Who Is Responsible for Your Children’s Education?

Loudoun County, Virginia, has been in the news a lot lately, and not for any good reasons. You’ve probably heard, for example, about Scott Smith, who was arrested at a school board meeting in June, supposedly for being violent. What’s going on?

At the heart of all the shouting (not violence) at school board meetings (throughout the country, not only in Loudoun County) is parents’ protesting several things, including enforced mask-wearing, the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), sexually explicit material in school libraries, and transgenderism policies. In regard to transgenderism, a focal point of this is bathrooms/restrooms. The reason that Scott Smith was so enraged at that school board meeting is that a boy had put on a skirt, entered the girls’ bathroom, and done unspeakable things to his daughter.

In early October, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum in which he directed the FBI, along with all 93 U.S. Attorneys, to meet with local law enforcement throughout the U.S. in order to address alleged threats against and intimidation of school administrators, teachers, staff, and of course school board members. Conservatives throughout the country have protested vociferously, basically asking: Who’s being intimidated now? Adding fuel to the fire, Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said in a debate, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions,” adding, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Contrast that with Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, who said, “You believe school systems should tell children what to do. I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.”

How to evaluate all of this? First of all, there has been no violence at school board meetings, at least not yet. The video you may have seen of Scott Smith being wrestled to the floor and handcuffed is the closest thing to violence so far. Do parents have the right to speak against school policies that they disagree with? The answer should be obvious if you understand the First Amendment. Should parents sometimes be more measured in what they say? Sure. However, put yourself in Scott Smith’s shoes. Do you think you could be measured if your daughter were the one who had had unspeakable things done to her? Beyond that, aren’t public-school teachers’ salaries paid for by us, the taxpayers? Doesn’t that give parents the right to speak up? It seems to me that Merrick Garland’s memo is another instance of cancel culture at work; if you disagree with those in power, they will attempt to silence you.

Going back to the two primary contenders for governor of Virginia, let’s look again at Youngkin’s statement: “I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.” Compare that again with McAuliffe’s statement: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Which statement comes closer to Biblical truth?

Here is what the Lord told the Old Testament Israelites in Deuteronomy. First of all, in Chapter 6:6-7, we read, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Similarly, in Deuteronomy 11:19 we read, “Teach them [these words of Mine] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Here’s another one, from Proverbs 22:6, which says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” These verses, and many others like them, make it very clear that we who are Christians are responsible for teaching and training our children. I should add that while Christian schools and churches can be great places for our kids to learn about the Lord and His Word, if we are overdependent on these institutions, we are shirking our God-given responsibility.

I think the Bible makes it clear that we parents are responsible for our children’s spiritual education and training. Does this mean that we are responsible for every aspect of our children’s education? Not necessarily, but it does mean that we should be involved in our children’s schools and aware of what’s going on in their classrooms. Not surprisingly, a growing number of parents are choosing to homeschool; from 2019 to the fall of 2020, the percentage of homeschooled students jumped from 3.4% to a whopping 9%. I have no doubt that some of this is due to COVID, but I also have no doubt that some of it is due to parents getting sick of radical leftism in their children’s classrooms–and even physical danger in school bathrooms.

James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” My kids are grown, but my wife and I took this verse to heart while raising them! May the Lord give each of us wisdom as we teach and train our children.

Coddling in American Universities and Churches

I recently read a very insightful book called The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The subtitle is How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Their thesis is that there are three “untruths” that have permeated American colleges and universities, resulting in further coddling of young adults–further because for the average recent high-school graduate, the coddling has been going on their whole lives.

What is coddling? If you look at various dictionaries, the most common definition is overprotecting; another good definition is pampering. A common way to refer to this when it comes to childrearing is helicopter parenting; universities, whether intentional or not, often perpetuate this overprotection. So-called “safe spaces” on university campuses have become common. In addition, students have increasingly, and successfully, prevented outside speakers whose views they disagree with–most often conservatives–from coming on campus. In some cases, speakers have begun to speak but have been shouted down. In extreme cases, such as at UC Berkeley on February 1, 2017, violence and vandalism have erupted. In addition to the intimidation of speakers from outside the university, professors have also been intimidated into not feeling free to share conservative views.

At the outset, I referred to three untruths in this book; the first one I have found to be especially insightful. You have probably heard the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The untruth of fragility turns this on its head: “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.” In other words: failures, insults, and painful–even potentially challenging–experiences will do lasting damage; therefore, they are to be avoided no matter what. There is some truth to this, of course: we can all remember negative experiences and hurtful words that have impacted us. However, training our kids to attempt to avoid these at all costs is actually harmful. As Lukianoff and Haidt write, “Human beings need physical and mental challenges and stressors or we deteriorate.” The truth is, no one can completely avoid negative experiences and hurtful words anyway, so parents need to teach their kids how to deal with them. And by extension, when universities coddle their recent high-school graduates by giving them safe spaces and canceling lectures by conservative speakers, they only perpetuate the problem.

