Coming Soon: Growing in the Gospel: Ephesians

If the Slasher Pastor blog goes quiet for a little while, it’s because I’m devoting more of my writing and study efforts to this study in Ephesians. I encourage you to check it out.

Growing in the Gospel

As a pastor, one of my key responsibilities, and indeed the mission of the whole church, is to make disciples of Jesus. Making disciples includes includes evangelism -sharing the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and calling people to repentance and faith – and discipleship – helping believers grow in their faith, move from spiritual immaturity to maturity, grow in the knowledge of God, bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and so on.

But how do we grow in our faith? I’ve learned that the answer to this question is complex. I’ve also learned that one of the key elements of spiritual growth is knowledge and application of Scripture. Faith comes from knowledge and knowledge – the kind needed for spiritual maturity – comes from the Word of God, His trustworthy revelation. Knowledge is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Knowledge, by itself, merely puffs up and makes us…

View original post 290 more words

Refugees and immigrants: A case study in Christian political engagement

Immigration, either from Mexico, or through refugees coming from Syria or surrounding nations fleeing from war and violence, is a hot topic in the news these days, and an important one for Christians to think critically about. There’s a lot on the line, both for those immigrants seeking a better life, or really any life at all, and (potentially) the future of America.

The purpose of this post isn’t to take one position or another, at least not a national political position, but to think about how this issues is understood through different lenses, and then think critically of the various positions being held. [Edit: Upon further reflection, this didn’t quite turn out to be true, see the quote from O. Alan Noble below which reflects the sort of position I find most compelling.]

What is clear

What is clear is that Christians ought to have compassion for those in other countries who are seeking to escape from war, violence, persecution, or extreme poverty and that Christians ought to have compassion for those neighbors in the United States who are especially vulnerable to injustice – including immigrants. As I have elsewhere argued, and where many others have been doing for a while now, the Old Testament is full of instructions to care for widows, orphans, and aliens living within the land. The call to care for strangers and sojourners is directly tied to Israel’s status as foreigners and strangers in Egypt. This principle in the Old Testament is consistent with the general principle of all Scripture that Christians should have compassion (that leads to material care) for those who are especially vulnerable. I can’t think of a single Christian I know – Republican or Democrat, Trump supporter or Trump detractor – who doesn’t agree with this.

What is less clear

What is significantly less clear is what role the Civil Government – in this case the American government – should do.

Let’s do a little thought experiment. Imagine that it was the “Right” that was calling for more open borders and the “Left” that was calling for tighter borders and controls and let’s also imagine that the “Right” was still heavily populated with evangelical Christians who were using the Scriptural argument above as a key part of their argument. I can picture the complaint of the “Left” already: You need to leave God out of politics. We live in a secular world. Do you want us to adopt all the laws of the Old Testament, too? Do you want us to become a theocracy!?

I think that the current more-open-borders-because-we-should-have-compassion-because-the-bible-tells-me-to position (sorry, I should shorten that name) is at least somewhat open to that charge. That position, to the extent that it argues for a one-to-one relationship between Israel and the United States, ironically makes the same mistake that it often complains those of the “Moral Majority” school of making.

The conservative argument against the more “compassionate” position of those calling for more admission of refugees is that, while it’s the role of the church and individual Christians to show compassion, it’s the role of the Civil government to restrain evil by bringing about justice for its citizens and protecting its borders from outside threats. If more immigration and refugees pose a threat to the people of this nation, then it would be the role of the government to protect its citizens by enacting greater controls, more “extreme vetting,” building a wall, or even banning immigration from certain countries.

I am sympathetic to this argument because I generally believe that the sanctioned role of government is rather limited. I also find it somewhat ironic, since those arguing in this way want to see religion and religious beliefs play a larger role in government in many other areas.

