ARPA Canada has wrapped up its 2018 Fall Tour. During the last week, we wound through Alberta, where there is much consternation regarding actions by the Education Minister (Mr. Eggen) against independent Christian schools. You can read about the tension between the minister and these schools here.
Some solid Christian parents, with deep concerns about protecting these schools and the children in them, raised some good questions that we all need to wrestle with. This article is an attempt to try do justice to the questions by providing in-depth answers.
QUESTION #1: On safe school policies, can Reformed Christian schools not meet the government’s demands in order to preserve a very good thing: Reformed education in a Reformed institution for Reformed children?
We don’t see how it is possible to meet the demands of the Education Minister without violating moral law. First of all, if a Christian school declares they have a Bill 24 compliant policy, and post that policy to their public website (as required by the law), but have no intention of adhering to it, they not only break the 9th commandment, but sully the reputation of the Christian community as liars in the process. This is not what Jesus was suggesting when he instructed us to be wise as serpents.
Furthermore, when we play out the scenario, it ends in disaster:
- School implements a policy under s. 16.1 of the School Act(Bill 24), and proclaims to the Alberta government and Alberta public via their website that this policy is in force at their school.
- A student at the school requests a GSA club or activity (e.g. flying rainbow flag for pride week, or having a drag queen come to the school to read I Am Jazz to the grade 1-4 kids).
- Principal must “immediately grant permission” for the requested club or event (s. 16.1(1)(a), which must be, verbatim, in the school policy as per s. 45.1(4)(b)).
- Principal can either:
- comply (thus potentially compromising a Christian conviction on an ethical issue); or
- not comply (thus violating the policy);
- Assuming the principal does not comply, the student has the ability to go directly to the Minister of Education to ensure the initiative does happen.
- The Minister has the legal authority to “inquire into and report on any appeal, complaint or dispute” (s. 40(1)).
- Depending on what that inquiry reveals, the Minister can “appoint a responsible adult to work with the requesting students in organizing the activity or to facilitate the establishment, and the ongoing operation, of the student organization at the school” (School Act, s. 16.1(4).)
- The “responsible adult” referred to in s. 16.1(4) is most likely a person who holds views contrary to the school on issues of sexual ethics and identity.
- Furthermore, if a school were to take the case to court, a judge would now have extra ammunition to rule against the school because the school’s own policies allow the club or activity to take place.
When we play out the scenario, it seems to us that it will be impossible to maintain the integrity and character of a Christian school (at least as it relates to issues of identity and sexual ethics) and at the same time incorporate the demands of the Minister of Education.
QUESTION #2: Just as we “meet in the middle” for abortion laws, could we not do the same for Bill 24?
The comparison between advancing an imperfect abortion law and implementing an imperfect Christian school policy breaks down quite quickly because the two issues are different with regards to: the duration, identity, consequences, and (perhaps most importantly) responsibility.
First, the issues are different because of their duration.The abortion issue has persisted for fifty years to date. However, with Bill 24 we are still in the very early stages of this saga; it is too early to even consider where we might make concessions or compromise. To be clear, ARPA is open to proposing amendments to Bill 24 should the bill not get repealed, for example possible exemptions or exceptions for faith-based schools. So, in this case the bill could potentially remain but faith-based schools would be able to function freely when it comes to gender and sexuality issues. It would be ideal to repeal Bill 24 but we may very well have to accept the fact that the best we can do is propose amendments. Regardless, Christian schools cannot function under the current Bill 24 requirements. Furthermore, the court process is still ongoing. It seems to us irresponsible to compromise on school policies before a court has even ruled on the constitutionality of the law that is forcing the compromise. To give up Christian policies in favour of secular-humanist ones is compromise. To advance a pro-life law that restricts evil is not compromise (nothing is being given up by pro-life advocates when a law provides new protections where none existed before).
Second, the issues differ because of the attack on our identity.In advancing an imperfect abortion law, there is no compromise when it comes to when life begins. There is no compromise when it comes to pre-born human rights. There is strategy employed in taking a prudent step in the right direction, but there is no compromise on the truths we are advancing. If a church, for example, would be asked to post a policy on their website with views contrary to when life begins in the womb just to maintain charitable status, surely that church would take a stand even it if would lose such status. The church would not compromise and would not yield at such an attack on its identity or character or the truths it holds dear. In the case of Bill 24 we are being told to change our identity and being told to deny (or at least remain silent on) certain Biblical truths.
Therefore, the context of Bill 24 is different compared to the abortion issue. The context is quite similar to the time of Daniel recorded in Daniel 6. The king issued a decree that no one could pray to any God for thirty days. Daniel was known for praying (visibly!) three times a day. He could have prayed secretly. He could have waited the thirty days out and then prayed after that. If such a decree would be issued in our time today, we’d probably be tempted to consider one or both of these options. Daniel didn’t. Daniel seized the opportunity to keep praying as he always did. We should seize the opportunity to keep operating our safe schools as we’ve always done.
Third, there is a contrast in the two issues due to the potential consequences.Bill 24 comes with threats of loss of funding and accreditation. The abortion issue does not come with similar threats; churches aren’t being asked to post policies contrary to their worldview.
