A couple of recent posts elsewhere have me thinking back to my childhood as a student at a private, fundamentalist Christian school in New Jersey.
By the time a young fundamentalist has reached high school the focus of their spiritual instruction has narrowed down to two basic points. 1) Not having sex with anybody and 2) Finding God’s perfect will for their life. The first one is accompanied by tales of terrible tragedy that will befall them if they DO the second is accompanied by tales of terrible tragedy if they DON’T.
Yep. But to be fair, this wasn’t just something I was taught in high school — my church youth group was teaching the exact same thing.
My alma mater was founded in 1949, and thus predates both of the two major contributors to the growth of private Protestant schooling. The first of those came in 1954 with Brown vs. the Board of Education. The Supreme Court ruling ending school segregation sparked an explosion of new private Christian schools throughout America — especially, but not exclusively, in the South.
Since I often poke fun at Timothy Christian School for teaching me creationism and for literally using Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth as a textbook, let me here offer my old school a bit of praise. It was ahead of its time in promoting and embodying racial integration. “Strength in diversity” is not a phrase that’s often associated with Christian fundamentalists, but here’s TCS’ Web page boasting of the diversity of its student body. Go you Timothy Tigers.
The second big wave of growth for Christian schooling came later and, as Warren Throckmorton reminds us, was driven by that tireless advocate of separate Christian education, Rousas John Rushdoony.
Yes, that’s the same R.J. Rushdoony who created “theonomic reconstruction” and also did more than anyone else to promote the spread of the dominion theology that so many conservatives are today claiming never existed and/or never had any real influence. Some of these same revisionists and denialists now mocking what they describe as “paranoia” or “liberal conspiracy theories” about dominionism are themselves graduates of schools inspired by Rushdoony’s push for Christian schooling. And some of them are now the parents of children attending those schools.
Rushdoony realized that the theocracy (or “Christocracy”) he desired was not a realistic hope in the short term of a generation or two. He accepted that democracy and pluralism would take many decades to be “reconstructed” and replaced with Christian dominion. And so he planned for the long term, urging Christians to create separate schools where children could be raised without the liberal propaganda of constitutional democracy and equal rights for error and truth.
Throckmorton provides a summary of this view, excerpted from a book by Rushdoony’s protege (and sometime son-in-law) Gary North:
As a tactic for a short-run defense of the independent Christian school movement, the appeal to religious liberty is legitimate. Everyone who is attempting to impose a world-and-life view on a majority (or on a ruling minority) always uses some version of the liberty doctrine to buy himself and his movement some time, some organizational freedom, and some power. …
So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God. Murder, abortion, and pornography will be illegal. God’s law will be enforced. It will take time. A minority religion cannot do this. Theocracy must flow from the hearts of a majority of citizens …
But the revisionists rush to remind us that the existence of hundreds of Christian schools inspired by this thinking is no reason to worry that this nonexistent fringe ideology is in any way influential. Just because these inconsequential outsiders are now trying to sentence gays to death in Uganda doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to worry about them wanting to sentence gays to death here. Just because they say their aim is to deny “the religious liberty of the enemies of God” and just because they happen to view most people as “the enemies of God,” doesn’t mean that you should be afraid of them trying to erode religious liberty. All things considered, there’s very little cannibalism in the British Navy. …