


Boy, maybe I should go back to school to learn how to write the second sentence of that second paragraph better! The intent was that I think one might be right to conclude that the kid-kid interaction in the public schools trends to the negative.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:09 am


Bob,
Good question. Balmer himself addresses this slightly because he went to Trinity (as you may know) and he uses Patrick Henry as his foil. He thinks the education he got at Trinity was much more open-minded — and I can speak some for Trinity though I know next to nothing about Patrick Henry. When Randy went to Trinity it was in its most radical days; it almost closed shop in the 70s. But, then they tightened the reins and it became more classically a conservative evangelical college. Balmer has some tasty words for Ken Meyer (President at Trinity) and the conservative shift.
I think parents have the right to choose. Our daughter chose Wheaton over Miami of Ohio; Lukas went to Kansas but finished at NPU.



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rick

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:10 am


Susan-
Thanks for your comments. I totally agree with you on the problem of the exodus of Christians from the culture. And as I personally can vouch for, the public school community is a great way to get involved. If parents are homeschooling or utilizing private schools, then they need to find ways to engage the culture in other ways. Families need to be missional whether the students are in public schools or not. Children need to learn that aspect of discipleship.
I am just concerned about the tone which implies that all Christian students need to be in public schools, just so their families can impact society. That’s a great goal and a good way to engage the culture, but it’s not the only way for every family.
And to tie it into Scot’s comments, I would love to see more Christians enter the public school workforce. My friends who do work in public schools impact not just the lives of the students, but also those of the parents.



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Nancy

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:10 am


There is far more substance to the discussion here on this webpage than there is to Balmer’s book. Having just read this chapter, I was dismayed by the lack depth in analyzing the situation as he tended to paint a broad brush and accuse the non-public schoolers of having a “fortress mentality.” He spend an inordinate amount of ink and paper on his ancedotes and almost none on constuctive suggestions out of the current morass. His only suggestion is stay in public school “the future of the democracy” hangs in the balance. (Hmmm….sounds like some of the shrill cries from the religious right that he excoriates)
I am the product of a public school that was less then %50 white. My husband and I agonized over the decision for school for our son. But knowing his personality we opted for Christian school. Interestingly there is a greater socio-economic diversity in his Christian school then there would have been in the public school. To RJS, yes I lament that I am now around more “Christians” with less opportunity to evangelize, but in the burbs the school is not the only place to develop relationships. Moreover, I still have the opportunity to minister to these Mom’s. Just because someone sends their child to a Christian school does not mean that they have a solid Christian worldview.
Here are some question I still have for everyone. If Christians felt more free to express (not force on others) their religion in the schools, would people be leaving at the same rate? If organiztions were not trying to eradicate every vestige of Christianity from the school, would people be leaving? If the NEA were not so focued on liberal politics would people be leaving? If some of the new teaching methods did not have the appearance of being a bit ineffective compared to a more “back to the basics” approach to learning, would people be leaving?
Putting my son in a public school will not solve any problems that Balmer mentions. Continuing his education at home by seving the needy in the metro area will make a difference!
To everyone who is posting – your comments are all valuable and I’ll continue to read as I’m learning much from this discussion.



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Michael Kruse

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:13 am


I live in Kansas City, MO, where our school district was under the control of federal judges from 1977-2003 because of desegregation issues. Local taxpayers spent more than $2 billion dollars on desegregation related directives. What was the result? There was modest improvement in the performance gap between White and Black students, and virtually zero change in the composition of schools. Furthermore, the district was disaccredited by the state in 2000 because it met zero of the eleven state accreditation standards. Local political factions, an enormously bloated school bureaucracy, teacher’s unions and federal judges all made their contributions to this grand accomplishment. The district got provisional accreditation in 2002 and has been improving since.
What people are missing in all this is that school districts like KCMO’s are already in competition! People pick up and move to suburban districts or never locate within the bounds of the district in the first place, leaving behind those without the resources to leave. I resonate with Balmer’s passion for public schools. Yet one study from a couple of years ago showed support for vouchers among voters at 55%; it was 70% among African-Americans and 67% among Hispanics ages 26-35, disproportionately living in bad school districts! Balmer writes, “Make no mistake about it: What lies behind most of the rhetoric about school vouchers is the desire to garner taxpayer support for sectarian schools.” (82) Does Balmer really believe that is the driving issues behind these poll numbers? Once again, more sweeping generalizations.
Balmer mentioned the possibility of limiting vouchers to households under a certain income threshold. (84) I see some merit in that. The charter school options in poor neighborhoods could provide necessary competition to bring change to deeply dysfunctional districts like Kansas City’s. Lord knows that little else has worked in the KCMO district. I find myself in sympathy with his aims here but his persistent oversimplifications are really annoying. Balmer’s Modus Operandi so far in this book seems to be to find the most despicable reason for supporting a policy position, attribute that reason as THE reason why all supporters REALLY support the policy, and then demonize all supporters. C. S. Lewis’ “Ezekiel Bulver” lives.
Balmer has indirectly raised another issue in this chapter. Here are a few quotes:
Concerning education “Nor should it be entrusted to entrepreneurs, who ultimately have interests beyond the education of children.” (86) (As if teacher’s unions, local political bosses, and a host of other vested interests don’t? Please!)
“But this thinking is shortsighted, and it abandons the crucial task of intellectual and social formation to capitalists.” (95)
“If capitalists are supporting school vouchers, the scheme is probably not calibrated to the best interests of education.” (95)
“Before heeding the siren call of school vouchers and charter schools, herding our children into schools run by capitalists or religious sectarians at taxpayers expense, we as a society…” (108)
Two scenarios. First, we have a school district with dedicated teachers, but no accountability for performance, a union that puts the best interest of teachers ahead of children, a captive student body with no other options, and leadership who suffers no direct personal or financial consequences since they have nothing personally invested and political alliances to protect their positions.
Second, we have people who have put up their own finances to invest a school, knowing full well if that don’t provide a level of education that parents demand they will take their kids and money down the street to the next place that will. Then the “evil capitalists” will directly suffer the personal and financial consequences of their under performance.
Which of these provides greater accountability and which one is the one that parents in bad school districts want?
What is more revealing here is the pervasive (not monolithic) animus Democrats have toward people who creatively assemble human and material resources to meet human needs and wants, thus creating wealth and jobs for themselves and others. Who do they think it is that created the businesses that created the jobs so people can pay taxes to support public schools? Are there greedy evil capitalists and entrepreneurs? You bet. Just like there are greedy evil poor people. Balmer, like so many on the political left, appears to have bought into the myth that capitalism is grounded in greed rather than in excelling at giving customers products they want at a competitive price.
Balmer has some good observations here and there but the static from his stereotypes and generalizations make them hard to hear.



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Rick

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:14 am


Susan in #21, you are on target. There are strategic institutions which well-intended Christians abandoned in the past – theatre, film, media and journalism, certain businesses – over the past 75 years. Now Christians look at some of these areas as strongholds of sentiment that is unsympathetic to a Christian world view. And why? Because we bailed on it and told our children “that’s not a field a Christian should enter”, encouraging them rather to be a missionary, minister or teacher. Now we are to abandon another strategic institution, that of education? I respect those Christians in the making of their personal choices for their childrens’ best interest, but I disagree that the true long term best interests of their children and other children are well-served by pursuing their course of action.
Rick



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Polar Kodiak

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:25 am


JACK writes:
“What I am more interested in is why no one has commented on Balmer’s view and what it says about the purposes of education. It seems to reduce the value of education to serving social cohesiveness. I’m sorry, but that is far too utilitarian and statist for my tastes. Think about it — would you say that you send your kid to school because you desire him to to learn how to be an American?”
Umm…yes. That’s the purpose of public education. Because all American taxpayers pay for American public schools, they’re considered a public investment by which the public should benefit. Public education isn’t supposed to serve the Christian God or any other type of God – those are private interests, to be dealt with by private parties. It is neither the school’s responsibility or constitutional capacity to promote anyone’s God, but the promotion of one God devalues and insults the beliefs of all. Whether or not we’re talking about the true God is completely immaterial. Public education is for public investment, which is why the core subjects are taught that bring benefit to the public at large:
Math and Science – the backbone of our economy.
Language – better communication and linguistic development among our citizens (and citizens of other nations).
Social Studies – so we better understand our country’s history and its people.
Arts and Philosophy – to expand the minds of children and get them to think outside the box.
There’s a reason that religion isn’t in there. Sure, a few schools teach comparative religion, and you’ll find a class or two at every university. But those are taught as social science inquiries rather than absolute truth, so it does serve a public purpose.
You could argue that promoting God in schools teaches kids morality…but then I’d counter with Durkheim’s view on moral, secular education being just as easily instituted to promote character development based on more universal values, rather than simply Christian-specific ones. Besides, that way you don’t have the same problem as in France, when you alienate entire sections of the population because of an easily-fixable problem of making them feel like they have to believe something that is completely anathema to their identities in order to get along. Look at how well it helped them.
No. American public education is secular because it is precisely that: public.