You may have noticed that the title of this post includes the phrase “and churches.” As I was reading the Lukianoff/Haidt book, I found myself thinking about the American church; are American pastors coddling their congregants? Let me begin to answer this by saying that I’m 61 years old; that I’ve been in a good number of churches, in two different countries, over the course of my life (including young childhood); and that I’ve listened to a good number of pastors over the radio and, more recently, the Internet. Let me also say that there is a wide variety of pastors and other church leaders. However, there are some definite changes I have noticed over the decades, especially since I returned to the U.S. in 1992 after five years overseas.

One word that I noticed with increasing frequency from fellow churchgoers in the early 1990s was “comfortable,” as in statements like these: “I want to go to a church where I feel comfortable.” “I feel comfortable here.” (No, they weren’t referring to the pews they were sitting in!) Is there anything wrong with feeling comfortable in a church? Insofar as people are referring to other people being friendly, for example, of course not; quite the opposite. However, when they refer to a pastor’s preaching, I believe that’s another matter. For example, pastors commonly preach, in one way or another, about the love of God–as well they should! However, have you heard a pastor speak about the justice of God recently? How about sin? Have you even heard the words “sin,” “sinner,” or “sinful” in the past year? What I have heard more and more are substitute words like “mistake” or even “wrong choice.” Speaking of sin: is your pastor becoming more general in his preaching? For example, have you heard a pastor speak against homosexuality recently? How about abortion? How about Biblical teaching regarding divorce and remarriage?

People like to talk about the promises of God. How about this one: suffering for your faith? I Timothy 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” This also reminds me of an extended section in Luke 14:25-33, where Jesus talks about the cost of being a disciple, or follower; you can read it here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2014%3A25-33&version=NIV. And when is the last time you heard a pastor warn about the ultimate destination of unbelievers: hell? I heard plenty about hell as a child, and it was one of the reasons, among many others, that I came to saving faith.

It seems to me that there are some pastors who are coddling, or overprotecting, their congregants. These pastors seem reluctant to risk offending them; perhaps they think, even subconsciously, that their churches will grow if they somehow make the Gospel more palatable to those outside the church. (How’s that working out?) This has also infiltrated children’s Sunday school. If your church, for example, uses the Orange Curriculum, I urge you to speak to whoever is in charge. The creators of this curriculum think that the purpose of Sunday school for kids is to try to make them laugh, and it has sunk to the level of irreverence. As for the overriding message: it is basically “be nice to everyone.” This curriculum, and the leadership’s refusal to abandon it, is one reason, along with several others, that my wife and I had to leave a church.

I am not advocating “hell-and-brimstone” preaching, but when specific sins, warnings, and topics like hell are avoided, pastors are putting people in spiritual, and even eternal, danger. The same applies to us who are not in church leadership when we are talking to people. Wise parents raise their children, in age-appropriate ways, to be increasingly mature. In the same way, understanding a person’s spiritual maturity will help determine how we talk to them. I have a neighbor that I’ve gotten to know who’s a non-Christian; sometimes I have an open door to talk to him about the Lord in some way, whether directly or indirectly. God’s love is part of it, but not all of it.

In the end, coddling does no one any good and in fact brings harm, whether you’re talking about home, university, or church. May we all give appropriate levels of protection, but not overprotection, to those we love.

Abortion and Vaccination: Your Body, Your Choice?

On September 1, Texas passed a law that bans women from having an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Later the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block that law from taking effect, despite a predictable daylong outcry from abortion rights groups. Following suit, an essentially identical bill was just introduced in Florida by a GOP state representative. Those on the left have continued to protest, citing a woman’s right to choose because it’s her body.

Abortion is one of those issues that the Bible is crystal-clear about. In Psalm 139:13 we read, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Jeremiah 1:5 is a very similar verse; the Lord tells the prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Job 31:15, a lesser-known verse, says, “Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?” There are other verses as well.

Since we know that Scripture very clearly condemns abortion (with the exception of the mother’s life being in danger), how should Christians respond? First of all, we need to make clear that abortion is wrong because it means taking the life of an unborn child, and we should push for laws like the Texas law mentioned at the outset of this post. Second, there are crisis pregnancy centers that have helped innumerable women and helped save the lives of innumerable children; if we know a pregnant woman who is considering abortion, we should direct her to such a center. Third, when the Lord provides the opportunity, we should be willing to engage in conversation about abortion with people we know. Many years ago, I had a colleague that I enjoyed talking with about a wide range of issues. It had become apparent to me that she was not a Christian, so when the abortion issue came up, I was not surprised that she thought, in spite of the scientific evidence regarding the person growing in the womb, that a woman should have the right to choose. While I disagreed with her, we were able to continue our relationship because of mutual respect. Finally, when we know someone who has had an abortion, especially a sister in Christ who has since repented, we should embrace them. My wife and I know a sister who had an abortion when she was a teen; after she became a Christian, she realized what she had done and felt godly remorse. She had since gotten married and had three kids of her own; she was also very loving to my then-young son and other kids in the community. I told her that the Lord had forgiven her and had given her a special love for kids. This was not to excuse the abortion, but to say that the Lord had brought about a marvelous transformation in her life through it.

