Every so often, an issue pops up in our school community that causes reflection on the concept of Christian liberty. Different families have different standards when it comes to music, books, games, and other cultural or entertainment options. However, when it comes to the school we are ALL in this together. That togetherness can get uncomfortable if we lose track of some simple biblical guidelines for loving one another when we find that someone believes something different than we do…and that someone's child is at the desk next to our child.
Principle 1: Household Liberty and Parental Responsibility
Christian liberty starts with clear lines of authority. Who gets to make the call if things are in or out?
The chief responsibility for the lives of children belongs to parents. It is given by God and it can not be abdicated without sin. Parents must prayerfully establish good rules and good standards in their own homes. However, when parents walk out the door to their church or enroll their children at a school (even Christian school), they quickly find that other families - good families - have different standards.
Schools cannot enforce the household standards of every family. The leadership of our school sets the school's standards. These principles are not the guidelines of any particular family (not even the Head of School’s household!). In establishing our school's standards of conduct and media use, we understand that even Christians might disagree on appropriate books, games, movies, TV shows, etc. At Veritas, we leave participation in these things up to parents and families.
Finally, wise parents should consider balance and imbalance as they think about what their children are allowed to do. Standards don't just involve the content of games, books, movies, or tech devices; they also involve the cost, and how much time a student spends doing things that could keep them away from investing themselves in other good things. The scriptures counsel a balanced life and we, too, advise moderation. Parents should get good biblical counsel from their ministers when they consider how much screen time their children should get or whether their children should read Harry Potter or play Pokemon, for example.
Principle 2: Considerate Liberty and the Weaker Brother
One important part of the Scriptures that speaks to Christian liberty and its use is Romans 14 and Paul’s discussion of meat sacrificed to idols. In it, Paul calls on people to use your liberty wisely. No one should involve themselves in anything that convicts their conscience. The stronger brother (the one who can eat the meat butchered and blessed in a pagan temple) should take care not to harm the weaker one by the use of their liberty.
The same principles apply today. Your family might have wine with dinner, but when you invite someone over to your home who is not comfortable with alcohol, you should restrict your liberty and make them feel at home. This is NOT because alcohol is right or wrong; it is so that you can be a good, sensitive host.
The weaker brother, however, does not set the community’s standard. We take a studied and historic view of Christian liberty. Thus, we do not restrict things based on the convictions of the most sensitive consciences. We allow liberty and, in turn, ask that parents exercise good and biblical judgment. We set school standards that provide both freedom of choice and healthy boundaries, but also that protect people from harming their consciences. We let parents make choices on whether their child is playing particular game or reading a particular book at recess or free time, and we don’t force anyone to play things that would bother their own or their parent’s conscience.
Our culture struggles with this idea today. Too often on “weaker brother” issues people try to command community standards by saying that their feelings will be hurt if someone watches a particular movie, reads or publishes a particular book, plays a particular game, or even believes particular things. This reverberates in everything from terrorists who kill people for making cartoons that offend them to people trying to force others to bake a cake for their wedding. At Veritas, we try to err on the side of liberty for parents and children while setting good school standards.
Principle #3: Cultural Liberty and Community Standards
Someday (maybe that day is today) you might find yourself out of step with community standards, or even standards at Veritas Academy. When you find yourself at that point, what should you do?
First, when it comes to our broader culture and community, I would encourage you to avoid protesting and do what Americans have done for generations: work through the political system, by voting new people into office, or running for office yourself. For many of our political problems, Americans have themselves to blame. Write to your political leaders, or submit an editorial piece to the newspaper. Get involved and make your voice heard in ways that make a difference and foster open and respectful communication.
At school, we would ask that you bring concerns about school cultural standards to Mr. Dennis, our Dean of Students (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you have academic concerns, contact me (email@example.com), or for administrative and operational matters please contact Jonathan Daughtrey (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you don’t agree after talking with us, our school board will consider the matter.
By following this pattern, we can respect the liberty of conscience of others families and have a good venue for discussing concerns.