Tag Archives: Hope Christian School

Christians are in Conflict in the Culture and the Courts

  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18)

Paul wrote the words above to people who lived in the capital city of the Roman Empire. Like any capital city, it had a large population of people from countries with a broad diversity of religions and cultures. The local residents considered themselves to be an elite and exquisite culture. Like many contemporary intellectuals they thought that their tolerance of diversity made their culture superior. At the time Paul wrote, the conflict between emperor worship and Christian monotheism was not yet the hot button issue it would become by the end of the century. It was possible for a Christian to live peaceably with most Romans and other cultures as long as they kept quiet.

Then, as now, Christians could survive without being threatened as long as they stayed under the cultural and legal radar. Then, as now, there were Christians who tried to live this way. Don’t make waves. Don’t rock the boat. Keep your head down.

The problem with that attitude is that it constitutes actual disobedience to the last command Christ spoke as he ascended to heaven. The Message puts it this way:Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life. Matthew 28:19a

Every Christian who actually tries to obey this command immediately encounters another problem. When any Christian speaks of his commitment to any Christian teaching, somebody is sure to recognize and point out any failure of the evangelist to live up to the teachings he claims to believe. Paul wasn’t kidding when he said that we all fall short, and those we meet in our daily comings and goings know all about our shortcomings. It makes it hard for us to stand firm on any principle. This doesn’t mean we should stop having principles, but it does mean we should be ready to deal with our own failings.

Currently, a lawsuit in New Mexico is a prime example of the way this situation can develop.

In July it was reported that Hope Christian School in Albuquerque had rejected the application of a three-year-old for its preschool program, because the child lived in a household headed by two men who live in a homosexual union. The letter of rejection said, in part, “Same gender couples are inconsistent with scriptural lifestyle and biblical teachings,” and “Home life doesn’t reflect the school’s belief of what a biblical family lifestyle is.”

The school is perfectly within its right, according to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, to express the faith principles of the administration of the school. However, the school administrators applied that same amendment to their acceptance of a grant of about $60,000 from government at some level not identified in the article, and this money has muddied the waters of the argument. Peter Simonson of the ACLU weighed in saying, “We don’t think agencies that discriminate or use religion to discriminate should be receiving our federal or government funds.”  The school almost certainly felt entitled to apply for the funds the same way any other school did, and felt simultaneously protected by the First Amendment in the expression of religious principles within the administrative operations of the school. The school believes it is in the right. Other citizens feel that this acceptance of government money completely invalidates the school’s right to act in faithful testimony to Christian teachings. The right of the school to administer a grant from government in accord with the religious principles of the school administration creates contention that is hard to separate from the school’s fundamental right to accept or reject applications from prospective students.

First Amendment or not, New Mexico’s Human Rights Act forbids “any person in any public accommodation to make a distinction, directly or indirectly, in offering or refusing to offer its services … to any person because of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, spousal affiliation, or physical or mental handicap.”  A lawsuit filed by the two men who claim to be the legal parents of the rejected child asks for “equitable relief, including their son’s acceptance into the school, and compensatory and punitive damages”  on the foundation that the school is engaged in public accommodation according to the New Mexico law. If the school meets the legal definition, then it is prohibited by state law from engaging in the listed forms of discrimination. However, the school states that the rejection was not wanton discrimination, but rather thoughtful expression of religious principle. The defendants had not published a response as of the most recent news available at this writing, but it seems possible that the definitions used as the foundation of this state law could be restrained by the liberty protected by Constitutional law. It remains to be seen.

The comments that accompany the many articles discussing this case make it clear that the culture is quick to judge, and not necessarily on the basis of the laws. Comments indicate that in the eyes of the secular culture, the very acceptance of government money means that the school accepted government standards. Nothing in the history of such grants actually supports such an assumption, but the assumption is pervasive. Many, many commenters were outraged that the school had even applied for the grant, but once the school accepted the grant, the culture jumped to the conclusion that the government owned the school and that the school had forfeited all its rights to Christian principles. Faithful Christians operating services such as schools, hospitals and adoption agencies routinely expect to be able to apply for such grants to cover all sorts of expenses. They all expect to be protected by the First Amendment in the use of the money while working within their Christian standards. It seems likely that this grant will not actually figure in the proceedings of the lawsuit, but it also seems likely that this case and others like it will result in cultural pressure on lawmakers to change the way grants work. How lawmakers will respond to that pressure, given the protection of the First Amendment, is not predictable, but the comments indicate that this issue is unlikely to go away.

