Our family took a year-by-year approach to education for our kids. Each of our kids attended both public school and private Christian school, with a little homeschooling thrown in. There are benefits and drawbacks to each approach. I never expected that our experiences with church but also Christian school would give me insights into why so many non-believers reject Christian communities.
Years ago, we attended a presentation of the Christian school choir. My week and several months prior had frankly been rotten. I entered the performance hall unusually irritated by the smiling faces. Even the song selection irritated me that night: the chosen singing songs about the chosen, the redeemed, the special ones that of course God loves and selected.
I knew it wasn’t the right time and place for sharing vulnerabilities; this was the spring choir performance, after all. But I was struck by the contrast in song to some harsh realities held quietly in the room: students with eating disorders, single-parent families grieving untimely spousal deaths, hidden problems with substance abuse.
It wasn’t the people carrying on with strength and courage in the face of personal struggles that I found irritating, it was the spiritual pride that permeated the atmosphere. And I had been just as guilty as the rest.
Educating our children in private school meant sacrificing significant finances and countless hours of carpooling and volunteering. But private school offered the results we and families like us wanted: academically, athletically, in the arts, and most importantly, spiritually.
When I discussed sending my younger child to public high school, I could see disapproval in the faces of some teachers and administrators.
When goals are made in the name of Christ, not only is the personal or institutional reputation on the line, the reputation of the Lord is also on the line. Funny how easy it is to slide from desiring excellence to elitism or superiority. Smarter people than mehave noted as much.
An unfortunate observation I’ve seen in Christian environments is that socially acceptable sins aren’t really considered sinful at all. Like shunning and ignoring those who don’t fit in. And staying just on the righteous side of bullying, but letting the individuals who don’t fit in know exactly what their place is in the pecking order: at the bottom. Better yet, a place that’s not even in the “Christian” community.
One of my children was verbally harassed—on just the righteous side of bullying—for several years by another student. At least four adults knew, but to my knowledge nothing was done to stop it. Was it because of the other family’s social and financial position? Was it because the teachers found my child somehow deserving of the insults—a person not deserving of a place in the community? We helped our child through each confrontation, but our child was deeply ashamed of the ongoing comments and didn’t share many of them with us. Finally, I asked a kind and wise teacher to intervene, and the harassment stopped.
A couple of years later, my child was diagnosed with high functioning autism, something I had long-suspected but hadn’t been able to get several physicians to see.
Does it seem worse to bully a person on the autism spectrum than a person who is not? Should it matter? Isn’t every person made in the image of God? Isn’t part of discipleship to have older, wiser people help younger people see God's image in every person? Aren’t believers supposed to be our brother's keepers? Without wise intervention, the natural fruit of such rejection is often substance abuse or suicide.
Building A Better Community
Jesus said the world will know who the real Christians are by the way we love each other. Not just how we love the ones who are easy to love, but especially how we treat the ones who don’t quite fit in, who are different from the norm. There’s often a mental health or neurological basis for these differences.
I’m not pretending this is easy. But until people who claim the name of Christ learn to lay down the superficial and look thoughtfully into the hearts of the children and teens who don’t fit, our claims of being His disciples will not ring true with the next generation.
A great resource for churches and schools who want ideas on building community is CLC Network.