We continue our critique of the Christian Action document Biblical principles for Using Your Vote on http://www.savotersguide.com. The author’s third point concerns the parties’ position on parent / state control of education.
The author’s heading of this section reads, ‘Education: Parent Controlled and for Religious Freedom’. His thinking here is rather mystifying. There seems to be something of a false dichotomy at work. It is not at all clear that parent-controlled education has anything to do with religious freedom, and nor is it a given that state-run education is opposed to religious freedom. But let’s have a look at what guidance is given us.
Is this principle Biblical?
It is difficult to assess whether this principle is Biblical, because so many factors are involved. I would support the idea that religious freedom in a plural society is Biblical, because 1Corinthians 5:11-12 indicates that Christians are not to stand in judgment of those outside the church, and the church is tasked with being salt and light in society, that is, we are to be people who carry the gospel in their speech and life. There is no indication that we ought to prevent others from pursuing their beliefs, as wrong as those might be. Freedom of religion is, in fact, the guarantee that we are able to pursue our own beliefs, even allowing us to oppose the beliefs of others (as evangelism must).
Furthermore, Hammond cites scriptures such as Ephesians 6:4 that urge fathers to bring up their children in the instruction of the Lord. Scripture regularly gives parents the responsibility to pass on the gospel to their children. In fact, three of his four citations (including Deuteronomy 6:1-7 and Psalm 78:4-7) carry this point. If we’re to be pedantic, they all say that fathers must do it, so if we’re supposed to understand these verses as restricting who may educate our children, then who are we to say that mothers are allowed to educate? Who are we to ever allow the state to educate? Clearly, this is not the intention of these verses. Anyone may educate our children, as long as we’re also training them in the gospel.
The other verse that the author quotes is Colossians 2:8. This verse urges us not to be taken captive through hollow philosophy, which Hammond presumably means us to take as a warning not to allow secular education. The context does not support this, however. This verse has in mind false teaching in the church, which in Colossians is the vain promise of ‘deeper Christian spirituality’ through spiritual experience. It still has nothing to do with whether or not the state should have the major say in education. In fact, if anything, it reminds us that Christians might equally be the source of deception for our children. Christian education also holds pitfalls for our children, and does not guarantee that parents are fulfilling the responsibility outlined by the other three verses quoted.
Civil education is correctly directed at preparing children for life in the state. In South Africa, it does not (yet) prevent religious people from also educating their children how they ought to live in service of God. It also still takes submission from parents who believe that civil education infringes their right to religious freedom.
Is it essential?
So, must Christians oppose state-run education in their voting? Again, the answer is, ‘No, it’s up to you.’
Hammond’s article on the subject seems to suggest that a government-prescribed curriculum in service of the constitution is opposed to religious freedom. If that was the case, we would need to oppose it. On the contrary, many of the changes in the curriculum are clearly aimed at removing the prejudicial preference of one religion over the others (such as religious education being exclusively Christian), and to educate children about other religions so that there can be less prejudice on these grounds.
We would certainly want to argue for a level of freedom in curriculum for schools that are, say, homogenously Christian. But would we celebrate a government as ‘godly’ that allowed Nazi schools and racist schools and Satanist schools to teach their children lies about people of other races and religions? We’ve come from a society in which different education systems and standards perpetuated injustice, and so government can be excused for seeing the solution as lying in a homogenous education curriculum. In governing a plural society, our leaders need to aim at developing a curriculum that recognises pluralism and teaches citizens to operate wisely and with tolerance. The Constitution aims at this, and education is self-consciously working towards this end.
I think that it is generally a positive move that the state is trying to use education to open our children’s eyes to the diversity around them. It is an important means of removing the blinkered prejudices that tend to result from being told that there is only one way of doing things. Certainly a combination of state curriculum with parent input seems to me to be wise. Either way, scripture does not force us to choose one or other direction on this matter.
Has the author been fair?
No. In a concerted effort to always have Christian parties agreeing with one another against everyone else, the author has scored the Christian CDA as representing parent control, despite the clear fact that they only ask for parents to have an advisory role within state education. He has also scored the IFP as representing joint state/parent control, despite the fact that they overwhelmingly give parents and communities the right to determine education, though with state input, but are at least far more on the side of parent control than the CDA.
More importantly, we also need to seriously ask ourselves whether a state that is trying to make room for all our nation’s religions (while still allowing you to teach your own religion to your child) is fairly designated as being opposed to religious freedom. Likewise, we need to ask whether parent-controlled education that won’t allow children to be ‘confused’ by hearing about other religions is therefore more free?