Other comments show that the culture in general has a skewed impression of what Christian teaching is. Christians cannot try to be responsible for the cultural misconceptions, but it does make it difficult to speak of Christian convictions and Christian teachings when people who have never studied Christianity or the Bible assume that they really do know what Christians believe. This state of affairs makes it incumbent on every Christian to remember what Christ said about being called to account for ourselves. Jesus said, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12) In other words, Christians need to be fervent in worship and prayer, nurturing the disciplines that draw them near to Christ and build the relationship with him. That relationship will bear fruit in the sort of cultural conflicts that are expressed in the comments surrounding the story of the Hope Christian School. The lawsuit is only about the school, but the comments reveal that this event is only one episode in an ongoing confrontation between the secular culture of the US and those who take Christian faith and life seriously.

Christians must be aware and attentive to news about cases like that of the Hope Christian School. It is a matter that calls for each Christian to draw near to Christ and to examine himself with the eyes of Christ. We need not fear the culture. Jesus said that the world would hate us, because it hated him first, and we can simply expect that. What we must fear is our own weakness and sinful nature that can rise up to destroy our testimony if we try to rely on our own wit and character in the fray. Each of us is always at risk of a confrontation similar to that of the school, and each of us is terribly at risk of having some Achilles heel in our lives that will make our enemies feel the way the enemies of Hope School feel when they see that the school received a government grant. We must do what Jesus taught us. We must stay close to him and trust that the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say and do. We can never be intellectually smart enough to defeat all the evil wiles of Satan, but we can trust the Holy Spirit to defeat Satan every time. The administrators of Hope Christian School need our prayers for their faithful submission to Christ in this time of trial, and while we are praying for them, we should pray for ourselves as well. The battle is fully engaged. If it is up to us, we must live peaceably, but it stops being up to us when we are asked to sell out our principles. We must stay close to the One who alone is able to defeat evil in time and eternity.

In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world! (John 16:33)

Follow the Money

When Christians speculate about the ways persecution may arise, they would do well to examine the integrity of the testimony they claim to be persecuted for.

Hope Christian School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is treading a fine line in that regard. The school was recently featured in a Huffington Post article that reported the school had rejected a three-year-old who is being reared by a male homosexual couple. The reason the Huffington Post cared was due to the discovery that the school will receive $60,000 in federal fund this fall, which will be spent on professional education.

It is all perfectly legal. The federal government does not have any requirement in the grant process that excludes a Christian school from eligibility for federal funds. Nor did this article report any rule for the use of the funds that stipulates the school may not discriminate in admissions based on its theological stance. However, the ACLU has raised a complaint which may be a sign of things to come. “We don’t think agencies that discriminate or use religion to discriminate should be receiving our federal or government funds,” said Peter Simonson with the ACLU. (Read more: http://www.koat.com/news/new-mexico/albuquerque/School-rejects-3-year-old-because-parents-are-gay/-/9153728/15665304/-/aadto3/-/index.html#ixzz234GgCU4H )


The ACLU unsurprisingly advocates elimination of funding for any activity that expresses a religious point of view. People who read the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” may argue that the federal government may not inhibit the free exercise of religion, no matter if the money used in that free exercise expresses a religious viewpoint. Others might likewise argue that any federal money used in the free exercise of religion constitutes establishment of religion. I am not a Constitutional scholar, but the plain sense of the words appears to a plain speaker to provide grist for a mill of confusion.

The ACLU statement should be regarded as a warning shot across the bow for Christian organizations which blithely apply for and receive federal grants, or funding from any government source at state or local level. Historically in the US, our various levels of government have been inclined to show respect and support for Christian work of all sorts. The rise of restrictions on things like display of the Ten Commandments, prayers at commencement exercises, and Bible studies in unused classrooms should have been understood as more than occasional annoyances. They were the growing pains of a secular culture which is now too pervasive to ignore.

For example, the statement by the ACLU sounds alarmingly similar to the comments we have heard about the schools, hospitals and social institutions operated by Catholics who do not want to provide contraception, sterilization and abortions coverage in health insurance for their employees. The government believes that only worship, faith formation and evangelism are religious activities. The government is only too glad to fund the Three R’s in any school whatsoever, but since the Three R’s are not religious in nature, what is to prevent the federal government from requiring Hope School, and any others now receiving federal grants, to admit children without regard to the theological orthodoxy of their family situations? Won’t it feel a lot like persecution if the schools cannot express the faith of their founders? If the federal government is ready to do battle with the Catholic Church over health insurance, why would it even pause before setting its federal boot on the neck of a small Christian school in Albuquerque over its use of grant money?

If we want to be clear in our responses to intrusions and restrictions on our free expression of our faith, we need to be sure we are not entangled in the agendas of those whom we accuse of being persecutors. Money is the great entangler. Be careful where the money trail in your organization leads.