Freedom from the Yoke: A Strategy for Christian Colleges
By Dr. Lisa Dunne.
When Harvard University opened its doors in 1636, the goal was straightforward: The Pilgrims wanted to found an educational institution that would ensure the clear and accurate transmission of the Bible to the next generation. In other words, they didn’t want to pass along the tremendous responsibility of governing a new America to a biblically illiterate population.
Oh, how far we’ve strayed.
At the time of this writing, Christian colleges in the United States are facing rapidly surmounting pressure to succumb to an opposite appeal: Continue to accept government funding, and the government will tell you what you can and cannot believe. What can those of us in the private college system learn from another group of educators who faced this battle just thirty years before us? Enter the homeschooling movement.
Homeschoolers have watched the wave of scholastic slavery looming on the horizon for several years. We have faced many of the same decisions Christian colleges are facing today: accept government funding and submit to a law that cripples the Great Commission. Michael Farris, United States constitutional lawyer and founder of Patrick Henry College, warned homeschoolers in 2010 that “a wave” was coming. He said there were over 180 documents on file written by powerful lawyers in pubic universities whose intentions were to turn all education into secular education, making it against the law to teach from a Christian worldview. At the time, it all seemed a little Huxleyan—a Brave New World for the modern millennia. However, today, we see these talons digging in swiftly and deeply across the educational sector.
In the United States, 51.1 million students currently attend public K-12 schools, where it has become accepted and commonplace that students are not allowed to pray, to share the gospel, or to make any other overt displays of faith (a California school recently sent a sheriff to the home of a 2nd grader to warn him to cease and desist his destructive behavior—because he gave out Bible verses on his lunch break). Another 14 million students in public colleges must bow to the same government dictates.
Homeschoolers have known the ferocity and importance of this battle because most of us have chosen to homeschool so that we will not be subject to the anti-Christian laws of a secular government. Many of us were faced with a tempting decision when the government launched an offering they billed as free money: the charter system. Accept government funding for your homeschooling, and we will provide your child with all the extras you probably can’t afford on one income: art classes, music lessons, sports, theme park admissions, laptop computers, and free classes for your kids.
Some organizations quickly warned homeschoolers to steer clear of the charter temptations, calling charters a Trojan Horse that would pull students back into the government system where they would once again lose the freedoms homeschoolers had fought for in the beginning. Charters operate under the same principle as the public schools (for they are indeed government institutions): If you take our money, you must follow our rules.
Attorney Mary Schofield put it this way: It’s as if the government stepped into the local church and offered to foot the bill for all of your music. The only catch would be that you had to remove any reference to Jesus, to God, or to Scripture. Instead, you would sing about positive messages that make people feel happy. In other words, if you accept the government’s money, you willingly exchange Christianity for secular humanism.
This is the number one reason that Christian colleges must break free of the unequal yoke with a secular government. As Proverbs 22:7 reminds us, the borrower is servant to the lender. We can no longer afford to accept money from a government who requires us to eliminate prayer, to silence Scripture, and to ignore the Great Commission. Haven’t we learned this lesson from watching the travesty in the public school sector since the Values Clarification Movement swept through just 40 years ago? As research from Barna (2015), Hamm (2014), Focus on the Family (2016), and many other institutions show, the spiritual damage that has been done in just the last four decades is staggering.
As an educator for almost 20 years, I have watched the dramatic transformation of lives in the Christian classroom, where students are mentored to move from fear to hope, from despair to joy, from confusion to clarity. These are transformed lives that are now powerfully impacting the world for the kingdom of God. Do we really want to allow unbridled fear to tear this institutional structure apart? As we face these “deny Jesus or die” decisions, Christian colleges should consider the role models of other colleges who had the foresight not to entangle themselves with the financial support of the government.
Pensacola College, for example, is only 40 years old, and college leaders there determined from the start they would not accept government funding. The college now offers 50 degrees and numerous student benefits, including an indoor waterpark on the campus. Their tuition is less than $27,000 for four years. How did they do it? They founded Abeka books, which is run out of the college. All of the proceeds of Abeka go to support the college, which means it is not solely tuition-dependent (as most of the rest of our colleges are). This creative funding concept should inspire others of us to think bigger.
Many others have taken a stand or are in the process of weaning themselves from government dependence: Patrick Henry, Wyoming Catholic, Hillsdale, New St. Andrews, Christendom, Grove City, and Belmont Abbey.
The second reason we need to consider a new strategy is for the sake of the financial freedom of the next generation. In the United States, college debt has now surpassed consumer debt. Students now owe more on their college loans than Americans owe on their swollen credit cards. Thus, we are sending a next generation out into the world with a crippling debt that inhibits their ability to give, to serve, to dream. We must labor together to discover creative methodologies that will help us drive down tuition costs in the Christian sector.
So, where do we begin? A three-pronged approach might look something like this.
First, we must actually place our trust in the God that we profess, allowing him to guide and direct us as we follow him wholeheartedly. Matthew 6:24 reminds us that we cannot serve two masters. We will either serve God, or we will serve money, and this unprecedented pressure on the American Christian college system is certainly an opportunity for us to cease from wavering between those two alternatives. It is also an opportunity for us to stand firm, not to shrink back: In an era where the grace and truth of God could radically transform the tragic statistics of hopelessness and brokenness in our culture, we must be mindful of our singular mission as strangers in this world – to share boldly the good news of Christ.
Second, we need to find alternative sources of funding, including the support of churches, businesses, and alumni who will lend money and support to future generations without robbing them of their First Amendment rights. Yes, the public colleges get all the tax money to support their causes (an injustice to be addressed at another time, perhaps), and Christian colleges will need alternative funding to close that gap. If churches and businesses would step in to show support for Christian institutions in the way that the state shows financial support for state institutions, we would no longer be dependent on the government handout.
Third, we need to decrease the cost of education. We need to take a good, hard look at our internal structures and see where we are bleeding. Are there singular job loads that could be shared by other departments? Are there any non-degreed positions that could be run by junior and senior college students who have already proven themselves faithful by their performance in the classroom? Are there other internship opportunities that could decrease the cost of payroll for the college and increase the work/study options for students? How much could colleges save by partnering with other Christian organizations like Christian Healthcare Ministries or Samaritan’s Purse?
The wave that Farris predicted is now upon us. Before we allow ourselves to be swallowed up by this misguided malefaction, we must act quickly to preserve the rights of the First Amendment and the call of the Great Commission in a once-Christian nation. The choice is clear. In the words of Psalm 102:18, let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.