Is the religious community's support for vouchers really wise?
By ALLEN BRILL, Guest columnist
The attitude of some evangelical Christians in the debate about the relative merits of public and private schools is puzzling to me.
Born-again Christians are among the most outspoken advocates for voucher and tax-credit programs that would help support private Christian schools. Last summer, two South Carolina Southern Baptists even made a proposal to the Southern Baptist Convention which was rejected that the denomination officially encourage its members to withdraw their children from public schools.
I've come to wonder more and more about whether private Christian schools really make sense in the light of Jesus' teaching. This is despite the positive experience our family had with the Lutheran parochial schools our children attended before we moved to South Carolina. Lying behind the arguments of Christians who disparage public schools is what really amounts to a lack of confidence in the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.
They decry the œsecularism of the public schools and claim that our children are being indoctrinated into some kind of godless worldview. Such an accusation is laughable here in South Carolina, where so many of our public school teachers are active Christians. Do we really believe that the alto who never misses choir practice on Thursday nights becomes a proselytizing atheist in front of her fourth-grade class? What these Christians really seem to want is for that fourth-grade teacher to use her authority to evangelize her young charges. Has the good news of Jesus so lost its appeal that it requires help from the government for people to believe?
Less explicit in the case some Christians make for separate schools, but perhaps more fundamental to their attitude, is the fear that their children will catch the immorality of our society. There's no question that our culture seems to have lost its way, but how curious it is for Christians to find the solution in withdrawing and hiding in their own little enclaves. It's likely that places such as Corinth, Rome and Ephesus were just as immoral in the first century. Secularist ideas were rampant in cities such as Athens. Caesar's government was more likely to behead Christians like Paul than to promote Christianity.
If the earliest Christians had separated themselves from society, gone to Christian schools and bought only from Christian merchants, it's unlikely that any of us ever would have heard of Jesus. We can be thankful that these Christians had enough confidence in the Gospel and Holy Spirit to believe that the rest of the world would catch their values, rather than vice versa.
Jesus calls his followers the salt of the earth. But how can salt ever affect the flavor of this world if it's kept pure and separate in its shaker?
Public schools are just the kind of institutions that Christians should be celebrating, where believers and unbelievers mix on a daily basis. If we just have enough confidence in the Gospel and in our children we'll see our local schools as an opportunity to improve our communities as we live the call to be in this world but not of it.
The Rev. Brill, a Lutheran pastor and member of the South Carolina Bar, administers Why Not, South Carolina? at www.whynotsouthcarolina.org