Returning to the example of Daniel, the thought of being put in a lion’s den “just” for praying (publicly in Daniel’s case) would tempt most of us to pray in secret. After all, it’s just thirty days; there’s no need to go asking for persecution. There is a positive side to the threats surrounding Bill 24. It has caused many to search the scriptures for the appropriate response. It has caused many to be willing to take a “Daniel-like” stand. This should cause gratitude and persistence in faith and not fear or the desire to make concessions. This isn’t just about policies; it’s about principles.
Finally, the comparison breaks down because of responsibility. A Reformed Christian school is responsible for Reformed Christian policies, whereas a secular, democratic, pluralistic state is responsible for laws of general application. To suggest that we can compromise on our own policies and undermine our own institutions because we advance laws for our nation that are a different standard than we hold ourselves to is to compare incomparable things.
QUESTION #3: ARPA has stated publicly that policies define our schools. Isn’t this a bit over the top? What about those mundane policies about cell phones, transportation, supervision and other administrative-type policies?
The scriptural principle of Sola Deo Gloria applies here. Scripture is clear that everything we do is to be done to the glory of God. This goes for eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, talking and the like. There is not a square millimetre of our lives that is exempt from being done to the glory of God. Similarly, all school policies must be created to the glory of God and must link to the mission, vision, and values of the school. This goes for the big polices and the little ones. The same goes for school lessons or school clubs. Every lesson plan and/or club activity must be done to the glory of God.
This question betrays a fallacy of equivocation – that because we could tolerate a wide divergence of policies on cell-phone use, for example, that we can then tolerate a wide divergence of policies on sexual ethics and doctrines of identity. The latter go more to the core of who we are, at an existential level – image bearers of God, ambassadors of King Jesus – whereas the other policies do not. ARPA holds that the safe school policies are not merely administrative in nature; they are core to what Christian schools do and how they do it and why they do it. And it’s quite obvious that the education minister thinks the same thing – that’s why he’s making such a big deal about those policies and not making a big deal about the transportation and cell-phone policies.
QUESTION #4: if we lose funding we’ll lose school members, perhaps even accreditation. Should we not adhere to some of our government standards?
There are two ways to lose a school: the government can shut it down or take it away from you, or the culture (or state) can pressure you to change your school yourself to such an extent that you change it’s Christian character, mission, tone, essence. If the school is going to be lost, it is better to have it taken away by an outside force, than to have it changed because of Christian compromise such that all that is left is the hollow, meaningless shell of a Christian school with nothing of substance being held to in the curriculum and policies, etc.
On funding, Reformed Christian schools are thriving in Ontario without any government funding, and they have been for fifty years. It won’t be easy for Alberta schools to lose funding, but it can be done. It just means more sacrifices by the entire community, and running a much leaner budget, with bigger class sizes and less of the extra programs or courses.
So, should you try to adhere to government standards? Absolutely, until they undermine Christian truth. And Bill 24 undermines Christian truth in spades. That’s where you draw the line. This is classic Acts 4:19-20.
QUESTION #5: With bill 24, we are being urged to take a principled stand against our government, at risk of losing our Reformed schools. I am worried that one day, 20 years down the road, we may find ourselves with no Reformed schools, and fighting and clawing our way back, willing to make concessions to get what we can… But to ask school boards to risk losing accreditation for a policy…I’m just not convinced that’s wise.
First, see answer #4 above about two ways to lose a school.
Second, ARPA Canada is also worried, worried that one day, 20 years down the road, we many find ourselves with Reformed schools in name only, that teach secular humanist nonsense with a bit of happy bible stories sprinkled here and there to assuage consciences, where our identity in Jesus is secondary to our preferred sexual and gender identities, and Jesus’ lordship is subject to our autonomous choices. Do not think, for one second, that a state that is not Christian will stop at a safe school policy. They want total obedience to the new orthodoxy. Curriculum will be next, including explicitly religious classes. “There is no neutral ground in the universe,” C.S. Lewis once wrote. “Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.”
Furthermore, remember that policies are a form of expression, and that expression is four-directional, not one direction. The objection in this question seems to assume that the policy is a document between the Minister of Education and the school. That’s only 25% true. The policy document also speaks to the students at the school. (See answer to question one as to how that might play out if a struggling or rebellious student take it seriously.) And there are same-sex attracted children in our schools, so we want to make sure our policies engage those students in an honest, loving and Christian way, and not a secular-humanist, faux-loving way. But the policy is also posted for the public to see (a third direction), and communicates a message to the general public that way. What truths or untruths are we projecting in that direction? And finally, the document speaks a truth vertically as well. It testifies (or fails to testify) to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Does God look at a Reformed Christian school policy that denies the infallibility of His holy Word, that undermines his good creation as made in His Image, and think, “Well, they really needed the 70% funding, so…”
Finally, it’s worth noting that institutional schooling is actually not at all a norm in the history of the Church. For the 6,000 years the Church has existed, institutional schools have only existed (as we know them now) for about 150 years. So if the State takes away our institutional schools, we hopefully have the courage and the innovative spirit to think of doing things differently again, perhaps looking to models used by the church the other 98% of her history.
In conclusion, the words seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you are appropriate to meditate on. How easy these words are to read or sing when we receive blessings in abundance! Do we still believe these words in the midst of our current trials? Yes, we do. God will give us all these things. He will provide our Christian families and communities with all these things. He has always done so and will continue to do so if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. Sola Deo Gloria!