(As an aside, since I can’t help but compare most political issues back to abortion, it’s interesting to note that one of the legal justifications for abortion is that you’re not a citizen until you are born. Only citizens have rights under the constitution so only babies which have been born have the right to life (regardless of whether or not they are living humans, which they are). On the other side of the political spectrum, I’ve seen conservatives argue that non-citizens (read: refugees) don’t have rights since they are non-citizens while liberals argue for a more inclusive vision for mankind that doesn’t worry so much about citizenship.)

And so on one side of the spectrum we have a very simple God-and-government position: The Bible tells us to be compassionate towards strangers and foreigners and the vulnerable so we should have a more open immigration system. And on the other side we have a very simple separation-of-Church-and-State position: Yes, we need to be compassionate as individuals and a church but it’s the role of government to protect its own citizens from threats and not to worry about non-citizens.

A muddy middle

It should come as no surprise, if you’ve made it this far, that I want to argue for a more nuanced position than either two extremes. I admit it’s not fleshed out, but I will state my position as follows: I want a government that acts within its own realm of responsibilities and within its own character in a way that is informed by a biblical worldview. Let me unpack that:

A government that acts within its own realm of responsibilities. I don’t want my government to do everything or to take the role of the church or the role of the family. There are some “goods” which, while nevertheless good, are not the task of a civil/secular government to do. I don’t want my government doing evangelism or running church services, for instance. But, it is within the realm of the government to regulate its borders and it’s also within the realm of the government to act justly towards all mankind in a way that acknowledges a shared humanity (more on that last part in this post). It might not be the role of the government to care for refugees, but it might be the role of the government to make it possible for kind-hearted, gospel-driven citizens to do just that.

A government that acts within its own character. This may be a specifically American desire but America was founded on certain principles which I would hate to see lost or trampled on. Two of those principles are religious freedom and equality of persons. So, when Muslims are specifically targeted for exclusion, or when Mexican immigrants are demonized, we are acting outside of our character as a nation.

A government informed by a biblical worldview. I’m not saying I want a theocratic state, but I do want my government to be informed by a biblical worldview. In this case, I want it to be informed by an ethic of compassion towards the vulnerable as described in the Old Testament injunctions cited above, and then weigh that against relative threats to security and then act wisely and justly towards all people.

What we have then are (potentially) competing interests. The government ought to act in the best interests of its citizens – including security – and it ought to act in a way informed by biblical compassion for those who are especially vulnerable – including non-citizens. This is a muddy middle, perhaps, but it’s also the hard work of governance.

O. Alan Noble suggests just this sort of balanced position, arguing for community-based resettlement programs that makes room for the church to help refugees integrate into those communities. Addressing Muslim immigration in particular he states:

“Both extremes [Islamophobia and Mass Immigration] carry tremendous rhetorical weight in an election year, but neither reflects the kind of resettlement we actually do in the US. Carefully planned, community-based resettlement programs can help those in need, strengthen communities, offer new opportunities to share the gospel, and mitigate the major concerns about Muslim immigration.”

Two final notes

In many cases, the threat which immigrants and refugees plays to the American public seems to be trumped up out of proportion to the actual threat (see Ed Stetzer’s CT article). Sometimes immigration is even framed as an outside invasion, and not as families desperately seeking to get out of a horrible situation (which I think more accurately characterizes the vast majority of circumstances). We shouldn’t be naïve about the possibility of danger, but we should try to be accurate about just what danger there might be.

What if the government closes its borders entirely? What can Christians in America do then? Well, even before that happens the most direct way to help refugees for most of us is by working through organizations which have contact with refugees oversees. At the end of last year my family was able to contribute to Syrian refugee relief through the SBC.  If we want to care for immigrants and refugees, we need to do more than just complain about our government (though I have long maintained the role of advocacy) but be willing to be creative about how we can directly or indirectly love our neighbors in Jesus’s name.

The Golden rule vs The Silver rule

In Pursuing Justice Ken Wytsma makes a distinction between the golden rule and what he calls the silver rule. The golden tells us to “do unto others and you would have them do unto you.” The silver rule just adds the word “not” in strategic locations: “do not do unto others as you would have them not do unto you.” Or, essentially, it’s the principle “do no harm.” Unfortunately, we often substitute the golden rule for the silver rule and move from active love, to just trying to avoid doing harm.

