The plural pronoun ‘us’ is used to refer to groups of like-minded individuals. It denotes a strong commonality among the group. Most groups, cultures, organizations, and even some nations demand strong allegiance to the norms and values that define the group. Throughout life, we all find ourselves in various groups; some intersecting, others remaining isolated. When we define ourselves as a group (us) there are necessarily those who are not in the group (them). The variance between us and them sometimes leads to consternation, strife, and even violence or war.
This is not necessarily the only outcome.
Pluralism as a Canadian Foundational Principle
Canada is somewhat unique as a nation. Unlike many nations, Canada is founded on multiple groups coming together, sharing some common values and ideals while recognizing and affirming differences among groups. English and French were the dominant colonial groups in early Canada and rather than continually fighting for dominance between them they chose a path of pluralism; of respecting the right of each group to use their own language and adhere to their own culture and religion while remaining a part of a greater whole that we know as Canada.1
A country based on pluralism creates space for groups, including schools, to operate within a specified set of values. As such, pluralism has been a blessing to Christians wishing to educate their children according to their values.
Christian Schools – Vision and Reality
Christian schools have been operating across Canada and the USA since the inception of our nations. In some jurisdictions, Christian schools pre-date publicly funded education. Christian schools are typically founded on a vision of educating, equipping, and training students within an organizational culture that reflects the values and beliefs of the founders and participants. Like-minded parents organize schools in accordance with their beliefs to train and disciple youth as mandated in Deut. 6:4–9 (…“impress the commands of the Lord upon your children”). These communities “train a child in the way he should go” (Prov. 22:6), isolating students for the purpose of character development and consistency of values between the home, church, and school, in the belief that this training will lead to a life lived in accordance with godly principles.
This freedom to associate on a specific set of values is not viewed positively by many today, as some Christian values are seen as discriminatory.
It is critical to remind ourselves that Christian schools do not isolate students as an end in itself—but rather to train and equip students to engage with culture; impacting our broader society for Christ.
Living out this vision would perhaps mitigate the fear and suspicion that some have of Christian schools. The success of pluralism rests on the freedom of various groups to associate with each other while balancing commitment to the commonly held values that cross the lines of association. Over time, the balance of this equation can shift or be called into question.
An honest assessment of Christian education shows that at times, school communities can misunderstand the reason for association and isolation. Some begin to view the isolation of like-minded individuals as the end in itself rather than the means to providing effective Christian engagement with society as a whole. Christian schools can take on a sheltering mentality, emphasizing the freedom to associate based on shared values and beliefs while de-emphasizing the goal of engaging culture for Christ. This can lead to schools becoming protectionist, secluded, and isolationist largely removing themselves from engagement with those outside of the school community.
Christian Schools & the Common Good
As stated above, Christian school mission statements typically articulate the goals of engaging, transforming, or impacting culture for Christ. The Church of England schools frame this sentiment as contributing to the common good.
This is a useful concept. It reminds us that, while we have the freedom to associate in specific groups (such as Christian schools), we all also function as members of our broader society. It grounds us in our common humanity, reminding us that since all human beings bear the sacred image of God, in the broad sweep of humanity there exists no ‘us-them’ dichotomy. Our imaging of the most high God places us all in the broadest association possible; that of humanity.
Blessed to Be a Blessing
The biblical narrative reminds us that, at times, it is critical to isolate and seclude communities around common beliefs. The nation of Israel and the community of Jesus’ disciples are two prime examples. Communities of common belief are critical for nurturing, teaching, and equipping; providing a safe space in which to learn and grow. The biblical narrative, however, does not conclude with secluded communities; it does not lose sight of the end game, which is to bless the other, those image-bearing humans who reside outside of our secluded community.
Genesis 18:18 reminds the people of Israel that their purpose is not to create a happy, comfortable community of like-minded folks, hoarding God’s blessing for their own comfort and pleasure; but rather they are blessed to a blessing to the other. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus commissions his disciples to move out of seclusion to the very ends of the earth, sharing and modelling the good news of hope and reconciliation in Christ.
Christian schools are secluded communities, but they are secluded with a purpose! To impact, transform, or simply bless the other; in short, to contribute to the common good.
Our place in a pluralistic society, especially one that may question the right of some organizations to exist, will be strengthened if we adhere to our core purpose while finding ways for our schools to become increasingly engaged with our neighbours and society, recognizing that we are blessed to be a blessing.