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JACK

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:35 am


Polar,
You might want to re-read my posts. Because you seem to see me advocating the teaching of religion in the public schools. Now, I think the public school is hyper-paranoid about religion’s presence in its environment. But, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that the public schools should now be teaching Christianity. (But, of course, those who know the history of the public schools would know that they, in fact, once did.)



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JACK

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:38 am


In case I have to spell it out, Polar, my question what is the meaning and purpose behind educating a person. I think it goes far beyond the pragmatic utility of serving nationalism. And so I find it a weak argument for someone to suggest that a person should be sending a child to a public school (versus some other option) in order “to do one’s part” to serve those ends.



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Andy Cornett

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:44 am


First, this is an excellent discussion – let’s keep it going. But Rick in #37 and Susan in #21, I think it’s a category mistake to equate Christians pulling young kids out of public education with earlier Christians discouraging young adults from going into media, theater, journalism, film, etc. as a profession. There’s a big difference between what is best for a 6- or 10- year old than a young adult with a missional view of “all things are mine in Christ” and working in those fields. I’ll join you in faulting the earlier example of abandoning the fields, but I can’t equate that with the home- or private-schooling option. As others have raised, what’s the point of pulbic education – to create enculturated Americans or to truly educate children? or to … I’m sure others will provide options. Now if we were telling out young Christians, “don’t go teach in public education” – I would totally agree with you: that would be an abomination.
Self-disclosure – both my wife and I are products of fantastic, local, small-town public education, but who now have chosen to homeschool our 6-year old because of our crazy local system that wasn’t teaching him much of anything in kindergarten. And yes, I care deeply about “leavening” the culture around us and being a light to the world as we do the things that Jesus taught us to do.
grace and peace – all you guys are just great!
Andy



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Polar Kodiak

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:50 am


JACK,
First off, my apologies for insinuating that you were advocating for religion in public schools. I was mistaken.
As for the main purpose of educating people, I do think it’s a particularly weak argument to send kids to school just to “serve nationalism.” But turning kids into patriotic Americans wasn’t the only reason I mentioned anyway. Teaching children to appreciate God and all the good works and the lessons taught in any religion is a great and wonderful thing, but we can’t assume that that alone is sufficient in providing our children with the basic tools they need to succeed in today’s world.
Do private schools accomplish this? Absolutely. Does homeschooling? Assuming that the parents are well-qualified, you bet. I don’t know any kids that felt more patriotic because they read a social studies textbook in public school any more than one who read a social studies textbook in private school. In fact, (as a former public school student myself) I would say that if anything, one of the problems with public schools is that they breed too MUCH apathy towards the nation. If the goal of public schools is to turn children into jingoistic war machines, it fails pretty badly at that.
All together, though, public schools are one of the greatest assets any nation can have. They ensure that everyone gets a fair shot at learning how to read, write, and taste the fruits of all American labor. I don’t want to turn this into a sob story, but there are a number of parents who have to work all day every day and still don’t have the funds to send their children to private school or voluntarily give up those wages for homeschool.
Public schools ensure that everyone gets a shot at that brass ring. Sure, they’re far from perfect, but they’re inclusive and they make sure that everyone gets a better shot at success than if they didn’t exist.



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chris jones

posted July 28, 2006 at 11:00 am


Education is part of the ‘social construction of reality’.So, parents need to realize (which the folks on this blog do) that the public school system will socialize a child into the worldview of American culture. That does not mean the child will buy into that worldview. Some kids will adjust and grow stronger in faith. They will be beacons of light. Others will live in tension and struggle with the anxiety of not fitting in. Others will totally write off Jesus.
The current system has elevated science and math as the important concepts to grasp. You will learn that the system will reward you financially if you master these skills. The system segregates these children into ‘gifted programs’. We need to ensure that they excel because they are our future scientists and doctors.
My point is that I do not think there is an objective and pure purpose for ‘education’. It serves the interest of companies and the Nation.
In contrast, I think the purpose of education is to develop character.



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Michael Kruse

posted July 28, 2006 at 11:18 am


One further thought on this topic. The Amish do not teach religion in their schools because they believe that it is the role and responsibility of the parents. I guess if you are home schooling your own kids that is one thing but I fear some of the “Christian School” stuff is about parents trying to “outsource” their responsbility for shaping the spiritual formation of their children. That doesn’t have to be the case but I fear much of this happens. If so, the Christain school can serve to undermine the family just as the Amish fear it does.



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JACK

posted July 28, 2006 at 11:22 am


Polar,
Apology accepted. My comment about the “weak argument” was less directed at your post and instead at what I read of Balmer’s rationale (at least as offered in this thread).
I know the positive qualities of public education well; I’m a product of the system.
My point was more to what Chris’ post highlights. My background is in economics. I’ve seen, more and more, education spoken of in terms of economic utility. Students are compared to consumers. We teach to give them tools so as to make money.
So maybe a little ironic, but I chaffe at this reductionism to what is education. (Not really, though. I became an economic major because I (naively) wanted to learn how to make money. What I learned far more about was how much modern american academic modern thought doesn’t account for the nature of how the human person actually makes decisions. So credit economics for making me passionate about the philosophical question who is man. Led me to also get training in cognitive psychology and also explore more deeply theological anthropology, etc.]
So, what I am commenting on, is less what is taught per se. (I think all would agree are kids are benefited by learning math, science, etc.) But why we teach. What do we think we are doing. What do we think we are developing. I think this utilitarian reduction of what education is, also ironically enough, blinds us to some of the realities of how people learn.



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Nancy

posted July 28, 2006 at 11:51 am


Clarification on #35. My experience in a racially diverse public school was a very positive experience!! It is because I highly regard my public education background that I found it very difficult to chose a private Christian school for my son. Unfortunately, suburban public schools provide very little in the way of diversity.
On another note, those of us who do choose private Christian school in the early years, will likely switch to public in the later years. The reverse also happens.
I like the philosphical turn this discussion is taking…



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kent

posted July 28, 2006 at 12:19 pm


First of all, this has gotten everyone’s attention. Cool
Our sons have had an excellent public education both in Michigan in a small town district, and in the western suburbs of Chicago. The compassion of the teachers and support staff in both places has positively impacted my boys. I am forever grateful to them. So from my experience the purpose is not to create proper Americans, but help form educated and compassionate human beings.
Added to this is the fact my wife (51yrs) recently received her masters in teacher certification and will begin her first teaching job this fall in the public sector. I promise you her goal is to help form good citizens of this land who will treat one another with coppassion and behave in responsible and respectful (I was told to add that) fashion.



