More on Christian Education

In a previous Facebook post I had stated, “one if not the greatest failing in Christian education, namely the development of a more robust view of how to participate as a Christian in a public school. If we go with a choice or diverse model, then one cannot hold the antithesis model (Christian v world).”

This brought an important counter from Brian Polet.

Isn’t Christian education defacto a Christian vs the world model? So you would advocate for the dissolution of Christian education?

I explain.

My views of Christian education are admittedly mixed, but no way is this an advocacy for the dissolution of Christian schools. For many they deliver solid educational achievement; in a worldly way they are good schools. They’re part of an educational mix that goes by the name of “Choice” where parents make decisions about what school is most appropriate for their child. For many, the Christian school will be a default choice, and to be clear: I see nothing wrong with that.

Now some caveats:

  • First, it is pretty clear that Christian education does not per se produce better Christians (that’s a church function fwiw).
  • Second, as educational venues, Christian schools often do a very good job because of the socio-economic standing of the parents (this is a commonplace in education generally where SES correlates with educational achievement). In GR, Potters House works to breakdown this SES/achievement link, and they have enjoyed some success.
  • Third, the baptismal vow I make is not simply to the child in front of me, but to all baptized children. Thus, the possibility of Christian education extends past the day school door.

At the school where I coach (Grand Rapids City) there are teachers who are there as part of their Christian faith. So perhaps we should make a distinction between Christian approach to the educational practice (what do Christians do as teachers, how do they embody faith before a varied student body etc.), and an institutional approach. The former addresses what goes on inside the walls, the latter is the exterior or perhaps wineskin. For teachers, the real advantage of Christian education is to practice their profession in the company of other, similarly minded believers. But… most students will be outside the Christian school, they will be found in charters, or in general schools. So for those students, for the teachers who interact with them, we need a more robust understanding of Christian thinking and education.

Slipping Into Darkness

Read on conservative side of the Religious Right and one can catch a whiff of an anti-democratic spirit, a longing for something other. Is just the patriarchal longing by another name? Is something else at work?

On her Facebook page, Kristin Kobes DuMez ponders this in light of a new article at Sojo (currently paywalled) by David Gushee, “The Trump Prophecy.”

This is something I kept seeing in my research that caught me off guard—the lack of support for democracy in conservative evangelical circles. When you believe in a patriarchal, authoritarian chain of command, democracy doesn’t make sense. Plus, for presuppositionalists, why would you want corrupt ideas holding sway? The question I struggled with is how influential/pervasive these ideas are within evangelicalism more broadly. More prevalent than I one thought.

So I don’t see this as an after-the-fact turn to justify support for Trump.

This emerging taste for hierarchy is certainly culturally different from the traditional culure of the Plain Folk, or the Scots-Irish that have so nurtured the Religious Right, which in turn leads me to wonder if this perhaps is a continuing capture by (conservative) Catholic social teaching? On Right to Life, the Catholics won the narrative, so Evangelicals started talking about “Natural Law” and likewise got up in arms supposed abortifacients (even got Calvin to sputter about Plan B as I recall). Also look for the use of subsidiarity by Evangelical political thinkers. In this framework, Trad Catholics lean away from representative democracy so it’s not surprising that the ties to representative government also get loosened.

As an aside, we can note the use of “Natural Law” as a sort of catchall in the desegregation debate. C.f. G.T. Gillespie, “Segregation is one of Nature’s Universal Laws” in Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, Zondervan 2019. p. 133. Further, the authoritarian turn may also be an instance of what Michael Lind describes as Southern Bourbonism politics with its aristo-oligarchic, Big House style authoritarianism; another dark shadow of the Cotton Kingdom.

The authoritarian turn also destabilizes Evangelical theology. The suspicion that is built into the Reformation and especially its Baptist wing gets dulled. To reverse the James II “no bishop, no king” we instead have “king, so bishop.” And to the degree the authoritarian is shadow of the Cotton Kingdom, it becomes a white box, a substitution of the Evangelical proclamation of good news for all into a good news (only) for some.

Taxation as Theft? (oh, I don’t think so)

Chuck Adams trolls the Facebook group, The Reformed Pub with an important question:

I am interested in how the “Taxation is Theft” folks here would engage with what Martyn Lloyd-Jones says here, in a sermon on Romans 13:1-7?

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Much conversation ensues. The sunbelt wing of Evangelicalism is well-known for it’s alliance between belief and conservative economics. But it does seem to be theologically lacking. Spiritually, the turn to ‘my money, my choice’ is a turn to the self resulting in two problems: first, that reinforces the sense of one’s own autonomy and so one that dulls the ears to the other; and second, it breeds a sort of resentment, since one is obviously not an isolate one is at the mercy of others — so a sourness takes root.

