Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The question of school vouchers (the government giving to parents a “voucher” which can be used for tuition payments in private and Christian schools) is very much in the news in Michigan. Some prominent men in the state, including some very wealthy ones, have been pushing for this. Other states and municipalities have also been considering this—or have already enacted measures to provide for such vouchers.
The whole idea of “vouchers” is very appealing. After all, why should not those who pay taxes for the education of children have the opportunity to make use of some of this money for the education of their own children? Why should people have to pay taxes for the education of the children of the state—and then pay additional money for tuition if their desire is to have their children instructed in Christian schools? Would this not provide a measure of relief for parents who are hard pressed to raise thousands of dollars for the instruction of their children in harmony with their baptismal vows?
The arguments both pro and con for vouchers are often wrong arguments. The “pro” argument might run: we are entitled to this tax money for the education of our children, also in our own choice of a school, since we pay taxes. And the “con” argument often insists that this will be in effect governmental support of religion. There must be separation of state and church (and religious schools).
But the more basic question is this: does government funding of institutions with tax dollars not also require, even demand, government control over such institutions?
Timothy Lamer, in World magazine of June 17, 2000, insists that this is the case. Vouchers, appealing though these may be, must include government control and regulation. If such regulation appears minor at the beginning, one can be assured that over a period of time the regulation will become ever greater.
The writer points out two well documented incidents where “conservatives” cried loudly against the pornographic art presented in two different “art” museums in two large cities. The critics insisted that these museums ought not to be allowed to show this sort of “art.” Timothy Lamer pointed out:
Taken together, the two actions may represent a renewed GOP commitment to a common-sense proposition—namely that the government has a duty to oversee tax-funded institutions. If museums want to act independently, then they should be independently funded. They cannot, in effect, say to taxpayers, “Hand over the cash, then sit down, be quiet, and don’t dare—through your elected representatives—try to influence how we spend your money.”
At the height of the furor over Mr. Giulani and the Brooklyn museum, National Review’s Kate O’Beirne spoke for many on the right when she made that very point in a debate on ABC’s Nightline: “Look, there’s an easy remedy here. If you don’t want to be accountable for the use of tax dollars, then don’t take tax dollars.” She argued that since the museum’s officials accept tax funding, “I don’t think they have any right to object when taxpayers, through their elected representatives, object to what they’re doing and don’t want their tax dollars spent in such a way.”
There’s just one problem: Many of the same conservatives who applaud Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Giulani also back government funding for religious schools (through vouchers) and religious charities (through “charitable choice”). Those activities have more popular support than tax-funded pornography can muster, but they could not escape some regulation—for according to our own principles the government isn’t overreaching when it regulates tax-funded organizations; it’s merely doing its duty.
Most people don’t realize it, but throughout American history many evangelicals have opposed government funding for churches and religious groups. They pointed out that God gives civil states coercive power for specific purposes
Romans 13:1-7, I Peter 2:13-14,
which do not include raising money for churches and religious groups. Baptists and Southern Presbyterians were especially adamant about sticking to the Bible on such matters.
One of their chief concerns was that the church would lose its moral claim to independence if it became funded by the state. The great 19th-century theologian Robert L. Dabney, for instance, said that if “the State pays the salaries of the preachers, her duty to the taxpayer will not only justify, but demand, its supervision of the functions paid for…. Then, how shall the endowed church maintain its spiritual independence, or its allegiance to King Christ?” Dabney, in other words, wanted the church to remain independent, but he knew that it could not morally do so if it accepted tax money.
…we can’t have situational principles: If tax-funded institutions that we don’t like must answer to the state, then tax-funded institutions that we like must do so as well. Justice demands no less.
It is surprising that those who would destroy private and Christian schools do not support the idea of providing vouchers for these schools. One would think they realize that this would involve also increasing governmental control—ultimately destroying these schools, or at least destroying the reason for their existence. Let us be fully aware of these dangers and continue sacrificially to support our schools without the unwanted government support and control.
In reading the news, one is impressed by the fact that the signs of the end of the age are increasingly seen. When the world religions seek to join hands to establish peace, and when this is done under the auspices of the United Nations, one is reminded of the beasts of Revelation 13. From their web site, the following information tells of the intent of world religious leaders:
On August 28 through August 31, 2000 in the first gathering of its kind, the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders (opening at the United Nations) will unite several hundred preeminent leaders from the world’s great religious and faith traditions to pledge a commitment for the achievement of world peace.
The World Peace Summit is being convened to coordinate religious and spiritual leadership as an interfaith ally to the United Nations in its quest for peace, global understanding and international cooperation.
The Summit’s outcome—a signed Declaration for World Peace and the establishment of an ongoing International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders—will serve as a resource for the United Nations in its conflict prevention and resolution efforts.
During the last decade, more than 100 armed conflicts have erupted in over 70 different locations around the world. Since the end of World War II, 27 million people have lost their lives due to war. Although religious leaders individually have spoken out against and tried to halt these hostilities, until now there has been no concerted effort to join the world’s leading religious figures in a united initiative for world peace, working in conjunction with the United Nations.
Globalization and new communications technologies have done much to join the economies of countries around the world and to create a growing sense of interconnectedness among people. But these advances have not alleviated the problems that plague humankind. The brutality of war and the despair of poverty are as much a reality today as at any time in the past. Human suffering continues at an intolerable level.
To counter these ills, a strong collaboration is needed between the United Nations and the religious and spiritual community.
For this purpose, and to mark the potential of the new millennium, the world’s preeminent religious and spiritual leaders will be gathering at the United Nations from August 28, 2000 for an historic World Peace Summit. Addressing the world’s population through a telecast from the United Nations General Assembly Hall, these revered leaders will demonstrate their united commitment and determination to work together to eliminate the causes that perpetrate violence and lead to war.
In times of conflict, the world’s great religious leaders will together exert moral authority in the zones of conflict to seek nonviolent resolutions.
World Peace Summit
The article continues by pointing out what this gathering intends to accomplish: peace among nations.
During recent conflicts in a number of regions, efforts have been made to engage the assistance of religious leaders. But to be more effective, many of the leaders acknowledge the need for a more supportive relationship with the
Religious leaders gathering at the United Nations from August 28 will discuss a number of concrete steps to declare their commitment to work more closely as a community of spiritual leaders and with the diplomatic community of the United Nations to prevent the outbreak of war.
They will work together to discern shared commitments to peace expressed in a Declaration for World Peace. The assembled religious and spiritual leaders will explore how to establish an International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders to offer support to the United Nations and the United Nations Secretary-General in peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts. This Council will add a unique spiritual dimension to the United Nations difficult task of mediating conflicts between nations and among peoples from different religious and ethnic groups.
Read again Revelation 13. Imagine how the peoples of the world will admire such a council of nations and religions which can establish and maintain peace on the earth! It sounds, however, much like Scripture’s description of the Antichrist and his kingdom. Let us remember that the time is short; the night is far spent—the day is truly at hand.