Thursday, October 7, 2010

Example of Christian Liberty - Charter Schools

Awhile back I posted a series on Christian liberties. These areas are often difficult to navigate through. I have often had people raise specific issues regarding liberties so I thought I would post an example of an issue to try to help someone think through an area of Christian liberty. I do not by any means think I necessarily have the perfect answer to difficult issues like this, but at least it is an example of working through an issue. Hopefully it will help someone. The issue involves Christian homeschoolers and Charter Schools. Here is a sample letter:

Dear Friend,

Thank you for the packet of information on Charter School ISPs. I can appreciate your concerns. I am thankful for your desire to honor the Lord in all things and I’m thankful that you would come to me with your questions. Issues like these where there is no explicit command from Scripture (i.e., Don’t use Christian materials when you homeschool through a Charter School.) we have to try to apply principles that would be more implicit.

It is good to gather information on an issue as you have, but consider that these materials only present one side of the issue. What we should do in trying to solve a problem or come to a conclusion about something is to make sure that we can fully understand the other person’s viewpoint and even be able to argue their perspective better than they can, if possible. Then if we still disagree at least we can be sure that we are accurately reflecting their side and know for sure what we are rejecting and why.

The issue under consideration, as I understand it, is: First, that there are some Christian families that have their children in Public Charter Schools. Second, your issue is not that they choose to do this, but rather that some of these people use Christian educational materials during their school time instruction which you believe clearly violates the CA Constitution. Third, in your conscience, if you would do this, you would see it as sinning against God by not submitting to authorities (Romans 13:1-6). Do I have that right?

In looking at the info you gave me it was interesting to note that several of the position papers or pamphlets are arguing against anything but Christian homeschooling. They are arguing against Charter Schools because a Charter School as a public school would prohibit a Christian education. If I understand you correctly, that is not an issue with you. You would allow for freedom in regard to school choices. Someone could choose public school, public charter school, private school, or homeschool and that would be their liberty. Correct? So, we would not give weight to these arguments.

The other interesting thing that I find in the info is that none of it comes to the clear conclusion that you have come to, that if a Christian homeschools under a Charter School and yet uses Christian curriculum he is sinning by not submitting to authorities. They talk about the problems with Charter Schools. They mention that Charter Schools are not supposed to allow Christian education during school time. They mention that some Charter School administrators do allow parents to buy and use Christian curriculum, but are not supposed to. They state that parents in Charter Schools are allowed to supplement the child’s education with their own money on their own time. Yet, interestingly, none of the material, unless I missed it, states the conclusion that a parent who’s Charter School allows it would be in sin for doing it because of violating the Constitution. Mainly, they talk about the risks/dangers involved in doing so. If the courses were audited there could be repercussions such as loss of credits or even expulsion from the program. Roy Hanson comes the closest to saying it is sin when he states that it violates the regulations and then refers to possible deception involved and cites 2 Cor 4:2, which is Paul's statement about his ministry being of a different character than the false apostles because he did not come by way of deception.

So, I guess the questions would be: 1. Since it appears that it is a violation of State regulations, is it also a violation of the commands to submit to the governing authorities? 2. Is it deception?

The first problem I have in answering these questions is that I do not have the benefit of knowing how people who are doing this would answer them. I can’t make their argument better than they themselves make it because I do not know it. So, I would have to reserve final judgment upon it until I have heard their thinking on it. They may have valid points I have not considered. So, until then how should I evaluate it for myself? First of all I would approach the issue believing the best about my brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Cor 13:7) and assuming that they are not sinning until it is undeniable. Then, as the issue arises in conversation I would want to hear how they do process the situation and their actions. It is possible that some people are just ignorant of all of the factors involved. For these you can patiently inform them over time. Others may have fully thought through it all and are acting in good conscience.

Nevertheless, let’s try to answer the best we can in light of what we do know. As for the second question it seems easy. A person should know whether he or she is lying or not. If they are going to violate the regulation then they should not lie about it or try to deceive those who would inquire.

The first question is more difficult. It seems to me to be clearly a violation of regulations but even so there may be several possible legitimate reasons for such a violation. Here I would need to hear the person’s reasons for it. But I can propose some possibilities:

1) They believe it is an immoral law for the government to dictate that children cannot be taught from a Christian worldview, yet they also have the freedom to be in a public Charter School and benefit from it, so if they choose to be in it they must disobey a command to exclude God from their education.

2) Another possibility would be that there are conflicting interpretations of the law in other branches of the government (judiciary, executive, legislative) that would allow an interpretation of it that would provide freedom for homeschoolers to supplement within the school hours. Perhaps this is unlikely and I do not know of any, but I have seen this kind of thing happen often.

3) Some might feel that they have conflicting authorities. They are submitting to their immediate government authority who allows this, while other authorities do not. It is interesting that there are many laws on the books that are not enforced by governing authorities at various levels. In fact, as for going against the Constitution there are many governing authorities that go against the original intent of the US Federal Constitution. So, what do we do in such cases? Do we follow the Constitution or the particular governing agency or office that is violating it and overseeing us in the particular sphere we are operating? Sometimes these are tough questions.

4) Perhaps there are other justifications.

As it stands now I would have to conclude that this is a matter of conscience. If a person is convinced in his own mind that they are not lying and that they are free to use Christian materials in violation of this regulation and that it is not a violation of God’s command because of one of these justifications, then while I might not follow their rationale myself, I would not judge them as sinning against God. I would let God determine that (Romans 14:4, 10, 12, 13).

If after all of this a person still has a problem with people doing this and believes it is clearly a sin then in our church they would need to realize that they are in a church whose leadership views it as a freedom of conscience issue. So, they would need to do what makes for peace.

So, this is where I’m at on the issue presently. I’m certainly open to further discussion. Feel free to gain input from other elders or mature Christians you interact with. I hope this helps some.

Grace and peace,