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Susan

posted July 28, 2006 at 12:28 pm


Andy,
Just to clarify, I did not equate the exodus of Christians from the public schools with an exodus from the arts, film, etc. While I don’t disagree with Rick’s observation that Christians have backed away from those fields, I do think the reasons for that are different.
To those who think “no religion in school” is a good idea, and a possibility: worldview is an integral part of education, and someone’s will prevail in any educational environment even if words like “prayer” or “God” are not used or the Bible or Koran or whatever is not openly taught. The public schools are not a-religious; they have become polytheistic.



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Andy Cornett

posted July 28, 2006 at 12:48 pm


Susan, I should have read your post (#21) more carefully: my apologies. Thanks for clarifying!
Andy



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Nancy

posted July 28, 2006 at 1:24 pm


Susan – On #48, Amen sister! Part of the reason for chosing Christian school (and not all Christian schools would have worked for our family) is that I wanted all aspects of his life to contribute to learning about and understanding the Christian worldview. I did not want what he learned from church and home to be undermined by and conflict internally with what he learned in school. As you correctly state, “someone’s worldview” will prevail. I do not think it is healthy for him to get mixed messages and not be able to identify the conflict. Once he is older and understands the many worldviews that permeate our culture and once he grasps some of the issues surrounding church/state relationships, then public school may again become an option for us.



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Brian

posted July 28, 2006 at 1:35 pm


As a parallel to this dicussion, the magesterial reformers thought chaos would ensue if parents were permitted not to have their children baptized. Some chaos did ensure, but many would say that the long term results were preferable.



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Bill

posted July 28, 2006 at 1:35 pm


This is a great discussion, folks. I especially appreciate the comments from Chris Jones. I have met a lot of wacky homeschooling parents, but you demonstrate that this is not always the case.
I also really appreciated this from Jack:
“But I have to say, I think a fair bit of that socialization in the public schools is downright awful. Maybe you weren’t terrorized as a kid, but I’m not sure if I’d be hard pressed to say that the kid-kid interaction even balances towards the positive.”
My own experience in public schools was “downright awful.” I think parents may not even realize what their kids go through sometimes and the kind of negative impact that years of a socially segregated life can have on our children.
Having said all that, I have considered homeschooling for my children more for educational reasons. I think a system where 30 kids are crammed into a classroom with one teacher is far from ideal.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 2:16 pm


Michael,
First, we have a school district with dedicated teachers, but no accountability for performance, a union that puts the best interest of teachers ahead of children, a captive student body with no other options, and leadership who suffers no direct personal or financial consequences since they have nothing personally invested and political alliances to protect their positions.
This is not like you. It’s not simplistic. Union members can be stereotyped as easily as capitalists; let’s not do either.
But, your comments about Balmer’s snide comments about capitalism are unjustified in the text and spring from simplistic evaluation. Once again, a stereotype.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 2:23 pm


Who knows where there is an online interview with Coulter about her faith? I do know there was someting in Time mag sometime back.



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BeckyR

posted July 28, 2006 at 4:30 pm


Public schools tolerance of diversity?? Has he been to a High School lately? Those who are in and those who are out, so sharply and rudely made? Those outside your group excluded and judged. Tolerance of diversity in elementary school, I have seen. Thankful to graduate and be done with High School because of the social stresses, I have seen. And this in no way is stepping into the homeschool – good or bad, discussion.



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BeckyR

posted July 28, 2006 at 4:43 pm


#50 Nancy. We very intentionally taught our kid how to think through ideas presented to her. And, boy, does she know how to do it. She’s far from perfect, and as her parent, that is admitting a lot (who doesn’t see their kid in the best light?) But, she had that ability to look at what is being said in words formed, or behind them, before out of High School. Better than many adults, as I think many adults aren’t taught or don’t know to think critically. A big influence was just hearing us, her parents talk of stuff like that daily. For us, ideas given her in school that would conflict with a christian world view, were not threats, but opportunity for her to use her critical thinking, or for us to teach her more about what is said behing those ideas. My bias is were we to put her in a christian school, is she would be taught the right things to think, but not how to think about them – what the ideas said, what they mean, whether to accept them or not. Again, that’s my bias. I’m not saying it’s a true statement of christian schools, or that public schools do it differently.



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C. Wess Daniels

posted July 28, 2006 at 5:04 pm


Scot,
Someone needed to say this, I am glad you did.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 5:05 pm


Say what Wess?



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RonMck

posted July 28, 2006 at 5:13 pm


Is the difference between American Democracy and the Kingdom of God getting blurred. Public educations might strengthen the former, but does it contribute to the latter. Or are they both the same?
Ron



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Nancy

posted July 28, 2006 at 5:34 pm


BeckyR – what you have done is what I aspire to do. As my son is entering 1st grade we still have work to do on the thinking and reasoning skills.
Your post prompted another thought. So far we have labeled all Christian schools as homogenous. This is not the case as some seek to mold a child into a specific form induce a certain pattern of thinking and others seek to train the child to think well and do so to further the cause of Christ in the world.



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Patrick Hare

posted July 28, 2006 at 5:43 pm


2 comments.
First, Scot, check out this interview with Coulter on beliefnet. http://www.beliefnet.com/story/196/story_19646_1.html
Her theology seems to be – hold the correct beliefs to obtain salvation. Little or no elaboration on how the teachings of Jesus inform politics or political discourse. One of her favorite verses is Rev. 21:8 detailing a list of offenders who will be cast into hell. Verses about love of enemies didn’t make the list.
Secondly, re RonMcK and Democracy and the Kingdom of God, I am reading and highly enjoying Gregory Boyd’s The Myth of the Christian Naion: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church, Zondervan, 2005.
Thanks as always for the provocative posts.



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BeckyR

posted July 28, 2006 at 6:19 pm


Bottom line, kids will be what we’ve modeled. I think schools have little effect on them that way. We parents are the most powerful influence. What we do, not just the words out of our mouths.



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JACK

posted July 28, 2006 at 6:35 pm


Yeah, there’s been some amusing discussion about that interview of Coulter going around St. Blog’s. Obviously, she’s her snarky self, and some appreciate that and others (me included) groan and wish she could restrain herself. The other part is the exchange where she suggests Charlotte Allen is a liberal, which is funny if you read Charlotte Allen’s stuff on a regular basis, because she’s hardly seems like a fit for that. That said, some of the questions seem, bizarrely shaped.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 7:09 pm


Denny,
I read the link above to Beliefnet.com to see what Coulter said about her faith. Here’s what she said:
What does it mean to be a good Christian, and do you consider yourself to be a good Christian?
To believe with all your heart at every moment that God loved a wretch like you so much that he sent his only son to die for your sins. Most of the time, I’m an extraordinarily good Christian.
Do you attend church frequently? Do you pray, and whom and what do you pray for?
Yes and yes. I pretend to attend a giant church in New York City, where I pray for the souls of people who claim I’ve never been there. I pray for mercy and divine protection from God’s enemies. When I’m in a jaunty mood, I pray for Him to smite liberals.
What’s your favorite Bible verse, if you have one (besides “By their fruits you shall know them”)?
I don’t have a favorite, they’re all pretty good. Among some I like are:
So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10: 26-28)
Read more verses
Do you have a favorite prayer?
Yes, as our Creator taught us: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” and so on.
My comment:
I’d call her a cracked Eikon, should you care to know.



