A Review of the Draft Social Statement on Education

[1] Our Calling in Education (the Draft Social Statement) has many excellent points and is on the way to being a valuable statement for use in the ELCA. I make a few suggestions below that I believe could strengthen the statement, but basically applaud the work of those who have produced the document. The church is indeed indebted to them.

Overall Guidelines
[2] Our Calling pays serious attention to four laudable guidelines approved by the then board of the Division for Church in Society:

present a Lutheran view of education for our time (I will refer to this as guideline 1);

address issues of education and schooling for children and young people in our society, with attention to purpose and quality, equity and access for all, responsibilities, and religion’s role in public schooling (referred to below as guideline 2);

set forth an understanding of our church’s own educational institutions (preschool, primary and secondary schools, and colleges and universities) (referred to below as guideline 3); and

consider our church’s ministries in relation to public schools and universities and the vocation of those involved in education in different roles (referred to below as guideline 4).[1]

[3] The task force surely is not prevented from adding to these guidelines (indeed it does so on issues of Sunday Schools and family responsibilities). The noticeable omission of seminaries from the list of the church’s own educational institutions in guideline 3 is rather remarkable. Seminaries appear rarely in the document, but deserve much more obvious attention.

Guideline 1–the Theological Viewpoint
[4] The document is solidly based on the Creed. It emphasizes creation and education in civil righteousness that serves the first use of the law.[2] It is faithful to Luther’s understanding that education is needed for both kingdoms-the realm of creation in which God has given the law to restrain wickedness and help establish justice and peace, and the realm of redemption and grace. The document throughout is somewhat heavy on the realm of creation, perhaps understandably since public education is a major concern. However, since an important part of the call of church schools and colleges as well as seminaries is to teach the gospel, an equal emphasis on education for the gospel would be appropriate in the theological section and in other sections also.[3]

[5] While the statement could do more with a summary of Lutheran teaching about baptism, it does emphasize educating the baptized in the faith for vocation.[4] It would be helpful to expand our vocation in baptism as the call to pray, to speak the Word, and to serve the needs of the neighbor. As Luther well understood, preparation for speaking the Word is as necessary as preparation for serving the needs of the neighbor, seeking justice and caring for creation,.

[6] On the whole, however, the statement presents a strong basis for education. It does a good job of holding in tension the world as sinful and in need of redemption, yet also as the sphere of our service to others. Similarly, the statement identifies children as both gifts of God but also as sinful creatures[5], which avoids the sloppy sentimentalism that often idealizes children in our society.

Guideline 2-Schooling for Children and Young People
[7] Guideline 2 is probably the guideline most fully developed throughout the document. The Task force argues clearly and consistently for quality schooling for children and young people in our society, with equity and access for all.

[8] The statement preserves a nice balance between respecting the choice of parents for Lutheran or other Christian schools and home schooling, while keeping the predominant emphasis on the sphere of public education. However, the statement also exposes the shortcomings of public education in the realm of religion, and parents are encouraged to use family and congregational Christian education to make up that lack in the public school curriculum.[6]

[9] There is an excellent section on the need for all to have access to quality education and therefore our Lutheran commitment to public schools.[7] The document should provide strong impetus for Lutherans to support taxation for public education and to be involved in calling for quality education in local districts. It will be welcomed by public school teachers who often wonder how well they are supported by the church in their weary struggle for better conditions for students.

[10] Also excellent is the call for public schools to provide education to live morally in society and to teach about religion as a vital part of life,[8] as well as to make an appropriate distinction between science and religion.[9]

[11] The document provides some very practical suggestions for strengthening the connections between congregations and public schools[10] and for ways in which congregations may counter the effects of poverty and discrimination through specific provisions and reforms in education.[11]

[12] More could be included on special needs education for students with developmental disabilities as well as for those with unusual giftedness. Special needs education has to be high on the list of all the segments in schooling that need advocacy.

Guideline 3-the Church’s Educational Institutions
[13] The statement has an excellent section on the responsibilities of the family in nurturing the baptized.[12] Also, a helpful section is provided on the responsibility of congregations to welcome children and engage them in the programs offered to them.

[14] Fortunately, the Task force has added to the original guidelines’ list of the church’s educational institutions (preschool, primary and secondary schools, and colleges and universities) to include Sunday schools, as indeed it should.[13] Luther’s dual understanding of education to serve the Gospel as well as to prepare for service in the community requires serious attention to those institutions that teach the Gospel to bring persons of all ages to faith and to prepare persons of all ages to teach the Gospel to others.