It’s a lot easier to live by the silver rule. It’s not that hard to go through your day simply not hurting other people. At the end of the day we can begin to think we’re pretty good people.

But God calls us to more than simply doing no harm – the silver rule – but to actively love others. Following the golden rule is risky. It requires us to put ourselves on the line, to give of our resources and time. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the Priest and the Levite did no harm to the injured man. The followed the silver rule, risking nothing, but also not acting with love or justice. The Good Samaritan, however, took risks and gave of himself to show active love, to practice the golden rule.

Wytsma concludes by suggesting we flip the question around that often prevents us from following the golden rule. We ask the question, “If I help, what could happen to me?” Wytsma suggests we ask a different question, “If I don’t help, “what will happen to them?”

On the inevitability of structural racism

This article is a summary of John Piper’s article Structural Racism: The Child of Structural Pride. My purpose in summarizing it here is (1) to disseminate its ideas to my readers and (2) to reinforce and crystalize those same ideas in my own mind by writing them down. As is usually the case, reading the primary source is more beneficial than then its derivatives.

The goal of Piper’s article is to “reduce the instinctive, white, evangelical reaction against the idea of structural racism or systematic racism.” I share the same goal here. As I have navigated the dangerous waters of discussing racism one of the major obstacles has been discussing the idea of systematic racism. A fair number of white evangelicals I have interacted with are eager to condemn personal racism but are convinced that (a) systematic/structural racism is a thing of the past and that there are only small pockets of individual racists and (b) that by talking about systematic racism we either label everyone a racist or somehow devalue discussions of personal responsibility. I think that both of these convictions are wrong – that structural racism is both inevitable and more pervasive than most white people realize (including myself) – and that talking about structural racism doesn’t need to lead to either a false sense of guilt (“everyone is a racist”) or reduce the need to talk about personal responsibility.

Piper’s strategy is to focus on the theological question of systematic racism rather than particular instances of it. He aims “to show that, if your mind is Bible-saturated, you would consider it absolutely astonishing if structural racism were not pervasive wherever sin is pervasive.” In other words, Piper sees structural racism as inevitable in a fallen world, kept in check only by the grace of God.

First, some definitions. Piper chooses a “street-level” definition of race as “a group of people distinguished primarily by skin color, but also by facial features and hair type.” Racism, then, is “an explicit or implicit feeling or belief or practice that values one race over other races, or devalues one race beneath others.” Finally, he defines structural racism as “the cumulative effect of racist feelings, beliefs, and practices that become embodied and expressed in policies, rules, regulations, procedures, expectations, norms, assumptions, guidelines, places, strategies, objectives, practices, values, standards, narratives, histories, records, and the like, which accordingly disadvantage the devalued race and privilege the valued race.”  What is important in this final definition is that the effects of structural racism may linger “even if non-racist people now inhabit the institutions where the racist structures still holds sway.” To say that an institution, law, practice, procedure, etc. contains structural racism is not necessarily to impugn the people that inhabit that institution as being racist. (I’ll note, though, that sometimes we are culpable of our own blindness, lack of empathy, failure to listen, and/or failure to act. To speak of structural racism should also not absolve individuals of personal guilt when it is present.)

From there Piper outlines three realities of our world which makes structural racism inevitable.

First, personal human sin: Rebellion from God is characterized by hostility toward God and hostility towards our fellow man and hostility towards those different from us is generally easier than towards those who are like us. “If we are ‘malicious,’ how much more with those who are different from ourselves. If we ‘murder,’ how much more those who are different. If we ‘deceive,’ how much more the alien.”

Second, a supernatural devil: The task of the devil is to lie, kill, and destroy and he is constantly working against us – or rather with the sinful natures within us. Given this reality Piper asks “can we be surprised if he works through all the social institutions of this world to cultivate misunderstanding, distrust, bias, partiality, suspicion, ill-will, antagonism, hostility, murder, pogroms, lynchings, ethnic cleansing, holocaust, genocide?” The history of ethnic and racial strife bears witness to the reality of this evil.