Other thoughts:

The difficulty is that all earnings, all objects of commerce are in fact communal. There’s a fine discussion of this in Wealth of Nations, how the piece of furniture actually represents multiple inputs of labor. That I can earn an income at my work depends on a host of other inputs from others — our income, and our work is never just our own. It is from this reality, this gifted reality, that the question of mutual obligation, of what is due, arises. We pay taxes because we are in this together. That at least would be how to understand taxes in light of representative government.

What of the non-representative government? Again there is a service, at its most basic, that of protection (see Hobbes). The tax here is both payment for service, as well as a recognition of the duty one owes to the Sovereign who stands in the place of God. This would be a more traditional way of looking at it.

In this light it is difficult to see how one refuses taxation. Jones is right: it is a moral duty. In a representative government that is not to be taken as something indifferent or something passively rendered. With he tax comes the obligation to also engage, to seek to shape the society into a more just community where all can thrive (so Ephesians, “do good to all, especially those of the household of faith”).

Berning down the house

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Bernie Sanders traveled to Mississippi to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death. Along the way, he got distracted, turning his attention to the failures of the Democrats and President Obama

“The business model, if you like, of the Democratic Party for the last 15 years or so has been a failure,’ said the Vermont Senator.

“People sometimes don’t see that because there was a charismatic individual named Barack Obama. He was obviously an extraordinary candidate, brilliant guy. But beyond that reality…”

There’s a fundamental question of (lack of ) political intelligence at work here: What we know about 2016 was that voters who voted for Obama ended up for the Orange Man.  Dissing Obama doesn’t help with that basic calculus, if anything it reveals an arrogance about the so-called progressive cause, an arrogance that is altogether too white.

Second, the Bernie comment simply feeds the separation of the progressive left — largely a suburban phenomena — and the urban communities of color. if there is one sure way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, this split is it. In Michigan in particular, the two communities need to work together to take back the key state offices, otherwise we get Gov Schuette.

Character before Policy

The continuing question of Evangelicals and their “moral mulligan” to the President remains in discussion.
Harry Lew notes
It’s one of the ploys in the Democrat playbook used against practically every Republican candidate running for national office. As for the mistreatment of women, Bill Clinton has a longer record of abuse with Hillary defending him by attacking his victims. I’m not excusing Trump or the Clintons. I’m only tired of what I see as my leftist friends’ sanctimonious one-sided judgment against their fellow believers who support Trump’s policies. The truth is a politician’s policies can be better than her or his character, and vice versa. The more substantial debate should be on policy.
Maybe a politician’s police can be better than his character. Maybe. Nonetheless I think this problem of character is more substantive. Policy takes shape in a political space shaped by character. It’s not that we need moral persons so much as we need the social norms, the practices shaped by character. the character of the participants — their personal morality, their trustworthiness as to their word, their fidelity to common standards and patriotism — these all help shape a set of norms, the tacit quality that lets policies be enacted. For the evangelical in particular, the elements of character also include items such as graciousness, a willingness to listen and such (all fruit of the Spirit). It’s not that we make political decisions based on character, but that we as a society have long known that attention to character yields better results for the whole.

The difficulty with the current President is not this or that “moral mulligan” but rather the entire stuff of character itself, and with that, the violation of the norms of our nation. As many observe, the character is that of a soft authoritarian, the sort that would make the instruments of government into the personal fiefdoms of the executive. Some nations operate that way, historically we haven’t. Why? again because of the particular religious and moral character. This in part is why we want to be cautious about the challenges as our society negotiates the sexual and gender politics, or why Evangelicals are proper to be concerned about certain elements of religious liberty as these undercut the existing norms.

But throughout, character counts. This is the stuff that builds the soft power, the norms that enable policies to be enacted (and be accepted). To step over character for the sake of policy is inevitably a short-term gain as inevitably policy changes. And then, when there is a ruler “who knew not Joseph” the appeal to character rings hollow, if it is heard at all.

Will they risk it?


John Austin at the Michigan Economic Center has a plan: build Michigan’s economy by investing in our universities, the State’s singular “innovation ecosystem,” as MLive explains,

Austin recommends altering Michigan’s economic development platform to invest further in what he called the “innovation ecosystem.”

“Incentive dollars (to get companies to move to Michigan) are not very effective in economic development,” Austin said. Instead, he said, a $20 million shift to create an innovation investment fund could attract four times that amount from private investors – and, with reinvestment, turn into a billion-dollar jobs engine.

“That’s an easy one to do,” Austin said. “The venture and innovation community in Michigan is foursquare behind building this.”

Seems like such an easy thing to do, invest in our schools and not in business handouts, too bad we’re missing a Legislature willing to make the deal.

6 industries that promise most growth for Michigan’s economy




Whose Body, Whose Profit?

Is abortion a matter of economic justice?

Matthew Loftus notes Miles Smith’s recent article in Public Discourse, American Abortion, American Freedom, and the economic objectification in abortion.

Try it at home: take any argument for slavery, substitute the word “fetus” for “African-American”, and see what happens!