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Julie

posted July 28, 2006 at 7:44 pm


Good discussion about public school, homeschool and the ghetto mentality.
Not only have we homeschooled all five of our kids (oldest starts college this fall), we’ve also had two of them (so far) attend public high school part time. I am also a business owner who teaches writing to homeschooled kids and parents.
What I’ve noticed that agrees with the challenge of Balmer is that hs kids can develop judgmental views about the wider culture and their public schooled peers which are based not in experiene or encounter, but in stereotypes and inexperience (usually parroting what parents tell them is true about non-Christian ps kids and families). In writing, much of their thinking is apologetic, not insight generated or thorough in tackling the nuances of specific distinctively right-wing Christian issues. They do much better with literature.
Usually, though, they are self-motivated learners who show genuine interest in education for its own sake.
Otoh, when I look at the ps kids (my husband is a university professor who has taught freshman composition for twenty years), they are not better students, nor are they necessarily more broad-minded. He always asks at the beginning of the year: What did you read last year? They can barely remember (if at all) and often can’t tell you what the stories were that they did read. They have their own biases and intolerances and often see education as hoops to jump through rather than a journey of discovery and personal growth. They also see education as being done to them rather than something they are responsible to achieve. He is at a private Catholic university with moderately difficult admissions.
The public schools in our city are very segregated and don’t represent a diverse population at all. My daughter (parttime high school) said that she was practically shunned for not supporting Bush in the last election…. white upper middle class school. Very white. She’s had more exposure to diversity through the Internet and our relationships (my husband’s and mine) than through school or homeschool.
I think my point is that public education leaves a lot to be desired in terms of both education and cultural homogeneity. What worked in a modern, immigrant, expanding nation no longer suits the world we have grown into. Because that is the case, I feel the best preparation for adulthood is not endorsing ps blindly, but challenging it with competition as well as changing the way the laws are set up to fund it.
It is a travesty in my mind that inner city Cincinnati schools don’t even have air conditioning while the one where my kids go has forty brand new computers in the computer lab with state of the art techonology for both the theater and art programs… Just because out property taxes generate more money doesn’t mean that the inner city kids deserve a poorer education! That’s where I want to work – on those laws, as a Christian, as a concerned American citizen.
Julie



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Ted Gossard

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:18 pm


Very interesting, stimulating conversation here!
I do (and have for years) stand more with Balmer’s thoughts. And many of you have contributed to my own thoughts on this. But I fear that we’re not fulfilling our calling from God, when we abandon public schools as we are doing.
I think the point raised here about parents passing on their own responsibility to raise their children in the faith, is surely true in cases. Though I also think many of them just want the school not to undermine, but support and add to what they’re doing at home.
But I think parents should get to know the philosophy and worldview of a Christian school and the teachers as well as possible before sending them off to such just because it says, “Christian”. Much thinking out there that is Christian is not helping these children, very well, I’m afraid, to really live in our culture as people of the kingdom. Though some surely do.
But I think it is a good thing for us, in general to remain part of public schools, working on doing well in our homes and churches, as well as in any support groups that may seem to be needed- so we will truly be to the world the salt and light we are in Jesus.



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Ted Gossard

posted July 28, 2006 at 8:23 pm


…also I want to add that one of the most important tasks a parent can teach their child in their formation, I think, is to learn to think critically (“critical thinking”) according to the paradigm of the kingdom of God revealed in Scripture and in Jesus. In the heat of public schools, learning to raise those who are ready to live in the real world as people of the kingdom. Many difficulties there. But much opportunity, as well.



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Brian

posted July 28, 2006 at 9:55 pm


The choice of educational option is not inherently determinative of the outcome for a particular child. For that very reason there will always be anecdotal evidence in support of every side.
More broadly, we should ask questions such as what the effect of public education has been on the family and the church. Our children are now exposed to all sorts of things in the schools that we would never permit in our homes. The proliferation of extra curricular activities and sports continues to squeeze the church right out of the weekly schedule.
To ask another question, how can we take Deuteronomy 6 seriously when our children spend 15,000 hours of their childhood in someone else’s care? And that just refers to classroom time. Homework takes even more away from the family and church during evenings and weekends. The scope of the public school’s influence has a history of expansion, and it continues with demands for more and longer school days.
One thing I have learned from reading anthropology is that the range of variation in the structures around which a stable society can be organized is exceedingly broad. Thus I am doubtful that the particular form of public education that we now have is essential to our society. I don’t see why a diversity of educational options cannot work just fine. For that reason I don’t see that giving allegiance to a uniform public education system is a particularly Christian thing to do.
A Christian concern for societal structures should place concern for the family and church structures at the top of the list. Public school must come much further down.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:13 pm


Brian,
Very thoughtful response. Stuff to think about there. Thanks.
It occurred to me as I read your comment that it goes the other way, too: what is our impact on public education, both in participation and withdrawal?



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T

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:29 pm


My (late) two (or three) cents: I’ve volunteered at a ministry to urban kids in downtown West Palm Beach for a couple of years at a highschool bible study. There were kids in tenth and eleventh grade (of public school) that could barely read a CEV translation of the bible. I realize this is anecdotal. It is also by no means isolated. I have some other unreal stories of sex, drugs and violence from my friend who’s a cop for a local public MIDDLE school in my county. Hearing his stories–and he gets new ones all the time–would make any parent shudder. Are there great public school teachers, admins, schools? Without question. Like Scot, I’m related to/friends with a good few. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some deep systemic problems resulting in multiple schools that have some serious risks to children (even to the adults), let alone poor learning environments. For Balmer to talk about what Christians (or any parent) should be doing for their child with such a system in existence is bordering on the ridiculous.
With JACK (#24) and others, I question the relative importance of training students on being “Americans”. But beyond that, I seriously question whether public schools are doing a better job of that (or any of the other more standard purposes of ecucation) than their private counterparts of any kind, especially within our homogenizing media culture. People in other countries are learning how to be Americans, for good or ill. However, kids by the droves are making it through my local public education system without basic reading skills. For Balmer to uniformly dismiss all the proposed changes to our current system and simultaneously criticize those who pull their children out of it . . . let’s just say I’m glad it’s not Balmer’s Kingdom that’s come!



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Broken Messenger

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:34 pm


Ah, Coulter, look in the mirror. I don’t like it that she wears a cross about her neck. It doesn’t fit.
Scot, you bring yourself to her level when you make comments like this.
Fifth, “The future of American democracy hangs in the balance in the tussle over homeschooling, school vouchers, and public education” (95).
Actually, it has always hung in the balance but it has had and continues to have nothing to do with homeschooling or school vouchers or American politics for that matter.
The departure of Christ as being the sole treasure of the hearts of men and women in this country have far more of an impact on our democracy than this. Praise be to God that he is sovereign, graceful and in control of our nation in spite of ourselves. But we should prepare ourselves to welcome the potential end of democracy in this nation particularly should God use such a situtation to drive hypocrites (such as I) to bend our knees before God in repentance.
Brad



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BeckyR

posted July 28, 2006 at 10:45 pm


I’m a better hypocrite.
Ah, all these posts, and no one has used the word “homosexual.” We have found another topic of interest.



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paul

posted July 28, 2006 at 11:25 pm


as a youth worker, i see problems with both types of schooling. homeschoolers, in general, are weird. especially around their peers. just plain wierd. and those parents who homeschool to shelter kids, often create kids who are very judgemental of the world around them.
but public school kids tend to be cruder and they struggle a lot with being a Christian in their whole lives. they are bombarded with a message (through culture/peers/etc) all day long that tends to be opposite of what God wants for them…
i like what brian had to say…



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John Brimacombe

posted July 28, 2006 at 11:37 pm


Scot,
I teach Bible in a private high school so, perhaps I’m biased here. I don’t see all public schools as bad, and I know there are some good ones out there. Yet, I think public education for the most part, doesn’t give the best results considering the amount of money being spent.
I think my biggest eye-opener came when I was a substitute teacher for one year. Most of the elementary schools were fine, but when I got into the Junior and Senior High Schools I saw a change in the students, and to be quite honest, I saw some pretty scary attitudes and actions.
Being a father of a 6 and 4 year old I began to think about if I would wanted them in that environment. I struggled between wanting to impact my society with my responsibilty toward my children. I understand I can’t shield them from everything, but I felt that I owed them the best education available and the safest environment.
I don’t like the Christian ghetto, and too many churches isolate themselves, but the more I hear about some of these things the more responsibility I am overwhelmed with. Being a teacher in a private christian school has been an eye-opener too because it’s not the perfect environment that some may think it is, yet I think it is so much better than what I saw personally in the public school.
Anyway…that’s my 2 cents.
jab



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Matt

posted July 29, 2006 at 12:23 am


I tend to look at the voucher system and charter schools as a self-corrective action on the public schooling problem. And the quality of public education is a problem, even if we can point to a few victories. If other schools other than the public variety begin to offer better solutions, won’t this force the public school’s hand to upgrade what they do? Or are we just kind of stuck with what we have?
I wrestle with the obligation to subject my children to potentially inferior teaching at the junior high and high school levels for the sake of tolerance at the expense of exposure to a steady diet of prison-esque morals and pack-mentality of certain clique groups. I understand that I will get smacked for “stereo-typing” but anyone who has spent a good deal of time in our junior high and high schools inside the cities cannot dispute that this happens and is influencing everything, from the teachers down.



