(RNS) Just as Republicans take the reins of power in Washington, a controversial trend has emerged in evangelical circles: Influential thought leaders are advocating withdrawal from public life in order to preserve historical Christian beliefs.
That includes withdrawal from public schools and other public institutions.
But what would a large-scale Christian withdrawal from civic life look like?
How would it affect America’s public schools and our nation’s children?
How does disengagement from civic institutions align with Jesus’ life and his command to love our neighbors as ourselves?
Rod Dreher, whose book “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation” calls for this Christian exodus, says Christians must invest in institutions that support our historical faith and practices, especially our churches. I agree.
I also agree with radio personality James Dobson that parents are charged with the responsibility to educate and make disciples of their children. But I part ways with any conclusion that results in a blanket call to abandon public education.
Deeming one or two education options as the “godly” choice only serves to distract and divide.
Every child is unique, and parents are best-equipped to determine the right school setting for each child.
School choice is the right of parents as they determine what is best for their children’s education and discipleship.
My own parents chose to home-school my brothers for a season, while I attended both public and private schools at various times. Now my husband and I serve as a founding family for a public charter school, even as we blend in home schooling for our eldest daughter.
There is no “one size fits all” schooling solution for Christian parents as we guide them to love the Lord with all their hearts, minds and strength.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supported this idea of school choice when she stated: “When it comes to the education of a child, I am agnostic as to the delivery system, or the building in which it takes place. If a child is able to grow and flourish, it shouldn’t matter where they learn. I support great public schools and I support great public school teachers.”
As the spirit of Christ calls us to love our neighbors, not just our own families, public school withdrawal appears particularly off target.
Our neighbors with access and financial means may enjoy many options for education: home schooling, Christian or private education, and public or charter schools.
Other families, due to location or income, health or family constraints, find their local public school to be their sole educational option. And let us not forget, most of our neighbor’s children are attending public schools, a full 90 percent of our nation’s 55 million students.
As Christians we can “love our neighbors as ourselves” by ensuring excellent education options for all children, including students in poverty, disabled students, English language learners and military families.
Each parent should be free to follow God’s guidance when determining the optimal educational environment for growth and success of their child.
Some Christians who are most faithful in loving their neighbors are educators who feel called to work in public school classrooms. Should they be shamed into abandoning their commitment to live as salt and light within their communities?
I submit the wiser action is greater Christian commitment to improving public education, and many church leaders agree.
A 2014 Barna survey found that almost all Protestant pastors believe Christians should be involved in helping public schools. And nearly half of the nation’s public educators are practicing Christians — people who attend church at least monthly and say their faith is very important in their life.
Critics who claim Christian values have been removed from public schools are overlooking the witness and dedication of Christian teachers, counselors, administrators and coaches devoted to their students in public school classrooms.
Jesus serves as the clearest model for how Christians should live and love in our world. He served all he encountered, loving those in his community, serving those on the margins.
May we follow his lead as we serve those in our communities. We can be salt and light, and stay on mission, as we love our neighbors as ourselves.
A mass exodus of Christians would be disastrous for America’s public school students.
Instead, let’s engage with our communities as we honor the imago dei in every student, providing high-quality education opportunities to support their God-given potential. There is no single “godly” way to educate our children, so let’s empower parents to choose the best schooling environment for their children.
(Andrea Ramirez is executive director of the Faith and Education Coalition for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference)