A Follow Up On “Salt and Light”

by Jonathan Hamilton

I recently linked to an article on the sensitive subject of how Christians ought to make educational choices for their children. Of course, this is a controversial area and it stirred some pushback to my basic stance that, generally speaking, sending a child to public school is not the best choice a Christian parent can make (in fairness I’d add: keep your kids out of most Christian schools as well. But that is a matter for a different article). Since my previous post was primarily a link to someone else’s thoughts I’d like to briefly summarize my own thoughts on the issue and also disclose my motives for choosing to publicly state them. Let’s start with motives.

First off, my goal is not to pass judgment on decisions made thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago by parents who now have older teens. My aim is to help parents who are currently making this choice to think through the implications of sending a child to public school as our culture and civilization continue their dramatic moral decline.  I realize that this still will cause disagreement, and maybe even offence (though I do not delight in giving offence and it is not my aim). However, given the magnitude of the question, this is not sufficient reason to remain silent.

And magnitude happens to be my second motive. This is a critical issue, because early influences shape children for the rest of their lives, and school is obviously one of the most significant influences in a child’s life.

Public schools, by and large, are a place where God, Scripture, absolute truth, absolute goodness, and absolute beauty are scorned and hated. Oh, to be sure, a child might hear the words ‘virtue,’ ‘truth,’ ‘good choices,’ and ‘kindness’ at school. But in a relativistic culture where each person’s ethical decisions are personal choices cut free from the cumbersome anchor of universal morality (and accountability to a Supreme Being), you can be sure that some of the ethics taught will vary from school to school and teacher to teacher, and too often will  contradict the God-designed universal standard. In our culture, good is evil and evil is good. Every man does what is right in his own eyes. And public schools might be more, but most are surely nothing less than culture inculcating, truth-hating, sanctification-destroying centers of illiberal closed-mindedness.

And this is precisely the point at which some parents might be tempted to shout, “That’s what I mean! The public schools need salt and light! How will we ever influence them for good if we don’t send our children there?”

Here are my top two objections to this thinking.

It astounds me how many (Protestant! Dispensational!) Christian parents assume their child’s salvation and treat them like a believer. As if the very fact of having believing parents and being very cute qualifies a second grader to waltz into Mrs. McGillicuddy’s socialist classroom and hold a tent meeting. This is part of a much larger problem among Christian parents and churches (where unbelieving children of members regularly lead the sentimental congregants in worship simply because they are children – an error a faithful church would not allow for in any other age group), but the salt and light argument is one place it rears its head. If the Spirit of God does not dwell in your child, it is harmful to them and to others to pretend that it does. They do not possess the requisite salt or light necessary to validate the argument.

Let’s say the first point does not apply to you. Your child has made a profession of faith that, in your best judgment, seems genuine and is bearing fruit. There is still a significant problem with the salt and light approach to educational choices. If we’re honest, we’d have to admit that even most Christian adults in our day would be ill-equipped to stand up against what children face in public school. So putting a child into a situation that would be a significant challenge for the average forty year-old Christian seems very unwise. Part of our incorrect thinking here stems from too light a view of sin (both its allurements and results), and our sentimental view of the unbeliever (both the children at your child’s school and the adults). So, before you make the decision to send your child to public school, please ask yourself, “How does God describe the unbelieving worldview my child will face at public school?” And then read Romans 1. Is your believing five, eight, thirteen, eighteen year old adequately prepared to face this? Are you?

It seems to me that using the salt and light approach to educational choices for a child is analogous to tossing that same child into the middle of the Atlantic to save a drowning sailor while the parents provide support from the life raft. We are asking children to do something God did not design them to do – to face mature and seething immorality, atheism, and secularism, and to turn that tide. It’s no wonder that so few children of Christians make it to adulthood still claiming the cross of Christ, for too many Christian parents, ill-equipped themselves, are unwittingly sowing the seeds of destruction before the child is remotely capable of weathering the storm.