As I discovered with my colleague, people who believe in a woman’s right to choose are reluctant to change their position on abortion. Another way of stating this is, “It’s my body and my choice.” Let’s contrast this with the Biden administration’s push to have everyone get the COVID-19 vaccination. When it comes to employment, it is now sometimes mandatory. One obvious example is the military, where the army, for example, is requiring vaccinations for all active-duty soldiers by December 15. Anyone who refuses the vaccination will be “reprimanded.” There are various kinds of “reprimands,” including those in leadership being relieved of their position. Even if someone has had COVID and recovered, thus having natural immunity and better protection than the vaccine gives, the Biden administration is still requiring them to get it.

Another class of workers who are now required to get the vaccine are employees at hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. Lewis County General Hospital in New York is pausing maternity services because “dozens” of staff members quit rather than get the COVID vaccination. The hospital’s maternity department and newborn nursery will shut down, at least temporarily, because of the staffing shortage.

Most in the media are also pushing vaccination mandates, but Don Lemon, a CNN commentator, has taken this to new lows. He recently said, for example, that it is “time to start shaming” the unvaccinated. He also continues to blast Trump supporters, who he says are “stupid;” perhaps Lemon is not aware that 56% of blacks are unvaccinated, and that a strong majority of blacks vote Democratic. Are unvaccinated blacks stupid, Mr. Lemon? Finally, and worst of all, Lemon recently told the unvaccinated, “Don’t go to the hospital when you get sick.” I wonder if Lemon is also in favor, for example, of smokers or the obese not being given medical attention.

What does the Bible have to say about vaccination? Well, you won’t find the word “vaccination” in the Bible, but take a look at I Corinthians 3:16-17, which says, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” Obviously, this has strong spiritual implications, as I Corinthians 6:18-20 makes clear in relation to sexual immorality. However, I believe it also applies to vaccinations. In my most recent post, I mentioned a close friend of mine who is not going to get the COVID vaccine because his doctor said it could kill him! In other words, we should not deliberately harm our bodies. As more research is done, it should become clearer regarding who should get the vaccine and who shouldn’t; however, even then, everyone should have the choice.

Perhaps the Biden administration will come to realize how foolish it is to attempt to mandate that every American get the COVID vaccine. Their message is essentially, “Your body, but not your choice.” Contrast this with their message on abortion, which is, “Your body, your choice.” With the one abortion exception being if the mother’s life is in danger, I believe Scripture is clear that those messages should be switched.

A Further Christian Response to COVID-19

In mid-May of last year, I wrote a post responding to COVID-19, including some predictions, but especially about people’s reactions to it. If you’re interested in reading it, click here: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/05/12/a-christian-response-to-covid-19/ Obviously, a lot has happened since then in terms of our understanding of it, so it’s time for an update.

To begin with, let’s lay out some facts, beginning with mental-health issues. One thing that I had thought would be on the rise is the U.S. suicide rate, but to my surprise, it actually dropped 5.6% from 2019 to 2020; on the other hand, preliminary studies indicate that the suicide rate among blacks and other people of color increased from previous years in some specific communities. Whether that is the case nationally is not yet known. Regarding depression: from January-June of 2019, 11% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression; in January of this year, 2021, that number was 41%. Given the huge increase, I went back to the original source to confirm it. Regarding kids: in late 2020, 31% of parents surveyed reported their children’s mental/emotional health was worse than before the pandemic; in a similar survey, 46% of teens were worse. A lot of this has to do with the lockdowns that almost all of us have experienced; thankfully, in many states, lockdowns have been lifted, at least in part.

Here are some facts about mortality rates: significantly more kids (0-17) have died from the flu than COVID-19. During the 2019-2020 flu season, 188 American kids died from the flu, but as of August 2020, only 90 American kids had died from COVID. Stats are not yet available for 2020-2021, but this still confirms what we knew early in the pandemic: the COVID mortality rate for kids is extremely low. In regard to the Delta variant: while it appears to be about twice as contagious as the original COVID strain, there are early indications that it is less deadly (in general, not just for kids) than the original. In addition, the overall COVID mortality rate is around 2%.