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Matt

posted July 29, 2006 at 12:28 am


Also…the assumption is that anyone who would homeschool their children is by definition disgruntled with the public offering. The contention here is we should not do this, for fear that we will lose the social fabric that has been woven over time through public education.
How much social fabric has been woven through the church? Does Home church pose the same sort of threat?



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Brian

posted July 29, 2006 at 2:32 pm


Scot,
Going back to our exchange (#68, #69)… As for the participation of Christians in public school, I think their ability to stem the tide is limited. There are systemic problems that are increasingly difficult to correct on the local level. [The folks at Patrick Henry have this issue in their sights. They intend to produce the next generation of supreme court justices, and they are doing well at Moot Court. This is one group of homeschoolers who are definitely not withdrawing from society. They have a long range plan.]
As for the impact of homeschoolers’ withdrawl from public education… We must distinguish between public education and the education of the public. Homeschooling may well be bad for the former, while good for the latter. By withdrawing from public education some homeschoolers might insist that they further the education of the public by making a case that there is a better way. On a lower soap box it can be said that homeschooling is making a case that there is more than one valid way to educate. The tolerance for a diversity of methods is necessary for the maintenance of freedom. That the public education system is undermined by this kind of diversity could be taken as evidence that the system has taken on a distinctly un-American character.
There are still more issues that have not been mentioned in this blog… The phenomenon of extended adolescense, the modern emphasis on the peer group, the limitations of a one-size-fits-most approach to education, the overuse of dysfunction labels, Ritalin. Homeschoolers have different slants on all of these issues as well.
Incidentally, one of my children is in public school. That is another story.
On another note, maybe you could send Ann Coulter a copy of the Jesus Creed.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 29, 2006 at 2:40 pm


Brian,
What’s her address? I’ll send her Embracing Grace, too.



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Julie

posted July 29, 2006 at 5:41 pm


Paul, denouncing homeschooled kids as weird merely shows that you don’t know very many. Nearly two million families in the United States homeschool. Homeschooling is not the cloistered experience it used to be either. Lots of kids attend public and private schools parttime, or they homeschool for a period of their lives and later enter the school system. Co-operatives (the one I’m in has 100 families in it!) and cottage schools abound.
The most common comment I get about our kids is that they look adults in the eye and are a pleasure to have at the workplace and in any classroom setting.
While I agree that it’s important to care about our nation’s institutions (like public education), each of us has to decide what would be best for our children specifically, as well. That a variety of options exists today is a testimony to both the creativity of parents and educators as well as a corrective to impractical and bloated public education.
I don’t think those who’ve not studied homeschool as both a philosophy of education and as a family lifestyle can adequately address it by simply dismissing its value and claiming that our kids are weird or that we’ve abandonned the schools. Not so. Not any more. Education in America is going through a needed transformation. Closing ranks and assuming one method is right while the other is wrong doesn’t actually address the deeper issues raised by the widespread home education movement.
Might be more interesting to list those.
Julie



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Julie

posted July 29, 2006 at 5:43 pm


Hey Brian, thank you for listing some of those differences and reasons for home education. We have made use of both home education and public schools, preferring each for their own reasons at certain points in our children’s lives.
Julie



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Michael Kruse

posted July 29, 2006 at 6:22 pm


God stuff Brian. I especially liked
“The tolerance for a diversity of methods is necessary for the maintenance of freedom.”
Thanks.



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Brian

posted July 29, 2006 at 8:16 pm


Scot,
Ann Coulter’s website does not provide contact information as far as I can tell. However, her column is carried by Universal Press Syndicate. They might be able to make the connection for you. Here is their contact page.
http://www.amuniversal.com/ups/contact_us.htm
Do let us know if you are successful, and especially if you get a response from Ann.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 29, 2006 at 8:31 pm


Brian,
Thanks. I’m pursuing this. I’ll update on the blog if anything happens. I’m not hopeful.



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Randall Balmer

posted July 29, 2006 at 8:32 pm


A friend of mine, Dave Moore, alerted me to this existence of this blog and to the lively discussion that “Thy Kingdom Come” has apparently engendered. Though I feel like a bit of an intruder, I’ve looked over your collective shoulders at this discussion. A hearty thank you to Scot for introducing this; an author can receive no greater compliment than to have intelligent people interact seriously with his ideas. Thanks to all.
I’m very new to this blogging business, and it seems (on the whole) to be a good thing — though how I got entangled with Ann Coulter remains something of a mystery! The one worry I have, I suppose, is that blogging can degenerate into something like the children’s game of “telephone,” where one person whispers in another’s ear and so on around the circle, but when it comes full circle the message is so distorted that it bears scant resemblance to the original.
I don’t want to intrude on the conversation, and I certainly won’t respond to every point, but I wonder if I can clear up some confusion.
First, I never said (nor do I believe) that parents are obligated to send their children to public schools. I wish they would (as I did, by the way), for reasons that I spell out in the chapter. But parents have every right to educate their children in any way they see fit. Having said that, however, I worry a great deal about the further balkanization of American society if Jewish kids go to Jewish schools, Catholic kids to parochial schools, rich kids to elite private schools, etc. The genius of this great experiment in American public education was that children from different racial, ethnic, and even socio-economic backgrounds could come together in the classroom and on the playground and learn to get along with one another with at least a measure of comity. That sounds to me like a recipe for democracy, especially in a pluralistic society.
That’s an ideal vision, I acknowledge, and public schools have not and probably can never live fully up to those ideals. But what institution could possibly live up to such expectations? Still, I think the glass is half full rather than half empty, and now is not the time to give up on this noble vision. I do believe that the future of democracy is at stake in public education.
Are public schools in trouble? Absolutely, as I demonstrate in my visit to Cleveland schools. But let’s remember that religious schools, voucher schools, charter schools, and private schools can choose whom they want to educate. The public schools have to take everyone, and to bleed their resources further with vouchers and the like merely exacerbates the problem.
(Here’s a hypothetical situation for you. Imagine that a mere one-fifth of the $250 million being spent daily to prosecute the war in Iraq – a war that, by the way, now claims more than 100 civilians a day – were being spent instead on public education. Would public schools look any different? I’m not naïve enough to claim that money alone is the answer, and I acknowledge in the chapter the difficulty of balky unions and unresponsive bureaucrats, but still, $50 million a day would surely make some difference.)
Amid all of the thoughtful replies, I was struck especially with Frank Ritchie’s observation (#15) that the homeschooled children of his acquaintance “never had to cross the cultural borders in their friendships, they never had to learn and respect the cultures of others because they never occupied the same space… in a sense, they were segregated from our other cultures.” Although that is not always the case, of course, this is the situation that I tried to illuminate in my visit to Patrick Henry College.
I’ve prattled on long enough. Please pardon the intrusion.



