Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
The Church’s Role in Education
By Mackenzie Harmon
October 27, 2014
Christian traditions vary widely in their views of church involvement in government-run schools. The Bible does not speak directly to the issue of church interaction with schools, and different church communities can legitimately draw different conclusions from faithful study of Scripture. However, churches should take into account basic guidelines for engagement with schools. In identifying those basic guidelines, the focus here will be on these roles as they relate to government-run schools.
Determining just guidelines for church-school relationships requires that we must draw distinctions between Christians as the church and Christians as citizens, as well as between the church as an institution and the church as a body. These distinctions allow us to determine just guidelines for church-school relationships. Each manifestation of the church is called to play different roles. Each one holds diverse responsibilities in the pursuit of justice in education.
The first distinction is between Christians as the church and Christians as citizens. Humans fundamentally cannot detach their public lives from their religious lives, nor should they. Each person’s set of guiding beliefs influences the ways he or she views and interacts with the world. However, humans hold different roles in different contexts. For example, a child’s responsibilities as a son or daughter differ from his or her responsibilities as a student or as a friend. In the same way, Christians have different education-related responsibilities in the contexts of the church and the public square.
As members of the institutional church, Christians have the responsibility to establish, refine, and communicate a theology of education, and to address the purpose, pedagogy, and practice of diverse education systems. Many examples of this type of work exist and are used presently within Christian traditions.
Christians as citizens have a related, but distinct set of responsibilities. These responsibilities include, for example, learning about the educational system and voting for school board members, even if one is not a parent or if one’s own children attend an independent school. Christians must also advocate for just education policy at the local, state, and federal levels in light of an understanding of public justice. Christian citizens should take full ownership of their responsibility to seek justice for all those involved in all parts of our nation’s education system.
The other distinction is between the church as an institution and the church as a body.
On an institutional level, the church can provide teaching that molds and informs the congregation’s understanding of justice in education. The church as an institution should call their members to active participation as citizens in a shared political community and point them to resources to help address systemic injustice in education.
The church as a body can put the diverse skills, interests, and capabilities given its members into service. The pursuit of justice in education by a church body might include sending volunteers to help overworked teachers, running a tutoring program, or providing school supplies. It is vital that the church body ensures that their efforts to aid a school line up with the self-identified needs of the school. The church body should establish a close relationship with the school’s principal, parents, and administration.
Each church will approach the issue of educational justice from a different perspective. Churches will bring their diverse set of strengths, capabilities, and insights. There is ample room for diversity within the bounds of justice. Churches can help overworked teachers, encourage members to engage politically, or discuss the purpose and significance of education. In each of these roles, churches and Christians from all backgrounds and communities have the opportunity to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God as they aid the cause of excellent education for everyone in their communities.
A version of this article appeared as part of CPJ’s Christians Investing in Education initiative.
- Mackenzie Harmon is a student at Covenant College and was a former intern at the Center for Public Justice.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”