I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead- Philippians 3:10-11 NIV
Eleven years ago, a group of parents in our community became troubled by the lack of moral values in our area. The group approached a local school-board. After a series of meetings, the Central Valley School District decided to go all-in on values education. A committee was formed. The committee created a curriculum still in use today. It systematically teaches values and positive character qualities to children in public schools beginning in kindergarten.
The values chosen were universally acknowledged as virtuous and beneficial. The values chosen were respect, responsibility, citizenship, caring, fairness, honesty, diligence, trustworthiness, courage, integrity, generosity and gratitude.
For the record,
I have no idea how many of the parents on that committee where Christians. At the time, we lived in a neighboring district and I was not on the committee, nor was I friends with anyone who was on the committee. However, it did not escape my notice that every character trait on the list was in alignment with New Testament teachings. Furthermore, the definitions for each trait could have been written by a seasoned Sunday school teacher. For example, the definition chosen for the citizenship value was:
Positively contributing to society and community as well as dutifully respecting authority and the law.
So, that sounds a bit like something out of Westminster Shorter Catechism to me. But who am I to say what motivated the writer of the definition?
Last week I noticed one of the schools near our home had the character trait of the month and its definition (caring) on its reader board. The sign reminded me of the movement eleven years ago to bring “values” back into our community.
It occurred to me as I was driving home that little has improved in our community over the course of the last decade. Most kids (and adults) still lack the values those parents fought to have taught. Common courtesy is far less common now than it was then. Property crime occurs at a much higher rate than it did ten years ago. Our community has experienced one school shooting in recent years and nearly every social problem under the sun has increased in intensity in the years since the program was implemented.
Why, after all the years, all the tax dollars spent and all the hours put into teaching and training kids have we seen so little improvement in the moral climate of our community?
It is not the fault of the brave parents who battled to bring values education into the schools. Those parents followed their conscience and worked their tails off to make a difference. That kind of moral courage is never wrong. Nor, should the blame be laid at the feet of the school system. In a post-modern, post-values, post-Christian world some very courageous leaders took a risk and made a valiant attempt at standing up for some timeless truths. That kind of bravery should always be celebrated.
The fault lies with society at large.
For well over a century, individuals have wanted and, in some cases, even insisted Christian values be taught without all the pesky obedience to God that accompanies authentic Christianity. Our culture wants nice people who practice Christian generosity in the event of a natural disaster or tragedy. We want people who are benevolent, compassionate and nice. We want people who tell the truth as Christianity demands.
However, we do not wish to be burdened with any moral restrictions that might mess with our personal choices. We do not want God meddling in our sex lives, telling us what gender we are or putting boundaries on what we watch on television. We for sure do not want Christianity to inform our views concerning drug legalization or childrearing practices.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it will work for a generation or two, perhaps even three. When Christianity is authentic it is powerful enough that Christian virtues (patience, kindness, temperance, generosity, self-discipline) will live on in succeeding generations who don’t really have a relationship with Christ. However, sooner or later the veneer of Christianity will begin to peel off of society and when that happens the society begins to unravel and behave in a way that is a lot less Christian.
That is where we’re living right now.
Western Civilization has been living in the shadow of the blessings we have not earned (Deuteronomy 28, 1st Samuel 15:22, Psalm 128:1-3, John 14:23, 2nd John 1:6). As that shadow shortens we are left with the dregs of a post-Christian reality: disobedient children, corrupt politicians, lawlessness, sexual chaos, broken families and random violence (Ezekiel 23:35, 2nd Timothy 3:1-5).
We will never get our homes, churches, community or country back to a place of blessing by painting society with yet another whitewashing of Christian virtues. We need Christianity not just Christian virtues. Christians need to get back to the business of repentance and making disciples. It all starts with making sure our own heart is right with God and other people. Once that is done Christians need to get into their communities with God’s truth and love.