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Julie

posted July 29, 2006 at 9:53 pm


Great to have your visit Randall.
I want to add that I never had to cross any of those borders in school either. I was in a white, upper middle class, mostly Jewish neighborhood my entire childhood. It took living abroad in college and mission work after college for me to get out of the moneyed Los Angeles suburban ghetto.
As homeschooled kids, my children have traveled and lived abroad and have been friends with internationals here in the US through our relationships.
Perhaps what we are all talking about is how to foster in this new world of diversity a greater tolerance and understanding between cultures. I’m not convinced that it is happening at public schools across the boards, particularly in the suburbs.
I do happen to agree, though, about the especially narrow scope of the student body of a Patrick Henry College.
Julie



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TheBlueRaja

posted July 29, 2006 at 10:54 pm


Scot,
I think its important to highlight the question of how public education intersects with the life of the Church. In my mind the issue should be construed as a sub-category of how the Christian community should relate to the state more generally. Beyond the scheduling issues Brian mentioned, how do these institutions further Ceasear’s agenda and how does the church establish herself as a counter-cultural force amidst those agendas? I’m not saying that I believe that Christians have an obligation to place their children in Church-run schooling, but I think it is important to ask how the Church can maintain any sense of community if all the aspects of cultural development and social hegemony are left to secular powers.
One thing I have learned from reading anthropology is that the range of variation in the structures around which a stable society can be organized is exceedingly broad. Thus I am doubtful that the particular form of public education that we now have is essential to our society. I don’t see why a diversity of educational options cannot work just fine. For that reason I don’t see that giving allegiance to a uniform public education system is a particularly Christian thing to do. The impact Christians are to have on society involves integration, but it also involves community formation, which seems impossible in a world where all of the cultural centers of activity are sponsored by institutions other than the Church.
Besides, Christian commitments shouldn’t be chiefly to Democracy, should they? It may be hard to speak of such a commitment and at the same time preach Christ as the one who will come to establish his own kingdom, which both transcends and rivals those of the nations of this world.



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TheBlueRaja

posted July 29, 2006 at 10:57 pm


Sorry about the second paragraph – I must have accidentally pasted Brian’s comments into my own!
Brian’s words are at the beginning of that paragraph, with my own words resuming at:
“The impact Christians are to have on society involves integration, but it also involves community formation, which seems impossible in a world where all of the cultural centers of activity are sponsored by institutions other than the Church.”
Sorry again for the confusion!



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preacherman

posted July 30, 2006 at 3:57 pm


If Ann Coulter is a Christian she really makes us look bad. Making the comments about widows of 9/11, making comments that she made about Bill Clinton.
As far as homeschooling. I think it is good for some kids, some kids who might have a learning disability, or need more one and one attention. Many parents who do homeschool try to control everything about what their children take in and are taught. Do homeschooleed children really get the eduction you get in public school. I personally know I couldn’t teach my child Calculus or Physics. As Christians we are to be in the world…not isolated from it. We are to be in it and make a difference. I am so thankful for the Christian youth who are making that difference by letting their light shine in our public schools. Let us pray for those Christian teenagers who are being the light to those who need Jesus and for youth ministers all across the country.



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Julie

posted July 30, 2006 at 7:52 pm


Preacherman, homeschooling does not mean that parents teach all subjects. It means that parents direct the educations of their kids. Homeschooled teens make use of jr. colleges, high schools, private tutoring, online courses, small in-person co-ops and classes that teach biology, Algebra II, physics, calculus, literature and more.
Some parents do shelter their kids in an oppressive way. Some provide protection from the oppressive environment of schools.
You might enjoy reading up on the current homeschool movement before judging it outright.



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preacherman

posted July 30, 2006 at 10:59 pm


I don’t think that all homeschooling is wrong. I mentioned that some kids might need homeschooling. I believe that homeschooling can be a blessing to children who might need more one on one attention.
I find it very interesting that those Christians who do homeschool alot of times tend to come across that I am a better Christian or doing God’s will more with my child than those who don’t homeschool and choose public school.
Alot of those who homeschool see the public school system as an evil thing that is going to make their children wicked and unchristian. Where is the faith in your children to make the right choices? Where is the trust in your children to teach others what is right? What about letting your child make a mistake, learn from it. How does that lack of trust effect the relationship of parent/child later in life?
One thing people tend to forget is that in the public school system there are Christian teachers, Christian principles, Christian councelors,Christian school board members who are a true blessing to the public school system and are making a difference in their teaching, in the lives of their students and for the kingdom of God.
Praise God that we have Christian professionals in the public school system.



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Brian

posted July 31, 2006 at 10:51 am


Preacherman,
To say things like people tend to forget that there are Christian teachers in the public school system is a little like saying that people tend to forget that pedophiles are drawn to public school teaching in order to gain greater access to children. Whether or not people tend to forget these things is quite outside the point of the dicussion.
I could make similar responses to your other observations. You are making sweeping personal characterizations rather than sound arguments.
Remember where this thread started. It began with Balmer’s assertions that various alternatives to public schooling are not good for America, and that “real Christians” (his words) should oppose them. My point has been that the truth may well be exactly the opposite.



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J-Marie

posted July 31, 2006 at 11:04 am


Regardless of how you stand on the issue…
let’s pray for all private/public/homeschooling school personnel (teachers, administrators, PTA members…etc.) who are preparing to go back to school in the fall.



