A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.
Does or Should Christian Education Make You Liberal or Conservative?
My wife and I have four children (note: the word “have” is not intended to imply ownership or materialism. Just saying!). They have a wide variety of opinions about important subjects from human sexuality to politics to social justice to various other causes. They have all gone to Christian schools of different kinds from conservative Catholic to conservative Protestant. Are they conservative or are they liberal?
I am convicted of the importance of interrogating this topic because I am worried that Christian schools get locked into dangerous assumptions about the alignment between following Jesus and secular politics.
For example, an evangelical Christian school might align itself with Republican or conservative values. At the right hand extreme, Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University endorsed Donald Trump and said that Trump reminded him of his father. Interestingly, he also said on January 25, 2018 that you can be a good Christian and vote liberal or conservative. There are always even more extreme views such as that of Jeff Tyler of Idaho who declared that the Republican Party is a Christian party.
In the center, a Catholic Christian school might align itself with Democrat or Republican values. In 2011 there were 69 Democrats and 63 Republicans (declared Catholics) in the House of Representatives and 15 Democrats and 9 Republicans (declared Catholics) in the Senate. A majority of Catholics supported President Bush in 2004 and President Obama in 2008. Nonetheless, in general, Catholics lean liberal with 57% of Catholics affiliating with the Democrats and 40% with Republicans. Catholic church teachings include statements such as “we need to confront the often invisible burdens of ordinary workers and their families, many of whom are hurting, discouraged, and left behind by this economy” (U.S. Catholic bishops) and “any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity” (Pope Francis).
Another approach to Christian education (with its liberal / conservative conundrum) can be seen in anabaptist Christian schools – think, for example, of the Hutterites and the Amish. Their commitment to education was as strong as any of the Protestant reformers and the Counter Reformation Catholics. “Hutterite little schools were in operation 270 years before modern kindergartens were founded by Frederick Froebel in Germany in 1837” (Anabaptist theologies of childhood and education p 121). I might add, for very different reasons too! But the anabaptists had little to no interest in interaction with political society and raised their children separately from the society within which their communities worked. This cultural / community approach to education completely avoids the Constantinian issue.
Some branches of Christianity, then, consider politics anathema, some consider politics/culture as the province of conservative Christian education and some think of Christian education as a means to progressive politics. In some cases, their position is very clear while in other cases there is an uneasy acknowledgement of complexity and thus liberal/conservative views exist together, often uneasily.
For my own family, I did not consider the anabaptist view as relevant since it required conformity to its own civil society (that I was not a member of) and seemed to avoid the issue as a macro issue while embracing it as a micro issue.
Christian schools that are confronting the political implications of their use of the term Christian don’t have that anabaptist option. If we are not withdrawing from society, then we have to determine how we should interact with it.
I think that the solution is both elegant and simple. I think that Christian schools must recognize that Jesus was neither liberal or conservative but the Son of Man and Son of God. He was equally scathing of the Pharisees (conservatives), the Sadducees (liberal), and might well have inspired Shakespeare to write the immortal line “A plague o’ both your houses” (Romeo and Juliet Act 3 Scene 1).
So some thoughts. The following topics are given democrat and republican positions that are then contrasted with the words of Jesus:
On capitalism: Democrats: if you are rich, you profited from the poor; if you are poor, you need help from the rich. Republicans: if you are rich, you deserved it; if you are poor, it’s your fault. Jesus: 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6)
On individualism: Democrats: the individual is saved by the collective. Republicans: the individual is oppressed by the collective. Jesus: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’f31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12)
On the unborn child: Democrats: the mother has the right to decide; Republicans: the child in the womb has a right to life. Jesus: 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Luke 12)
On war: Democrats: Educate for peace and kill if that doesn’t work; Republicans: Get them before they get us. Jesus: 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5)
On the environment: Democrats: we are willing to take away your individual rights to preserve the planet; Republicans: we believe in conservation when it is profitable; Jesus: 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. (Matthew 12)
On diversity: Democrats: we include everyone who agrees with us; Republicans: we imprison everyone who disagrees with us; Jesus: 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10)
However you might interpret the words of Jesus, it is pretty clear that Jesus challenges us at every level of our thinking and doing. He goes far beyond the Republicans in his view of individual responsibility and far beyond the Democrats in his view of collective responsibility. Our Christian schools negate his Godhead by watering down what he actually said and turning them into political slogans. We negate his Manhood by diminishing the reality of his experience including death on the cross and turning it into platitudes at cocktail parties. As St. Paul said of him, “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. Substitute Republicans and Democrats and you have it in a nutshell.