Faith in Focus

INTEGRATION - A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE


By John & Alice Steenhof

None of us like to pay twice for an object. Yet this is precisely what we are doing in education. We pay taxes, and while public and integrated schools receive these taxes back, we fork out money all over again for our Christian School, meanwhile paying even more taxes on our fees. In a way it is a triple burden!

Integration seems a perfect way to recapture those hard-earned taxes which were squeezed out of our pockets. A way to ease the family burdens, and make Christian education a cheaper option - especially for the poor among us.

Why not seize this attractive option? After all, the National government and the Ministry of Education are friendly towards all religious groups in a pluralistic society, arenít they? A number of government officials not only allow but even encourage religious schools to integrate to promote their special character. At first sight this certainly seems like a gift horse with a guarantee of the religious character of our schools. Perhaps in a multi-cultural society all religious groups including those with a Reformed vision will have, for the first time in history, an interference-free warranty with a blank cheque attached. At the same time it appears that integrated schools can influence their partner, the government, in a positive way!

Perhaps too, the push for Maori values in education has paved the way for Christians to jump on the now smooth highway which may promote all kinds of religious vehicles, including a Reformed vision. Maybe we can now have a government supported "Culture of Christianity" which is some kind of parallel to Tikanga Maori.

Maybe....

Assuredly there is a myriad of Christian schools flocking towards the government coffers flooded with complete assurances that there are and will be no problems. The present government is viewed by many as some kind of Cyrus, who is kindly donating an eternal subsidy to Christian Education with no cost required. Freedom after "70 years" in captivity! Yes, integration is presented as a tempting and delectable notion!

For good health it almost seems foolish to resist the impulsive charge towards the government treasure-chest. To oppose the rush is practically the equivalent of trying to stand firm in the middle of an ominous stampede out of a soccer stadium. From a human perspective, it could be bad for a schoolís personal well-being and perhaps even fatal. Certainly you will end up with boot prints all over your body. There are whoops and yahoos heard all over the place, to join the rush towards integration. Which parents want to pay >$2,500 a year for a private school, when they can pay as little as $500 or less a year for the "same vision" in an integrated school up the road?

Some have even promoted it as the only, or perhaps the best way to ensure our right to carry out Christian Education. The government in their opinion is offering some kind of backing to a Christian vision, which is not available to the unintegrated Christian School. Such an assurance would even make it a temptation for Puritans to rejoin the Anglican state backed church to obtain official backing for a Christian vision.

But the question remains, "Is integration a righteous choice?" Is this what our Heavenly Father desires for His children? Have we really considered the best arguments against it?

So far the published defences we have examined for integration have been pragmatic, without considering a Biblical basis for it, the best arguments against it, the dangers it entails, nor the temptations to compromise that accompany it.

We hope to convince you in a number of articles, that integration is an unequal yoke, and that as an unrighteous choice it has and will continue to have evil consequences for Christian Schools. In our next article we will establish this thesis. To prove that this is an unequal yoke, we will demonstrate that integration does yoke us with a humanist government which has a humanist direction. We will contend that we are yoked to this direction, which is quite a different beast than the lowly oxen of Christian Education.

Integration is about more than obtaining financial help, otherwise we would accept it gladly as a means of "plundering the Egyptians." Especially in this case, the government would just be returning our very own hard-earned tax money. Open up the doors!

But...even when the government offers back tax money there is almost always the squeeze of control. Franky Schaeffer warns that when the government offers you money with some kind of deal attached, run away as fast as you can. Why? Not because it is wrong to take perks, but rather there is a push to compromise in the deal.

And certainly in the process of integration there is a deal which is made with a complement of demands. If the proprietor of the school successfully negotiates with the government to integrate, then the crown "oversees" staff, salaries and grant operations, while only the site and premises are owned by the board. The oversight of all other operations is under the government. All processes, financial transactions, board minutes, and curriculum, etc. are under their jurisdiction and according to limitations of their laws. This does not mean that they sit in on board meetings, or classes, any more than in a state church, but nevertheless the crown regulates the various functions of the school. Documents which can be kept private as a private school, would be under the authority of the crown, and open to the Public Information Act. So anyone could demand to see documents of the school, including the media. That includes the minutes of board meetings. The curriculum according to the syllabus must be taught.

Is this a yoke?

Well how are we bound together with the government? We shall consider this in our next article.

Of course, it is hard to know integrationís implications exhaustively. It would be nice if we could ascertain clearly all the ramifications of integration before we started. If you talk to proprieters of Catholic integrated schools, evangelical integrated schools, Reformed integrated schools, or non-integrated schools, you will receive different answers about key issues.

In viewing integration as an unequal yoke, we shall consider answers we hear from a variety of people as to the nature of integration. But we will not focus on what schools have been able to get away with by their negotiations, but rather on the written assurances, laws, and human rights issues which affect integration. Schools may get away with a variety of things, which they have no authorization to do. For instance a school might secretly militate against evolution in Science class. But do they have the right to do this according to the criteria of integration? Oral assurances from some official in the Ministry of Education make no difference and are worth little without written backup. They are equivalent to an oral assurance to a pastor by an elder of a biannual return to his homeland as part of his hiring package. The elder might mean well, but unless he is backed by a written assurance from the session as a whole, his assurance means little.

We also will not take seriously assurances of integrated schools, unless they are backed by written official authorisation. We are told again and again that there will be no problems. Ought we to go by the bald assurances of people in an issue such as integration? The older I get the less assurances about unknown experiences impress me. How many people have stated to me after contracting a serious illness, "I believe that Iím going to get better! Iím going to beat this!" An example of naivete, which is more parallel to integration, is business partnership. How often well-meaning Christians have gone into business partnerships while having doubts, saying, "Itís going to turn out alright. We can solve problems as they go. And Iím covering my bases!" And the partnership did not turn out as planned not because the person lied, but rather because he was not able to foresee the kinds of bottlenecks which could squeeze the life out of a business. Your heart melts and you wish the person could back and try again with his newly learned lessons. Or how many denominations have gone liberal while well-meaning conservatives are saying, "This doesnít affect the heart of the gospel! Donít major on minors. "

Of course there are assurances which are sound and anticipate all the best criticisms. While I would like to believe the assurances of people who are in process of integration or have finally integrated, none that I have so far met have anticipated the most glaring problems and the worst temptations. It often appears to be wishful thinking. And assurances tend to take on a life of their own.

To give an example, we were going to send our children to a Brethren school in Canada, in light of the absence of a good Reformed school in our area, but found out they were in the process of integration. We visited the school and asked about the problems they anticipated in integration. According to them, while there were possible compromises, they had covered all their bases. There was "abolutely no problem!" While we were there, delegates from another Christian school came to ask about integration, and we heard them discuss integration in the hall. There were the glowing faces of the evangelist and the evangelised, but little of substance that truly convinced us they would hold the fort. We left without being persuaded and did not send our son to this school, but rather home-schooled him. More than a year after the integration process was in motion, a liberal Christian Reformed professor visited a variety of people connected with the school. There were still a number of die-hards who claimed that integration had not affected the school. But he found that a large number of officials and laymen recognised that integration had dramatically compromised their school. It wasnít so much that the ones who denied the effect were lying. It was probably a combination of the frog dying in gradually heated water, and wishful fingers-crossed thinking!

In our next article we will examine claims against written criteria which define integration, and the direction they imply. Then we will demonstrate that it is indeed an unequal yoke.

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@xtra.co.nz / revised July 2000 / Copyright 2000