“Abortion’s growing comfort within the capitalist order is not surprising. […] As in the case of slavery, economics proves to be the biggest motivator for abortion’s disciples. Political and social considerations prove to be little more than smokescreens.

In particular the article builds off of a recent piece in the New York Times from Lindy West, citing (again) the notion that abortion is a matter of  “economic justice.”

Smith turns the West article into an examination of political ideology, akin to that of the Southern defense of slavery.

Like slavery, abortion has become in the leftist mind the central political issue, on which the economic and social liberties of the modern United States all hang.

Well, yes, but it misses the real point in West’s work, that economics should drive the decision. Here, Smith would’ve been better to actually pulled the neo-liberal trigger. The notion that abortion is necessary for economic reasons is not simply hearkening back to slavery, but is a participation in a globally oppressive economic order, one that reduces people and their values to commodities, so that a privileged few can have “experiences” (evidently, our new Veblen-esque word for wealth impacts).

In this world, the problematic employment is assumed — can’t do nothing about it — so abortion provides a ‘freedom’ a human right. West’s argument assumes the economic status quo with its emphasis on consumerism. The path of economic justice lies in another direction, that of better wages, better maternal care, better pre-schools etc. There’s a lot to be done for women, it’s just that we don’t want to.

So we get the argument for the status quo, where one body is sacrificed so another — the investor class — can enjoy its consumer privilege borne from cheap wages and a poor social contract. The Christian response at the least allies, if not adopts the neoliberal criticism: arguments of spurious economic rights mask the real actions that can be taken for justice. To do so reduces the woman to an economic producer, a widget (in classic Roman terms, a “tool that thinks”) — and here we are in fact not that far from Smith’s link to slavery.

Dodging the Trump bullet

Neil Carlson cites this NYT article to observe

party identification and religious identification can both reflect pro- or anti-Trump selection bias. People who used to be “independent” and “no particular religion” may now say they’re Republican evangelicals, because that brand is associated with Trump’s iconoclastic populist nativism. And vice versa. The more we repeat the “81% of evangelicals voted Trump” figure, the more we reinforce the brand and create further self-fulfilling prophecies about support and opposition.

Speaking practically, this shifting of brands means that an institution like the CRC must be especially on its toes. How does it position itself within its communities as a non-Trump entity? (Not anti-Trump, but as a counter). The Trump party is going to end soon enough and will definitely be giving Evangelicals a morning-after headache of the worst sort. The trickiness is of course, that by conviction the US wing of the church sides broadly with the Evangelicals and has a record of voting that inclines that way. But separate we must if we are to have any morning-after credibility, particularly with our vision of reaching a broader set of communities.

It was 20 years ago today…

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Amnesia can be wonderful thing, especially in politics. To listen to  John Kennedy, one may think that of course, the teacher pension problem is about poor planning. Then again, that may not be a flaw but a feature. He writes for the West Michigan Policy Forum:

It’s simple math. Today’s vastly underfunded teacher pension systems are not good for our teachers or students. Twenty years ago our state teacher retirement plan was fully funded, but due to poor financial planning assumptions and not meeting the annual funding requirement, there is now a shortfall of least $29 billion.

Here’s where amnesia takes over: twenty years ago the Engler administration raided the teacher pension fund as part of Prop A. Under that same plan, the Engler administration also shifted responsibility for increases in pensions to the local districts. The raid destabilized the funds and the cost shift meant that districts came into fiscal risk while simultaneously losing money to effectively teach their children.

And to spell this out completely: John Engler enjoyed some of his most significant support from the Republican party of W Michigan. This crisis is almost entirely one of their own making.

Finding Trump, Missing Jesus

Sometimes the pain of politics gets us, robs us. One plaintive cry from Facebook

I have been questioning Christianity since Trump took office. A lot of church members supported him (to my complete surprise) and I just couldn’t understand. I stopped going to church and I am now starting to question my faith, which makes me sad. I wonder “am I believing in something for good reasons or am I just following”. At first it just gave me pause for church but now has me questioning my faith. Does anyone have any advice?

Yes the faith map is so discouraging sometimes, especially if you are accustomed to gathering with conservative Christians of the Evangelical variety. So to break on politics means that you also give up a community that has in some sense nurtured you or given you a sense of place. Part of the underlying fear is that if you go to one of those “other” churches you will find an expressed faith that is not as vibrant, the thing that holds you currently with the church.

Spiritual communities give some needed resources in this time. First, there is simply the solace of friendship arising from a common task (not to dis the political, but in politics we tend to think instrumentally, that we are only as good as we give. the best spiritual gatherings have a sort of baked-in acceptance, as you are, where you are.) A second reason to consider a spiritual community is because the critique of this Trumpian time has such spiritual qualities, the turning away from others for the exaltation of self, say. The unwillingness to work for the common good. The shrinkage — the absence! — of compassion. Churches and other spiritual communities have some pretty deep wells that can help here.
And I do hear how alone you are in this. There are others of us out there, and we very much want you to know how embraced you are. Peace.