Regarding vaccinations: unfortunately, they have become extremely politicized, thanks in large part to the Biden administration’s strong urging of all Americans to get vaccinated. There is also continuing talk of vaccine passports. However, there is a recent study out of Israel, with a very large number of people, that suggests natural immunity gives significantly better protection than the vaccine(s). In other words, if you have previously contracted COVID and recovered, you are much better protected than if you have been vaccinated but have never had COVID. (Don’t worry; I’m not suggesting a “let’s get COVID party!”) This means that those who are pushing everyone to get vaccinated are most definitely not “following the science.” The continuing high-risk groups continue to be the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. However, not all elderly people should be vaccinated; one of my best friends, who is elderly and not in great health, has been told by his doctor that he should not get the vaccine because it could kill him! It has become increasingly obvious that vaccination should be a choice.

In summary: mental-health issues are significantly on the rise, at least in part due to lockdowns; mortality rates for kids are very low, there are indications that the Delta variant is less deadly in general than the original strain, and the overall mortality rate is only 2%; natural immunity gives better protection than vaccination. All of this suggests to me that governments should give more freedom, not less, although I understand hospitalization rates need to be taken into account as well. In the past month, I have heard two experts say something like this: We may have to learn to live with COVID. Now, there is wisdom! What they mean is that given how widespread it is, and the fact that there are already eight variants, it may be around forever. As I have thought about this, one implication is that we may have to get used to COVID in the same way we have gotten used to the flu; there may be an annual COVID vaccination against the most prominent variant, for example.

I understand that people don’t like uncertainty, but as a Christian, I know that God is in control. Last year I wrote about how for those of us who are Christians, we should not be afraid or anxious. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” If you find yourself anxious and fearful–for any reason, not just COVID concerns–take these verses to heart.

Some Reflections on Death and Life

Last week my oldest brother went to heaven; he is my third sibling to go home in the last ten months. I am responsible for settling his estate, but even in the midst of seemingly hundreds of details, I have had time to reflect on a lot of things.

First of all, there’s the importance of koinonia, or intimate fellowship. My spiritual brothers and sisters at my church have been life-giving. For example, I was scheduled to teach an adult Sunday-school class on Sunday, but one of my brothers offered to take over for me. One of my sisters came up to me and said, “When I read about your brother, I was speechless.” She then allowed me to talk about my brother and things related to his homegoing. Another sister asked me some questions which again allowed me to talk about my brother, as well as my other two siblings who have gone home in the past year. Another source of koinonia has turned out to be a tribute wall that the funeral home set up online. People who knew and loved my brother, including me and my surviving siblings, have been able to post wonderful tributes about him, giving us great comfort and joy in the midst of grief. For example, one was from a close friend of my brother’s who also happens to be the man who taught me in fifth and sixth grade! There have also been tributes from some people who probably don’t know the Lord, at least not yet, but who obviously saw something of Jesus in my godly brother. (My wife has referred to him as a “spiritual giant,” which is an apt description.) A third source was an extended-family Zoom meeting on Sunday, giving us a chance to share memories as well as some plans for a pair of memorial services: one in person, and one virtual.

Second, I have had multiple opportunities to talk to other people who may or may not know the Lord, including several customer service reps for various agencies and companies. When I have told them why I’m calling, they have invariably responded with expressions of sympathy. I have always said something like, “I’m sad for me, but very joyful for my brother because he is with the Lord Jesus now.” In other words, my brother’s homegoing has given me a very natural opportunity to say something about the Lord; I have even met two sisters in Christ. (A side note: one young gal said, “I apologize for your brother’s death.” Hmmm. I thanked her but had to stifle a chuckle; she’s not responsible for his death!) The Lord has also given me a chance to share something about Him with a delightful young couple in our neighborhood.

There are several verses in Scripture that have recently come to mind. One of them is 1 Thessalonians 4:13, which says, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” Paul then goes on to tell us about the second coming of the Lord. I truly feel sorry for those who have no hope; without it, I would be lost in a sea of grief. Another passage that has frequently come to mind is I Corinthians 15. Near the end of this chapter, Paul writes in verse 54, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Immediately following that, he asks in verse 55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The truth is, for a Christian, death has no victory; it is but a passage to eternal life.

This brings me to the second part of the title of this post: life. You can probably guess I am not referring to this life. There are so many passages in Scripture that give comfort and joy about the life to come; one of my favorites is in Revelation 21, where the apostle John sees the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. In verses 3-4 we read, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

I believe that the Lord has more work for me to do here before my homegoing, and I don’t have a death wish. However, I am ready to go home anytime; indeed, I am looking forward to being reunited with all of those in my family who have preceded me as well as all of the rest of God’s family throughout history. For those of you reading this who are already my brothers and sisters, I look forward to sharing eternity with you. If you are reading this and are not a believer, let this be the day that you turn to Jesus Christ in saving faith.