August 4, 2020

What God is served by “pastors” who deny families inroads to the very education called for in the Bible?

Do you remember that part of the Bible that says “render unto Caesar all of your children”?

Neither do I.

Yet, my theological understanding might be challenged by a group of clergy calling themselves Pastors for Texas Children Who argue that God calls us to support public school teachers and the schools that hire them – to the exclusion of all other educational arrangements.

My Bible is obviously a different version that PFTC’s. Mine says we are to to train our children into the Kingdom, and not into this world. the “pastors” arouse suspicion for me.

I looked into their website and found their mission:

“To provide “wrap-around” care and ministry to local schools, principals, teachers, staff and schoolchildren, and to advocate for children by supporting our free, public education system, to promote social justice for children, and to advance legislation that enriches Texas children, families, and communities.”

What’s remarkably absent? For starters, Jesus. After that, the Holy Spirit and God. You know, just minor omissions.

In a brief paragraph titled “What Makes Us Different” they say:

“Pastors for Texas Children is not just another education organization. What makes us different is that we are an independent ministry and outreach group comprised of pastors and church leaders from across the state, organizing to support quality public education opportunities for all Texas children. PTC stands with and for our children, families and communities throughout Texas, and offers solutions that will guard the values of all Texans.”

Again, what’s annoyingly missing?

I couldn’t find a Biblical basis for their advocacy. No scriptural lens for why they believe fighting for traditional public schools (and against offering access to religious education) is in accord with what G-d expects of them as His representatives.

I’m open to that discussion. No shade. Open heart and all that. In the spirit of fellowship and Christian accountability. But, sadly, and suspiciously, their collateral material appears to be uninterested in having a faith-informed conversation.

The fact that these “pastors” mimic the secular policy debates about education governance and funding without bringing new light or a spirit of true inclusion to the strife reveals their effort to be another cynical ploy of clever campaign strategists rather than a truly faith-based movement.

I expect this form of politicizing from the partisan actors in these debates – unions, politicians, bureaucrats, professional associations, and individual public employees and their families – but not from people supposedly learned of theology.

Looking to the Bible you won’t find explicit mentions of education, public or otherwise, but there are many mandates of the training we should provide for children (and adults). Ephesians 6:4 tells us to “…bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

“You shall teach [the words of the Lord] to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise,” Deuteronomy 11:19 tells us. Nothing here tells us to place the intellectual and spiritual development fully in the hands of state bureaucrats, their employees, or their institutions.

Through out the Bible we are told repeatedly that teaching, learning, knowledge, and wisdom are key to life. “Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life,” Proverbs 4:13 says.

The PFTC have firm standing when they talk about our collective responsibility for providing adequate resources and highly-qualified teachers for all children to have an opportunity to learn what the need to be successful in life.

No argument from me on that.

Yet, they fall into troublesome territory when the say there should be only one “public” way of achieving our universal educational goals: through bureaucratized, industrialized, standardized, unionized government schools.

To that point – if it really is about what is best for kids – I find this passage from Merripedia about the pro social benefits of religious education to be instructive here:

Because education is important for all citizens and the government invests heavily in public schooling, any factor that significantly promotes academic achievement is important to the common good. A growing body of research has consistently indicated that the frequency of religious practice is significantly and directly related to academic outcomes and educational attainment. Religiously involved students spend more time on their homework, work harder in school, and achieve more as a result.

Education, like religion, is such a foundational part of being human that it is difficult to see what we gain by separating them. Not everyone is an adherent to a specific faith, but for those who are the constant refrain of separating church and state is like calling for the separation of thinking and breathing. A tolerant society must understand that no system of education can be complete or truly “public” if it isn’t representative of the people it serves. In a culturally, ideologically, and theologically pluralistic nation, it just isn’t possible to humanely teach all children without teaching to the lowest common denominator.

That form of one-size-fits-few rebuts one of the most delicious educational candies of the moment; that bumper sticker canard about teaching the “whole child.”

I’m pretty sure the spirit is part of the whole.

After several Tweets back and forth with PFTC I see they are not against private schools, religious education, or parochial schools. They just believe our collective kitty of tax dollars should support families without resources to access educational opportunities outside of government schools.

Because, as we know, Jesus only said “let them come to me” to rich families.

For all the others he said: the government will save you.

Let me know what you think.

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