Third, evil world systems: Finally, the Bible speaks of a “present evil age”, a “present darkness”, a world system which enslaves. What Piper aims to show here is that while evil exists within the human heart, it is “strengthened and extended by Satan into a global matrix of evil.” The evil that exists within the world is greater than the sum of its parts. The overall evil in the world is more devastating than just the addition of all the sins of the human race. Instead it becomes embedded in a system, a mindset, a culture, and pervades our policies and institutions.

Piper concludes this section: “I can think of no sin that is not systematic or structural.” If no sin is spared the inevitability of becoming systematic or structural, why should we make an exception for racism?

Next Piper looks at the sins of pride, greed, fear, and lust and shows how they all pervade the systems of the world and, then, how they relate to racism. I will simply quote Piper at length here:

In such a world, it would be inconceivable and utterly astonishing if there were no such thing as structural racism. In this world of sin and Satan and a decadent world system, it is incomprehensible that one sin would be privileged to escape systemic expression. This is true not only for statistical reasons, but for organic ones. Racism is the spoiled child of pride. And structural racism is the sturdy child of structural pride. They are organically connected. Pride gives birth to racism. Structural pride gives birth to structural racism.

Racism is an explicit or implicit feeling or belief or practice that values one race over other races, or devalues one race beneath others. Why do we do this? Because of pride. Egotism. Haughtiness. Vain-glory. What could be clearer than the fact that we devalue other races in order to exalt our own, and gain the advantages that go with it? This is why racism is also the sibling of the fraternal triplets greed, fear, and lust. We value our own race, and devalue others to gain benefits (greed), avoid perceived loss (fear). And all the while lust aids and abets the process by sucking the vestiges of decency out of our souls.

Note that Piper is not saying that institutions, procedures, etc. feel or are guilty of pride or racism, but that they “institutionalize the minds of the proud, greedy, fearful, lustful people who create them.” They allow the evil of their creator to live on even when that creator is no longer present. They pave the way for injustice, and block the path of righteousness.

“There will be policies that promote a visible pecking order that feeds on and furthers pride. There will be strategies of cut-throat competition that grow with the nutriments of greed. There will be procedures of micro-management that waken and exploit fear. There will be assumptions of dress that exploit lust.”

It should come as no surprise to us that Piper finds the solution to the problem of personal and individual racism in the gospel. The gospel begins by destroying our pride and then enables and emboldens us to dismantle first the evil in our own hearts and then that which exists in the structures which surround us.

One of the big payoffs for me here is that when we understand the inevitability of structural and systematic evil – including racism – we’re in a better position to hear our brothers and sisters when they point to a particular instance of it. We ought to be cautious of just “blaming the system” – as Piper certainly is – and each supposed instance can be evaluated in its own right, but nor should we just dismiss it out of hand. If we refuse to see it where it is present, we won’t have the tools needed to work for justice.

What does it mean to be “blessed”?

“Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” Psalm 128:1

According to Psalm 128:1, those who “fear the Lord” will be blessed. But what does it mean to be blessed by God? There are four categories of blessing: Present physical, present spiritual, future spiritual, and future physical.

Present physical

The focus in Psalm 128 is on present physical blessings. Verse 2 expands on the blessing of verse 1 to describe productive and fruitful labor: “You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.” Verse 3 describes the blessing in terms of a fruitful marriage and children. Verse 5 speaks of “prosperity” and verse 6 describes blessing as being able to “live to see your children’s children.”

The focus of this Psalm is typical of how blessings are described in the Old Testament. Blessings take the form of land, fruitful fields, prosperity, military victory, security, large flocks, good health, long life, a good spouse, and the presence of children and grandchildren. And, while the emphasis on this sort of blessing is lessened to some degree in the New Testament, it is not entirely removed. Proverbs instructs us to connect the dots between living in accordance with God’s law and experiencing some measure of present physical blessings from God.

