First, this is a blog, and not the official or unofficial opinion of any organization with which I am involved. My instinct to write it might be foolish. As I went on a walk with my dogs this morning, I knew I was going to write it.
I am an expert in education, and private education in particular, and Christian private education specifically. I am concerned about what is happening in the lives of the millions of children who walk, ride, and bike to our Christian schools every day.
So my blog begins this morning, November 27th, 2019 when I received a text message which goes as follows: Hi Simon, this is Max with Paige Kreisman for Oregon House. Paige is a Democratic Socialist and the first trans woman to run for state office in Oregon. Can you pitch in $9 today to help us beat our opponent who is funded by fossil fuels, the health industry and Amazon?
There are many things one could say but I want to take it from the point of view of a Christian school administrator or teacher. What do we do with this kind of messaging as we go through the next year of election politics?
First, we should teach our children how to apply our understanding of logical fallacies:
- this is an ad hominem argument against the opponent: the implication is that the person would not act in the best interests of his constituents (yes, I looked it up and it’s Rob Nosse)
- this is a straw man argument, setting up a caricature rather than a real person
- this is a false dichotomy between democratic socialist trans and fossil fuels health Amazon (and, just as an aside, over 90% of Amazon employees donate to Democrats, not Republicans)
- this is a circular argument where because the source of my funds is my political action is my funds etc.
- this is an appeal to ignorance – Amazon donated $500 – is this really being beholden to corporate interests? (I found this out from Paige’s Facebook page)
- and on and on
Second, we should understand that Christian schools are ‘and’ organizations. We are not apolitical. We are very political. But we misunderstand that term when we make it party oriented, or left/right, or right/wrong. Jesus attacked the Pharisees AND the Sadducees. Jesus critiqued the ruling order of the day AND held the individual accountable. Jesus was for his Father, AND if you healed in Jesus’ name, he didn’t ask questions.
Let’s apply this to two hot button topics of the day:
- Leadership: President Trump does not walk humbly with his God (Micah 6:8) and doesn’t make any pretense of being anything but a self-righteous, mendacious, foul-mouthed, womanizer. With all due respect to Paula White and her $229 prophecy offer (sale ends this November), he always was and it appears he will always be. Does that make him a bad President? If it does, then that disqualifies most people who have held the office, including several who are held up highly by history. Does that make him an appropriate role model in our Christian schools? No. Certainly not. What about Paige Kreisman? According to her website, she fights for housing, the green new deal, campaign finance reform, and unions. She is a disabled veteran. She was thrown out of the armed forces when President Trump changed the policy on trans people. Her leadership seems exemplary. But she also believes Republicans run “concentration camps” and wants to “deny basic human rights”, patent absurdities and highly insulting as presumably they are intended to be. Does that make her an appropriate role model in our Christian schools? No. Certainly not.Why not? Because neither Trump or Kreisman understand (or maybe even care) that Jesus’ take on leadership was getting on the floor and washing his disciples’ feet; it was looking at his executioners and asking his Father to forgive them; it was about saving, not condemning (John 3: 17). Neither of these individuals aspires to this kind of leadership, let alone practices it. But as counter cultural organizations, our Christian schools must look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2). We must hold ourselves and our children accountable to that. Style of leadership for our schools and our children is not a negotiable – we have a Model.
- The sanctity of life: Republicans are for the unborn child; Democrats are for the rights of the mother. What is the Christian school to do? I won’t bore you with the usual list of logical fallacies once again. What we should be able to at least talk about is that Jesus was for the sanctity of all life, and abundant life at that! (John 10:10). Shout Your Abortion and other organizations like it, including recent Democratic policy positions, want us to believe that there is no moral issue with abortion. The Christian school cannot go there. Of course this is a moral issue. Jewish law does not permit feticide based on Genesis 9:6, although Exodus 21 is a more difficult text since it treats the fetus as property damage, not as murder. Psalm 139 and other texts certainly suggest that the life within the womb, although dependent on the mother, is nonetheless truly life. The Christian school cannot be “Democrat”, at least in its current position on this issue. The Republican led legislature in Alabama, on the other hand, wants us to believe that an abortion is worthy of 99 years in prison (the Synod of Ankara in 314 only asked for 10 years of penance!), with no exceptions except where the health of the mother is at risk, and Steve King wants us to imagine where we would be without rape and incest. This is morality taken to an Inquisition level. Is this issue entirely black and white as we consider it in our Christian schools and with our children? Rabbinic scholars certainly believe there is room for discussion. The innocence of the child is not a sufficient reason to be absolute – God takes David’s child away from him due to David’s sinful conduct (2 Samuel 12). St. Augustine wrote: “The law does not provide that the act (abortion) pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation.” There is some justification for the view that the issue around abortion is actually a new resistance to women establishing rights for themselves apart from their husbands. Maybe abortion is more about women and their ‘place in society’ than about children’s lives! Before the 1980s, abortion was not a litmus issue for Christians. And, ironically, abortions have actually been in decline for over three decades from a height of 364 per 1,000 births in 1984 to 188 in 2015, a number equivalent to 1972 before Roe vs. Wade. The absolute number has also dropped to 638,169, also equivalent to before Roe vs Wade but with a population 100 million greater. As counter cultural organizations, Christian schools must uphold the sanctity of life as Christians, not as Democrats or Republicans. The sanctity of all life including the mother (and presumably the father who never seems to get mentioned). And it must, certainly with its oldest students, talk about and deal with the complexity of life – Jesus also recognized this when asked about divorce (Matthew 19). His standard there would convict most on both sides of the aisle. Throwing stones is dangerous in glass houses.
Paige Kreisman feels to me like the archetype of the current day politician and also often of the current day public-figure-church-leader. Her public persona is full of sound bites and caricatures, absolutes and bitter oppositions, stone throwing and arrogance, and lacking any of the virtues that Jesus espouses. Of course, she has as part of her background “an abusive, transphobic, evangelical baptist home in rural North Carolina” that has obviously been an overwhelming influence on her adult life. Interesting how much we all reflect our parents for good or ill.
Paige and Trump and many like them are and cannot be our models for Christian education. Our schools are counter cultural, a word Paige/Trump would claim but not understand in a Jesus context. But we are counter cultural in the lives of children who deal with AND on a daily basis. They are loved AND they are disciplined. They think their parents are amazing AND they understand their parents are flawed. They admire and respect their teachers AND they are often bored. They experience injustice in small and large ways AND they are also the doers of injustice. Most importantly, they are in a place where Jesus should reign who came to be our Savior AND who humbled himself before the throne, who used harsh language for those who didn’t live God’s Word AND looked sorrowfully after the rich man, who had power to call down legions and angels AND chose to heal the servant’s ear and submit to the authorities.
Our challenge in our schools is that it is hard not to be sucked into the either/or political divide and take our children with us, sometimes explicitly but usually implicitly. And our churches are not helpful – they have become deeply political themselves at the same time as they are riven with scandal.
The excitement and responsibility for us is that we influence over 3.5 million children every day. We are the new Church. We should represent Jesus brilliantly in our neighborhoods and regions. They should know us by our love. Whether the church can ever regain its position of influence is doubtful but the Christian school is and should be a beacon of light on the hill (Matthew 5:14). The Church (upper case C) is now represented by thousands of hallways filled with the feet of millions of children. Let us ensure that these children are not either/or political animals but AND/AND Jesus followers.