On May 13, 2007 the Chicago Sun Times ran a story from an Illinois middle school where students, as a part of a Health Class, were made to watch the R-rated movie, Brokeback Mountain.[i]
Not only is this movie extremely graphic in regards to homosexual behavior, but a major theme of the film is the validation and approval of same-sex relationships. According to some of the students in the class, this was the context and purpose for which the film was shown, to teach these students to understand and celebrate this alternative lifestyle. The teacher said to the students, “What happens in Ms. Buford’s class stays in Ms. Buford’s class.”
Thankfully, there was outrage from some parents. How dare you show my child this graphic, R-rated, pro-homosexual film in school? As you might imagine, there were many heated conversations between parents, teachers, and school board members in the days following this incident.
On the surface, this appears to be a controversy about sexuality, culture, and what is appropriate material for twelve-year-olds. But those are only symptoms. The fundamental problem is a violation of biblical jurisdiction.
The broad issue here is the moral education of children. The public school teacher was attempting to persuade the students toward a particular moral conviction, in this case an immoral conviction.
We would all agree that it is important for young people to learn morality. The question is to whom has God given the responsibility to accomplish this?
Consider God’s four fundamental institutions (jurisdictions); the individual, the family, the church, and the government. Which of these four institutions has the God given jurisdiction and responsibility to teach children right from wrong?
God has given this jurisdictional authority to two institutions, the family and the local church.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4
Listen, O sons, to a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you main gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. – Proverbs 4:1-2
Throughout God’s Word, we find the call to parents, particularly fathers, to take the lead in impressing the hearts of their children and grandchildren with a love for God.
In addition to the family, the community of faith in the Old Testament and the local church in the New Testament is ordained by God to make disciples of children. Children were included in the corporate worship gatherings of God’s people, alongside their parents, so they would be spiritual formed through the worship and preaching of the Bible. (Take a look at the article in the “Church Leaders” section of the website -Do Kids Belong In Church?)
The responsibility for the moral training of children rests with church and family. You will not find anywhere in the Bible where God gives the state or government the responsibility to provide moral training for children.
So while many of these parents were crying out against the specific content of this movie, the controversy and issues and hand were far more significant. A massive jurisdictional violation had taken place! The secular government was usurping the divine jurisdiction of the family and the local church.
God takes jurisdictional violations seriously, and so should God’s people. What happens when institutions act outside their God-given authority? First, the crisis will not be solved. For decades our government schools have sought to teach morality to our children. Are our children becoming more or less moral? Can you think of any successful state-based morality initiatives? Have our government schools solved the drug problem? Bullying? Cheating? Not only is it impossible for the government to teach “character” apart from a Christian worldview, it is jurisdictional violation for the government to do it at all.
Second, whenever there is a jurisdictional violation, the institution that is responsible for responding properly to the crisis will be robbed of motivation, time, and resources, making it more difficult for that institution to respond in the future.
During my youth ministry years I talked with many parents who told me, “I know I should talk with my kids about drug use, but at least they hear about it in school.” Because the school crossed into the parental jurisdiction, the parent’s motivation to do their proper job was reduced. They could relax. The professionals will take care of it.
A vicious cycle then begins. The more the government takes responsibility for the moral education of children, the more parents and churches are robbed of time, resources, and motivation to do the job. The more parents abdicate their role, the more the power and influence the government demands.
This horrific cycle took center stage last week here in Chicago. The headlines proclaimed one of the most sickening jurisdictional violations I have seen.
MAYOR EMANUEL ASKS PASTORS FOR HELP, ‘PREACH SERMONS FOR LONGER SCHOOL DAYS.’[ii]
You read that correctly. The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, gathered together a group of 200 Christian pastors from the city. He said to them, “I ask each of you, to speak in your sermon this Sunday about education. I want you to specifically speak about the need for a longer school day and school year.”
It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. By law, government schools cannot teach children a Christian view of the world. If a Christian parent has a child in public school, the parent is in the position of constantly needing to help their child “unlearn” the secular principles and values he or she is being taught. Now the mayor is calling on pastors to preach to their congregations so that the government might have more time to teach secular values to their children?
I have no way of knowing if this happened, but I pray that there was at least one pastor in the meeting who either respectfully walked out, or communicated clearly to the mayor afterwards that the government had no jurisdiction over the pulpit of the church!