[15] The Task force needs to look at the way the term “confirmation” is used in the document and bring it in line with the definition adopted by the ELCA in 1993 and previously adopted by the predecessor bodies in 1970. The 1970 definition is as follows: Confirmation is a pastoral and educational ministry of the church which helps the baptized child through Word and Sacrament to identify more deeply with the Christian community and participate more fully in its mission. The 1993 report kept the same definition but dropped the word “child.”[14] In both cases, the definitions cover the entire pastoral and educational ministry to the baptized from the point of baptism though late teenage/early adulthood. The correct term for the period from grades 7 through 10 is “catechetics” during which students engage in overview of the Bible and study of Luther’s catechism. Confirmation is what God does (strengthening faith) through the church. It includes cradle roll, Sunday school, youth groups, and the myriad other churchly experiences through which God strengthens the faith of the baptized. Both Confirmation reports made clear that confirmation is not a rite but a process, a ministry (although an affirmation of baptism rite may be held, perhaps many times, during the process). With these points in mind, the education task force needs to change such phrases as, “Confirmation is often the time when young people begin to lose interest in participating in congregational life” (p.14) and “worship, Sunday school, confirmation, and youth ministry” (p.15) and “post-confirmation youth” (p.15). Presumably in such cases, the authors mean “catechetics” or “post-catechetical” or “youth who have affirmed their baptism”. (It is unlikely that a month-old baptized infant loses interest in participating in the congregation. But, that infant is already being confirmed by God according to the ELCA definition.)

[16] The emphasis in Our Calling on lifelong learning and lifelong educational ministry[15] is consistent with the Confirmation Reports. Our Calling gives challenging questions for congregations to help them carry out their educational responsibilities for children, youth and adults, and for leadership exhibit in educational ministry. An excellent insight is the need to help students recognize that their studies are a service to God and others and demand seriousness, responsibility and diligence.

[17] Because education to serve the Gospel is a high priority, in the section on the church’s educational institutions one would expect more than slight references to seminaries. When Luther writes on schooling, one of his prime concerns is the preparation of those who will be pastors, preachers, lectors, chaplains, sacristans and schoolmasters.[16] Our Calling does indeed call on seminaries to take Christian education seriously and train students in youth and family ministry.[17] That is good. But the document needs to include more on seminary education as a whole in preparing leaders for the church, not just on the role (important though that is) of Christian education and youth ministry. There are only a very few passing references to seminaries in the section on schools and colleges[18] and none in the otherwise fine section on education that serves the common good.[19]

[18] The call for higher education to serve the common good is a fine one. The document calls the church to be grateful for, to honor, and to support institutions of higher education. It calls for academic freedom and intellectual honesty. It calls for institutions of higher learning to take seriously the intellectual claims of religious traditions in the search for knowledge and truth, and also calls for renewal of humanities, arts, and social sciences in which concern for justice, neighbor and common good are central.[20] However, surely seminaries serve the public good by teaching public theology and the connection of faith to the public arena in which we live. Therefore they too deserve mention for their role in serving the public good.

Guideline 4-Our Church’s Ministries
[19] The task force is to be commended for a valuable section on the call of Lutheran students and professors, administrators, and staff in private and public colleges and universities.[21] (And, seminaries!)

[20] A useful section is included on the network of educational institutions provided by the church through schools, colleges, and universities.[22] In the regions of the ELCA, the developing networks are among seminaries and colleges and universities, so this is an excellent opportunity to encourage such networks. Indeed, there is much interaction, with colleges feeding seminaries, and high school programs such as Theological Education with Youth feeding both colleges and seminaries.

[21] Many will appreciate the important section on campus ministry as part of the church’s calling in higher education.

[22] The statement provides a strong plea for equitable funding so that persons from all socioeconomic levels may benefit from both public and church colleges. “Lack of funding weakens our country’s leadership in higher education and compromises our capacity to meet the educational requirements of an increasingly knowledge-based world.”[23] Five practical recommendations are given for the church to address this need.[24]

[23] Finally, 15 implementing resolutions direct the church to action. (I am happy to see that seminaries are featured in several of these!)

[1] Our Calling in Education: A First Draft of a Social Statement, Feb 2006, p.III.

[2] Ibid, pp.5-7.

[3] Martin Luther, “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany that They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools” (Luther’s Works, Vol.45, pp.339-378) and “A Sermon on Keeping Children in School” (Luther’s Works, Vol.46, pp. 207-258.

[4] Our Calling
, pp.8-9.

[5] Ibid, p.12.

[6] Ibid, p.17.

[7] Ibid, pp.19ff. Reminiscent of Luther’s imploring in “To the Councilmen of All Cities” that schools be established for all children, boys and girls, rich and poor.

[8] Our Calling
, p.23.

[9] Ibid, p.24.

[10] Ibid, pp.24-25.

[11] Ibid., pp.27-29.

[12] Ibid., pp.13-15.

[13] Ibid., pp.14-15.

[14] See The Report of the Joint Commission of the Theology and Practice of Confirmation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House; Philadelphia: Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, March 7, 1970) and The Confirmation Ministry Taskforce Report, September 1, 1993 printed in Robert Conrad, Confirmation: Engaging Lutheran Foundations and Practices. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999, pp. 266-281.

[15] Our Calling,
pp. 17-19.

[16] Luther, “Sermon on Keeping Children in School”, p.220.

[17] Our Calling
, p.15.

[18] Ibid., pp.30-37.

[19] Ibid., pp.38-44.

[20] Ibid, p.40.

[21] Ibid, pp.40-41.

[22] Ibid, pp. 30-37.

[23] Ibid, p.43.

[24] Ibid., pp.44.