But, this doesn’t always happen and there are many counter-examples. Psalm 129, the vert next psalm, is the first-person account of someone who has been beaten and oppressed. There’s no indication that such a person was in that place because they failed to properly “fear the Lord.” It’s usually wrong to look at a lack of blessing and infer a lack of faith. Instead, suffering and hardship are a “natural” part of living in a fallen and sinful world. If we limit “blessing” to physical blessings in this life, we will miss out on the much broader picture of what God has in store for those who follow Him.

Present spiritual

God also gives present “spiritual blessings.” Examples abound but are several listed in Philippians 2:1

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion.”

These words describe gifts which we receive by being united with Christ. We can experience these blessings completely apart from our circumstances. Paul speaks of learning to be content in all situations. This, too, is a spiritual blessing. These may not be tangible, buy they are no less real. If pressed, it is easy to think of individuals who lack some of the physical blessings listed above but who are far more blessed in this spiritual sense. They are poor yet rich.

Future spiritual

But even these present spiritual blessings pale in comparison to the spiritual blessings we can expect to experience in heaven. Even now we can experience the presence of Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But in heaven we will experience his presence “face to face”. We will go from seeing dimly to seeing clearly. Right now, we experience joy, but it is always tinged with some level of pain or worry. Then all our tears will be washed away. We will no longer experience pain in a way that diminishes our eternal joy in the presence of God.

Future physical

Many of us will stop here. Given the experiential reality that sometimes those who trust in God do not experience material blessings in this life, or that those in open rebellion live in opulence, there is a tendency to spiritualize every blessing. When combined with a latent platonic worldview that sees the physical world with suspicion we get a purely spiritualized otherworldly experience. But this is not the biblical perspective. The glorious physical bounties of Eden will be restored on the New Earth. We will indeed experience physical blessings in our Resurrected bodies. The “prosperity gospel” gets it right that God wants us to be healthy and wealthy. They just get the timing wrong when they assume it will happen in this life. Those who fear the Lord will have never-die health and will be inheritors of the earth, it just won’t happen on this side of the resurrection.

Best yet, we will be able to experience the future physical blessing while also experiencing the future eternal spiritual blessings of being with Jesus. We get to enjoy both the gift and the Giver to the full.

If you’re in Christ, you are #Blessed

The path to authoritarianism?

Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto is a lot to take in but for this post I want to just elaborate on one short paragraph. Before we get there, though, we need to understand Schaeffer’s broader point and his use of language. His thesis is that there are two competing worldviews in America and Northern Europe, an older Judea-Christian worldview which places God at the center of all reality, and a “humanist” worldview which denies the presence of God and places material, energy, and chance as the only basis for all reality. “Humanism” for Schaeffer, doesn’t mean having a high regard for human life – or being “humanitarian” – but rather subverting God’s place in the universe with Man. Ironically, when God is removed and only material, energy, and chance remain, the dignity of human life is undermined. It is this great clash of worldviews which for Schaeffer stands at the root of great societal shifts, particularly in America. A Christian Manifesto, written in 1981, the year before I was born, is a call to cultural and political action to turn the course back toward a Judea-Christian worldview.

Humanism leads to chaos by undermining the basis of law

Now to the paragraph in question:

“The humanists push for “freedom,” but having no Christian consensus to contain it, that “freedom” leads to chaos or to slavery under the state (or under an elite). Humanism, with its lack of any final base for law, always leads to chaos. It then naturally leads to some form of authoritarianism to control the chaos. Having produced the sickness, humanism gives more of the same kind of medicine for a cure. With its mistaken concept of final reality, it has no intrinsic reason to be interested in the individual, the human being. Its natural interest is the two collectives; the state and society.” (A Christian Manifesto, p. 29-30)

There are two important points here. First, that the “freedom” offered by humanism always leads to chaos. This is a bold statement but it flows logically. A materialistic worldview leaves no ultimate basis for moral or political law. Instead, laws become arbitrary, or at least becomes based on some sort of arbitrary set of standards. Schaeffer makes a strong case elsewhere the constitution is also undermined and provides no final defense of law either. For an historical illustration, Schaeffer compares the American revolution with the French revolution. The American revaluation, strongly influenced by Reformation ideals, led to a balance of form-freedom in government. The French revolution, based on humanist ideals, led to chaos.

