NASHVILLE (BP) -- Though Christian schools have drawn criticism in 2019, some Christian educators say the criticism unwittingly underscores the urgent need for Christ-centered education.
Among attacks against Christian schooling: Second Lady Karen Pence has drawn fire for teaching in an evangelical school; the social media hashtag #ExposeChristianSchools has emerged; and accusations against a group of Catholic school boys proliferated following the March for Life.
"This country was founded on principles found in Scripture, however we are now in a culture in which those foundational principles are being attacked," said Wesley Scott, executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools (SBACS). "If you can take out the foundation, you can take the fortress. Churches and Christian schools are essential in repairing these foundational blows."
Christian schools must "find ways to engage an anti-biblical culture with loving and Christ-like compassion while continuing to educate adults, youth and children in the moral and spiritual values found within the Bible," Scott told Baptist Press via email.
Criticism of Christian schools emerged in mid-January when Karen Pence announced she had been hired to teach art part-time at Immanuel Christian School in northern Virginia. The school requires faculty, students and staff to uphold traditional Christian sexual morality, including prohibitions on homosexual activity and sex outside of a biblical marriage.
In response to Pence's hiring, media commentators, gay rights activists and others criticized both her and the school. Vice President Mike Pence called it "deeply offensive" to "see major new organizations attacking Christian education."
The criticism continued in late January when Washington's Sheridan School, a private K-8 institution, stated it will no longer play sports at Immanuel because "some students did not feel safe entering a school that bans LGBTQ parents, students or even families that support LGBTQ rights," according to The American Conservative.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Fox News that Americans should be "grateful" Karen Pence "is involved in her community." The controversy over her teaching is "representative" of a larger "problem ... in American life."
"Someone doesn't have to agree with what Christians historically believe about marriage and family," Moore said, "but that doesn't mean we should attempt to bully Christians out of existence.... It's a Christian school. Of course it's going to hold to historic Christian principles and so the attempt to act shocked by it is really unfortunate."
Criticism of another Christian school ensued when a Jan. 18 social media video appeared to show students from Covington Catholic High School in northern Kentucky confronting a Native American man in Washington after the March for Life. Initial criticism of the students, including some by Christian leaders, was followed by support of the students by many when a longer video seemed to depict the students' actions in a more positive light.
Amid criticism of Pence and the Covington Catholic students, former evangelical Chris Stroop started on Twitter the hashtag #ExposeChristianSchools, inviting former Christian school students to "tell how traumatizing those bastions of bigotry are." The responses included many positive testimonies of Christian schools' impact along with stories of legalism, abuse and bullying.
Stroop tweeted Jan. 31, "I seem to have freaked out the entire American Right with this one wired weird hashtag."
Scott, of the SBACS, said the hashtag "failed to accomplish" its critical purpose.
"While the intent of the hashtag is to 'expose' alleged social fallacies in schools who follow a biblical philosophy of education and morality, the responses to the hashtag have shown that Christian schools are, for the most part, a caring and loving Christian environment where children can receive a high-quality education," Scott said.
Moore, in a Jan. 30 address to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in Washington, said Jesus always has drawn hostility from nonbelievers. Yet sometimes, "the people who are most hostile to us are the very people right on the edge of becoming our brothers and sisters in Christ."
"The people that we are often so fearful of," Moore said, "may indeed be the Sauls of Tarsus that we will one day not only welcome, but heed."
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.