Perhaps like many of you I ran across the astonishing story last week of the mandatory gay pride assembly at a public elementary school in California. During the same sitting I read a post by the reformed blogger Tim Challies – 10 Lessons from 10 Years of Public Schooling.[i] The juxtaposition of these two posts sent my mind reeling for a moment as I attempted to reconcile Challies’ perspective with the root of the issue at the Oakland school.
Last week, Glenview Elementary did not inform parents that their children would be attending an event celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) pride. The assembly began with a lesbian mother providing the history and an explanation for each of the colors on the LGBTQ flag. This was followed by performances from the Oakland-East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus along with videos about family diversity. As one child put it during the first video, “It doesn’t matter if you have two moms. It doesn’t matter if you have two dads. A family is a family.” The gathering even involved a “responsive reading” of a quote from the radical lesbian feminist Audre Lorde. If you have only read about the assembly you will not get the full effect. The video was taken down from the internet late last week but it can now be viewed below. Watch at least the first few minutes.
After coming across this story, it is no wonder as to why Challies’ post peaked my interest moments later when it entered my twitter feed. In his typical levelheaded and helpful posture, he provides ten lessons learned over the years his three children have been in public school. He reinforces that even in a public school context, parents can and do play the primary role in the education of their children. He also emphasizes the involvement of the family within school life and even considers the role of the church.
That said, while insightful and interesting, the commentary represents yet another example of how out of touch we as Christians are with the respective roles of the family, church and state. We see this clearly as we contrast the blog post with the recent event at Glenview Elementary. Now Challies may chide me for using such an extreme example over and against his own experience in public schools. Indeed, he even makes clear that his own choice for his children’s education would be governed by the specific context.
We did not choose to put our children in public school outside of our own context. Had we lived elsewhere or had some of the particulars of our life been different, we may well have chosen a different course. What I mean to say is while we believe public school has been a good and viable option for us, we are firmly convinced that every family ought to make their own choice based on their unique circumstances.[ii]
We can postulate that should Challies take up residence in Oakland, he would probably find another educational alternative to the public school system. Yet, we need to be clear that even a public school with a completely Christian staff of teachers and administrators would still be more than dubious. The question we should be asking is not, “is this particular school satisfactory for the education of my children”? The question should be, “is it the state’s role to educate my child”? Further, the question should be, “will those who teach my children do it from a self-conscious, overt, and blatantly Biblical worldview?” Education is not neutral. It is not possible to send our children off to be taught in an ethically neutral environment. It can only feel neutral as long as everyone agrees with one another’s guiding presuppositions. But as ethical differences begin to surface more and more, the myth of neutrality begins to wear off. At first, we vow to focus on the common ground and de-emphasize our differences. But as we inevitably begin stepping on one another’s toes, we find it more difficult to work together closely. We are in that stage in a growing number of public arenas today.
…a growing realization on both sides of the political cease-fire line that the traditional ideological synthesis of political pluralism is collapsing. What we are witnessing is a slow but sure breakdown of the political cease-fire between humanism and Christianity. On each side, the defenders of the compromised system can no longer hold their own troops in line. Guerilla skirmishes are breaking out continually. The humanists are beginning to act like humanists, and a tiny handful of Christians are beginning to act like Christians.[iii]
Those in the gay and lesbian community and their sympathizers at Glenview Elementary are acting consistently with their worldview. A skirmish has broken out. We should not be surprised. The good news is that left to itself, the consistent secular humanism will self-destruct.
The synthesis of political pluralism is not breaking down only because of the inherent contradictions between the religion of man and the religion of the Bible. It is also breaking down because the religion of secular humanism is itself collapsing, not only theoretically but institutionally.[iv]
We should be happy to learn that the number of children being taught at home is growing seven times faster than public school enrollment.[v] This trend will not reverse. In New Orleans, they have just shut down the last of the remaining traditional public schools. The free market is hitting public education like a sledgehammer. Rather than remaining to fight in the “guerilla skirmishes”, parents are taking their children out of these tax-funded institutions and into environments where instruction can be blatantly Christian. They don’t want their children to only learn math facts. They want them to also understand the religious or ethical implications of the presence of math facts.
A pluralistic society cannot remain pluralistic over time. The skirmishes will turn into wars. The gospel is truly the only hope for such a society and the only thing that will keep it from collapse. Tim Challies will in time most likely take his children out of the public school system. Countless others will as well. The sooner the better.