Authoritarianism steps in to reign in the chaos

Schaeffer’s second point is that humanism then leads to authoritarianism. The chaos must be reined in and the most convenient way is through force – which is the basis of all governments based purely on a materialistic worldview. In a Judeo-Christian worldview, the government is still subject to a higher authority. But in the humanist worldview, there is simply no higher authority to which we can appeal. So the state – or as Schaeffer understands it, some sort of intellectual or technocratic elite – steps in to control the chaos through authoritarian control. How this authoritarianism takes hold is a question he leaves open but he guesses that it could easily be done through the promise of better economic conditions.

Conclusion – Modern equivalence?

This paragraph struck me because I immediately drew a connection to our present political situation, though whether this connection is warranted is another discussion. Regardless, we have been on the steady slope of humanism in every area of culture and government since Schaeffer wrote this book. And, this steady “progress” has led to greater levels of social chaos (at least perceived). One of the reactions against this “chaos” was the election of Donald Trump, seen by many as having authoritarian tendencies. He rose to prominence primarily by promising to rein in chaos and by promising an economic resurgence.

If that interpretation of Trump is correct, then America is not heading “back” to a better time (if one really existed) where a humanistic liberalism is held back, but is simply on the next leg of the humanist journey. I hope that this interpretation is wrong. Time will tell. Meanwhile, we are still wise to heed Schaeffer’s warning.

In Defense of School Vouchers

Update 11/28/2017 – When it comes to education I’m guided by the following principles. (1) I want parents to have a real choice in the education of their children – public/private, religious/secular, homeschooling. (2) I want this to be a choice for all parents, irregardless of income. (3) To the extent that this is seen as competing with quality public education is a problem but, ultimately, a false dichotomy. (4) The devil is in the details and I’m far less certain about those.

Original Post:

Donald Trump recently picked Betsy DeVos to be his secretary of education. She’s a controversial pick for several reasons and I am certainly not qualified to say one way or another on whether she is a good choice. But one of the reasons why she is controversial is because she is a proponent of school vouchers, the idea that parents who want to send their children to a private school could get money from the state to do so. As I understand it, they would get the equivalent of what it would cost the state to educate their child in a public school. This is a complex issue but I want to offer my own brief defense of the policy.

Public State Schools are Not Religiously Neutral

I would not always have defended the idea of education vouchers and my main reason would have been that this would have constituted a breach of the separation of church and state (see objection 2 below). My thinking was this: Public schools are religiously neutral institutions. Religious education should take place in the home and in the church/mosque/synagogue. Religious schools, by my estimation were, by and large, a luxury, and Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) parents who wanted to give their children a “religious education” were at no real disadvantage if they could not afford a private school.

Several things shifted my thinking on this, but all fall under the realization that my assumption that public schools were religiously neutral was deeply flawed. First, was my experience of being married to a science teacher at a Christian school that worked hard to integrate all the subjects with a Christian worldview. This helped me break down the spiritual/physical dualism that had tainted my theology, especially me theology of education. Second, I read several books which should how modern thinking was, at many points, fundamentally at odds with the biblical worldview and, importantly, that it was therefore necessary to have “thick” communities of faith which infused the Christian worldview at every level (see Leslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society and Stanley Hauerwas’ Resident Aliens.