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Anonymous

posted July 31, 2006 at 9:17 pm


Jesus and Politics at Rock, Paper, Dynamite

[…] Greeting all!  After a long time buried under multiple projects at work, I am back (for the time being). As Tyler noted here, Scot McKnight has posted an article entitled “Politics and the Church”.  He launches off from a NY Times article on Greg Boyd’s church in Minneapolis (link here – free registration required).  The “core issue” from the article is summarized thusly. In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said. McKnight interacts with that quote with the following. So, what do we do? How do we as followers of Jesus relate to politics? Frankly, I’m embarrassed at the Church: I’m embarrassed how liberal mainliners kowtow to the Democrats, equating the US Constitution on rights and freedoms as somehow equivalent to the gospel. And I’m embarrassed with the Religious Right’s whorish behavior of aligning itself with the Republicans. Jesus would say to each, “I never knew you.” Now that you know how I feel, let me offer some observations about how Christians and churches can participate in the political process. His main ideas: Churches should educate Christians on what the Bible says and about how the Church — the broad, orthodox tradition, not just “your/my church” — has thought about particular political issues.Christians need to remain independent enough to provide a prophetic stance.The idea that we can remain apolitical is hogwash and irresponsible.each person is responsible to decide where he or she stands.Tomorrow, he will follow this with his “three-line theory of political wisdom.” Let me say here that I really like Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed.  And this is not a set-up for a “but here is where he’s off his rocker” speech.  I love his posting style.  There are a lot of mini posts, but he typically runs through themes interacting with books.  They typically share the same title and are numbered for reference.  That makes it like a little book when you fall way behind in reading.  Most blogs I just clear in my RSS reader when i wall well behind, but I always leave his marked unread because they are so easy to catch up on in a meaningful way.  (To give you an idea of how busy I have been, I always stop reading well after I have dropped everything else.  As of this morning, I am 153 posts behind on the Jesus Creed.  That puts my last clearing in early June, which I remember as a brief purge, the eye of a storm that extended back into early March.  But I can breathe now…) One of McKnight’s current themes, which he mentions in the aforementioned post, is an examination of Randall Balmer’s Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.  He is for posts into a two week MWF series.  They can be found here. The Case for Liberal Evangelicals 1 The Case for Liberal Evangelicals 2 The Case for Liberal Evangelicals 3 The Case for Liberal Evangelicals 4 A few comments on Balmer (via McKnight): The Case for Liberal Evangelicals 1 “Balmer claims to be both an evangelical and a political liberal, in the sense that a liberal believes in the progressive creation of freedoms for humans.” I find that an odd definition because it makes it hard not to be a liberal. I imagine that the kicker comes on the definition of freedom, where Balmer might think freedom to universal health care is freedom that needs creating. Balmer examines the three evils of the religious right: being hypocrites, being anti-abortion, and opposing homosexuality. So far as hypocrisy, he asks, “If you are serious about your professed commitment to biblical literalism, why are you not working to outlaw divorce?” To which I can only say, “good point; shame on us there.” But then I would follow that by asking if Balmer was going to go that route or if he was content to ignore everything he sees fit because some people are hypocrites on some things. It’s better to get 2 out of 3 on a test that miss them all and brag about your consistency. Balmer believes abortion is a travesty; but he contends that abortion is both a moral as well as a legal issue. He’s libertarian: “the government should have no jurisdiction whatsoever over gestation.” But, he thinks abortion is a morally lamentable. He thinks the Democratic Party, among which he identifies himself, “has utterly botched the abortion issue.”This line of reasoning makes little more sense than it did when Kerry adopted it in ‘04.  Why is abortion “morally lamentable?”  If it is because it is the taking of an innocent life, then governmental jurisdiction definitely should reach it.  If it is for some other reason, “lamentable” starts to sound like a way of pandering to the anti-abortion crowd without really doing so.  You should not use “lamentable” when you mean “somewhat regrettable.” And then with homosexuality, he takes the familiar tack that, ”Like abortion, it [homosexuality] allows evangelicals to externalize the enemy, based on the supposition that no true believer could be gay or lesbian.”  Now granted the splinter in the other guy’s eye always looks more troublesome than my plank, which I should attend to quickly, but that does not mean that other guy does not have a splinter.  I believe a true believer can be gay or lesbian, just as I believe a true believer can murder, or be a porn-addict, or drive drunk and verbally assault a deputy while hurling anti-Semitic phrases.  I do not believe that becoming a believer somehow scotch-guards us from sin.  That said, we are called to personally address the sin in our life, and having somebody shaking their head and saying it’s not really that bad is not going to help me one iota. The Case for Liberal Evangelicals 2 I am in full agreement with McKnight on this summary: Here are the major underlying issues: Does Christian entanglement in politics lead to Constantinianism? (The use of power and law to force the faith.) And, one I’d like to see Balmer address, How much variance can a Christian permit between the Christian thinks is right and what a State legislates? (At some point do they say “this is what the law states, but it is wrong, and I’m working to change it?”) McKnight ends this section with the following. Here’s a major point [Balmer] is making, and I’m not sure there is enough discussion of this point. Is it true or is it not? “We must recognize that religion flourishes best at the margins and not at the centers of power.” I have heard this point made again and again, but i do not think it is true.  I think the flourishing is seeks is purity as opposed broad effect.  Granted small persecuted churches might have a higher percentage of actual believers, but that is not to say they have a greater effect.  If the church reaches say that at 100 professing Christians you had 3 hypocrites.  Then as the church grew in size (and influence) the % of hypocrites rose as well.  Say at 1000 professing Christians you were running at 60% hypocrites, that is still an additional 503 true believers.  I might prefer the small church as there would be less Christians not-like-me to embarrass me and “damage my testimony,” but the view requires my testimony largely falling flat anyways.  I suppose that the church could maintain its marginal status by not seeking to influence anything using any means that are possibly coercive, but that would involve a near complete retreat from society.  And se
cts like that tend to miss out on affecting large numbers of people (flourishing).  Am I missing something here?  The only way i can make sense of this is by assuming that the natural, God-given state of the church is always struggling as a persecuted minority, and that any increase from that can only be achieved through coercion and hypocrisy.  What am i missing here?  The Case for Liberal Evangelicals 3 Here Balmer makes his case for governmental school (and against vouchers, homeschooling, etc.).  He says, somewhat echoing Hauwervaus, that “Whatever common culture we have attained in this country has come about largely though the agency of public education. At the risk of sounding mawkish, I truly believe that public schools served to make America what it is by helping us forge a mutual understanding of one another as Americans”  I agree with this, but I have trouble fitting it with his earlier arguments for a couple of reasons. “America: a Christian Nation?” aside, Christianity has historically had a somewhat strong influence in shaping the America that has replicated itself and forged a common culture.  That is weakening. Given that schools form culture and bind us together as people, should not one who actively seeks to not affect the structure guiding the schools be a little bit weary about having their children grown up within that system.  Also, as one seeking to exist on the margins, and seeking to avoid an overly nationalistic identification would want to distance oneself from the primary governmental tool for molding youth into good patriots.The Case for Liberal Evangelicals 4 This section deals with Intelligent Design.  I do not feel like rehashing the issue, so I’ll just reiterate my view.  The second half of ID is clearly not science by the current definition, but neither is the philosophical commitments that ground science and give it the limits that exclude ID.  If both sides would admit their inherent weaknesses I’d be fine. Theocracy! Theocracy! Theocracy! There is an article by Ross Douthat in this month’s First Things that addresses the persistent, horrified cry of “Theocracy!” when Christians foolishly let their faith influence their political actions.  In it, Douthat examines four recent books on the subject, one of which is Balmer’s.  Defining an American theocracy is difficult because we lack a monolithic institution to guide us.  Instead “the real danger, the anti-theocrats suggest, is an ecumenical theocracy that would install a right-wing Mere Christianity as its established religion, subject unbelievers to discrimination, and enshrine the Mosaic code as the law of the land.”  It is a rather amusing article, as any review of paranoid mutterings should be, but Douthat most seriously takes Balmer to task because he “ought to have known better.  He is an evangelical Christian, a professor of religious history at Columbia, and the author of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, a largely sympathetic exploration of evangelical belief in America. Yet Thy Kingdom Come—a glorified pamphlet, despite its endless subtitle—is indistinguishable from the general run of secularist hysterics, save for a smug reference to Balmer’s spotless Sunday school attendance record and a patina of “real Baptist” outrage over how the Religious Right has supposedly hijacked his heritage.” Is the religious right seeking a theocracy?  Returning to the NY Times article on Mr. Boyd: In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said. “America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state. Well, the religious right (and most of the left) is in fact trying to pass legislation and controlling governments (both of which are common – encouraged even – in democracies), so I guess they might be.  But Boyd leaves the door open a crack.  When asked why we, allegedly the possessors of “the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus,” should not be involved with setting laws, he responded: “I don’t think there’s a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don’t slap the label ‘Christian’ on it.” Yup, we as Christian’s actually do not possess “a particular angle…on society that others lack.”  As long as we admit that, play nice by the secular rules, and exert no influence at all, we too can seek a better government. […]



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Dennis Martin

posted August 2, 2006 at 3:17 pm


I am late on this thread (out of town for three weeks with no email access). Scot, Ann Coulter is routinely shouted down when she speaks on campuses and has been physically attacked. There is an organized campaign to silence her. I saw it first hand at Loyola last spring.
Sure she’s strident, but far less strident than Al Gore or Hillary on occasion and far less strident than any number of Hollywood Leftist activists who have called for the murder of the president, the rape of his daughters, the bombing of cabinet secretaries’ homes and so forth–all without any denunciation from the same media outlets that denounce Coulter.
In the most recent flap about 9/11 widows, one sentence, in my view, was objectionable and she was called to account for that by her own people–I heard Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager admonish her on that one sentence. Most of what was reported about her on this matter was distorted. The context of that one sentence in fact was a trenchant critique of the way four 9/11 widows chose to politicize their widowhood. They are the ones who made political hay out of their husbands deaths and they did so in extreme, strident language. They were feted for it.
In other words, the point she was making was dead-on accurate and needed to be made and was never made by the sycophant MSM. She erred in expressing her point in one sentence. Her point (about the way the widows nakedly partisanized their widowhood) was not debated. She should have been more careful in how she made it because the one foolish sentence gave a pretext to her opponents so they could ignore the larger point, but they too have a responsibility to address the point instead of evading it.
So I cannot agree with your comment on Coulter. I do not endorse everything she says but most of what she is said to have said is itself polemically distorted. I challenge you, Scot, read three of her books instead of relying on media reports of what she says and then point out where she’s wrong rather than indulging in ad feminem dismissal. Many of her arguments are actually quite accurate and telling. She’s rhetorically extremely gifted and effective, which is why, again, she is denounced ad hominem and silenced rather than debated point-by-point.
Based on distortion of what she’s said the so-called “progressives” and liberals routinely try to deny her the same freedom of speech everyone else enjoys.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 2, 2006 at 4:03 pm