Third, I came to the realization that the government establishes state schools to meet its own ends as a state. Such a school will not be morally neutral but will serve the “civil religion” of the nation, even if done in secular terms. Indeed, I have concluded that we have a civil religion in our nation which is not religiously neutral and, indeed, is often antithetical to the Christian worldview which Christian parents are tasked with passing along to their children.  Francis Schaeffer puts it like this:

“In the United States the materialistic, humanistic world view is being taught in most state schools. … We must never forget that the humanistic position is an exclusivist, closed system which shuts out all contending viewpoints – especially if these views teach anything other than relative values and standards. Anything which presents absolute truth, values, or standards is quite rightly seen by the humanist to be a total denial of the humanistic position.” (A Christian Manifesto)

These conclusions have led my wife and I to choose to send our children to a private Christian school. I do not think this is a mandate for all Christian parents – there are many other factors at play here – but my wife and I feel sufficiently compelled to use Christian education as a key tool as we seek to disciple our children. Many other Christian parents have come to the same conclusion (as well as Jewish and Muslim). My point is this: Children who go to public schools still get a religious education. They are still taught a worldview. And, in many ways, that “humanist, materialist” worldview will stand in opposition to the biblical worldview. State schools are not religiously neutral institutions.

Lower-Income parents who do not want their children educated in State schools are at a distinct disadvantage

This means that religious parents who don’t want their children being taught a competing worldview will essentially have to pay twice for the education of their children. First, they pay for their education by paying their taxes, collected and distributed as the state sees fit. Second, they pay for their education by sending their child to a private school.

This also means that poorer parents will not be able to send their children to private schools. Private schooling is expensive. While in some cases a school or church can offer a certain number of scholarships, the cost of private education makes it impossible for many even middle-income parents, and for nearly all lower-income parents.

If private education is a luxury, then this isn’t a big deal. But, if private education is an essential part of being able to pass along important aspects of your worldview and not having it undermined by an education designed to serve the purposes of the state, then asking a specific group of parents – religious ones – to double pay for their education seems to only unfair, but unjust.

Objections

Two objections are typically raised. First, that providing parents with vouchers which they can use to pay for a portion of their education at a religious school amounts to a breach of the separation of church and state since, presumably, it means tax dollars being sent to a religious institution. My first response would be to say that state schools are also not religiously neutral institutions, they simply express their religious tenants in secular/humanist terms. My second response would be that the money allocated is simply what the person would have (on average) paid into the tax pool. For more on this check out the Supreme Court Ruling Zelman v. Simmons-Harris which includes a five point Private Choice Test for constitutionality.

The second objection is that this would involve taking money away from public schools. That could certainly be the case but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if it did cut into money allocated to public schools I would favor overall increases to education funding in order to close the gap.

Conclusion

For the sake of time I had to leave out a lot. My wife and I are fine with “double paying” so that we can send our children to a private school. God has blessed us with the means to do so and I am happy that I can contribute to the public school system. There are many things which I appreciate about public schools and I am beyond grateful for the teachers in my own public school, several of whom were great Christians and mentors. Nevertheless, I believe that many parents who see religious education as an obligation and who fear their own worldviews are being undermined in the state schools are financially unable to send their children to their school of choice. It is those parents for whom I believe a voucher system would be both fair and just.

Appendix: The strongest objection

There’s a final objection for which I do not yet have a response. For a school to be able to be able to participate in a school voucher program it would need to meet certain qualifications. Those qualifications would be determined by the government. For instance, in a school voucher program in Ohio that was deemed constitutional (see Zelman v. Simmons-Harris) participating schools were not allowed to have faith as one of the considerations for enrollment. This would have disqualified the school to which we send our daughter. And, for many religious schools, this would be a deal breaker. At some point, the qualifications for participation could undermine the purpose of the school, but it’s hard to see a way around the state – even if through a third party accreditation agency – requiring some level of oversight.

I stand by my post as “a” defense of school vouchers since I think they are, indeed, defensible. But it’s possible that there are simply too many complicating factors to doing them well. Or it’s possible that those challenges can be overcome. Or, perhaps there are other options available and as yet unexplored. So, this post is “a defense”, but certainly not the “definitive defense.”