Dennis,
You’re imagining things now. Since we know one another I can say this: not only are you late, you’ve not read what I said. Here’s what I said:
In a delicious irony, I was finishing up Balmer’s 3d chapter on education and democracy while on the TV in the living room Ann Coulter was being interviewed by Chris Mathews on MSNBC. They were outside; young students were in the audience. The mic was given to a young woman who asked Coulter how she could call herself a Christian and speak the way she had just spoken of Al Gore. Coulter was stunned a bit, and resorted, instead of addressing how Christians ought to address others in the public forum, to calling this young student a “Miss Smarty Pants.” In the same few minutes she criticized Democrats for not addressing the substance of her book but instead addressing only her words. Ah, Coulter, look in the mirror.
I don’t like it that she wears a cross about her neck. It doesn’t fit.
Later I called her a “cracked Eikon” — which is my term for a fallen person made in God’s image.
I was an eyewitness to what I wrote. I’ve not said anything about her books or her statement about the 9/11 widows or the like. So, I don’t know why you would go after me about her. I watch her on TV all the time; she’s filled with barbs and remarks that I think are unworthy of either an intelligent form of discourse or Christian rhetoric. That’s what I’ve said, and that’s about it.



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Dennis Martin

posted August 2, 2006 at 5:45 pm


Scot, what exactly did she say about Al Gore? The young woman made an ad hominem remark (what you said about Gore was unchristian) unless what Coulter said about Gore was false, dishonest etc. and therefore unChristian. But if what she said about Gore was substantive, then the young lady was giving a cheap response. I don’t know the answer, but I do not assume from the start that Coulter’s response to her was out of line, if in fact the young woman did exactly what almost everyone does with Coulter: ad hominem.
One can make sharp, witty, strident but substantive statements about a matter and be very Christian. One can also make unChristian statements. I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with your general assessment of Coulter, while awaiting clarification about what she said in this one instance about Gore. From what I have seen and read of Coulter, she makes very sharp, strong, polemical but not unchristian statements most of the time.
There’s a double-standard at work here. I have watched Coulter carefully for a number of years and I saw at Loyola the way she was treated by her opponents.
She may have been at fault in the instance you describe but it depends on what she said about Gore. If what she said about Gore was substantive and not dishonest or false, then the ad hominem from the young lady could appropriately be met by an ad hominem as a rhetorical debating technique, though I imagine it was lost on the young lady. Perhaps another form of an ad hominem would have been better than “Miss Smarty Pants” but from your description, the young lady did not offer an argument as to why Coulter’s words about Gore were unchristian. Instead, she accused Coulter of being a hypocrite. If in fact Coulter’s words on Gore were false or dishonest, then I agree, they were unchristian. But what did she say about Gore and how was it unchristian?



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Dennis Martin

posted August 2, 2006 at 5:48 pm


Scot, just for the record, I did read what you wrote the first time around :)



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Scot McKnight

posted August 2, 2006 at 6:15 pm


Dennis,
I don’t know what she said about Al Gore. My comment was on how she responded to a young student. Instead of dealing with the substance, she resorted to calling a young student a “Smarty Pants.” That is what I was talking about.



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Dennis Martin

posted August 3, 2006 at 10:19 am


That’s my point, Scot. The student didn’t deal with substance either. Which was Coulter’s point, according to your summary–instead of dealing with whatever Coulter said about Gore, the student implicitly accused her of being unchristian. Coulter may have been unchristian but we have not established that.
I’m all for civil discourse, but there is a place for sharp critique of someone without being unchristian. Coulter is sharp in her critique. That doesn’t automatically make her unchristian. One of the problems in our public discourse is that increasingly when someone takes a position of strong disagreement with someone else, it is taken as an injury to the person disagreed with. That’s what homosexuals say when a Christian enunciates the belief that homosexual orientation is disordered and homosexual acts are sinful. Instead of dealing with the substance, we are told, “Don’t say that to me. It’s mean. It hurts me.” Indeed, for asserting those beliefs, we are even called murderers because allegedly, such beliefs incite hatred against homosexuals and lead to the death of Matthew Shepherds.
To take refuge in ad hominems, “don’t say that to me or about him, it’s mean, it’s unchristian” is childish.
So it turns on whether what Coulter said about Gore was false, unfair, unchristian or not. If it was, the student was right to ask, “How can you say that and call yourself a Christian.” And then Coulter’s response was cheap and childish. But if Coulter’s statements about Gore were, however sharply worded, substantive and arguable, then the student’s question was out of line. Should Coulter have responded to an out-of-line question with “Miss Smarty Pants”–perhaps not. Perhaps she should have said, “you just directed a cheap ad hominem at me.” That’s a question of rhetorical strategy and if you want to fault Coulter on that, fine.
What I’m getting at, Scot, is that you already have an opinion of Coulter, which is very negative and tracks the general MSM opinion of her. She is, as you noted, a fallen Eikon, like you and I are. She certainly has spoken unChristianly on occasion. But I am convinced that about 85 % of the “mean” and “unfair” and “unChristian” accusations directed at her are based on pre-judgment rather than analysis of what she actually said, what arguments she was making.
If one tries to bracket out already formed pre-judgments about her and looks at what she writes and says, I think one would be surprised at how often she in fact is making a substantive and arguable point. Even her 9/11 widows sentence, if one reads it in light of the immediately preceding sentences, is not out of line–the failure in that case was to add a sentence or two connecting the thought-line from the preceding sentences to the offending one about “enjoying their husbands’ deaths.” The preceding sentences made the point that they were being feted for their politicization of the 9/11 deaths; by “enjoying” Coulter meant “willingingly going along with being celebrities when their celebrity status derived solely from the fact their husbands died on 9/11″ (that’s how she defended herself with Prager).
It was poorly stated and she should be faulted for sloppyiness in that instance and perhaps many others, but it is not fair to take one sentence out of context. She should have not been sloppy so that she wouldn’t find herself in the situation of having to explain in detail just what the sentence meant, but those who quoted it standing alone are equally at fault for not taking the sentence in its context.
The “Miss Smarty Pants” comment, standing alone, sounds outrageous. My point is that depending on what she said about Gore, it may have been foolish but not unjust. All I’m saying is that context matters. I think we can agree about that much even if we disagree about Coulter in general.



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Bill Samuel

posted August 5, 2006 at 3:46 pm


I think Balmer is correct in warning against Christians leaving public schools wholesale. But I think he weights the choices in a too unbalanced manner.
I know one family who home schooled one child, sent another to a private school, and sent the third to a public school. That was based on their evaluation of what would be in each child’s interest. I think this is perfectly valid.
All the people I know who do home schooling would generally be considered liberals, and none would be considered evangelicals. The movement is much broader than often portrayed.
There are immense problems with many of our public schools, most of which will not be solved by having more Christians in them. For one, most of them have become so large that students become lost in them. Studies have pretty conclusively demonstrated the harm done by having such large schools. Some students can operate effectively in them, but many just can’t. The schools may be great academically, but still will be a bad place for many students.
Furthermore, there is a spiritual concern that is valid. Public schools do tend to teach religion. What they teach is a civic religion, not Christianity. They have pagan religious rituals like the pledge of allegiance to the flag, and tend to teach “patriotism” – loyalty to a false god. Unfortunately, most people who claim to be Christian support this, sometimes stridently. People of deeper faith should fight this in the public arena, but it’s also a valid consideration among many for where they send their kids. Public schools tend to teach worship of a pagan symbol, that killing people is a noble thing to do, etc. Is this what we want our children to learn?
Now I went to public schools through high school, and I survived and never adopted the false religion taught. But I still see it as a danger.



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