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Homeschooling and last weekend’s shootings

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

In the aftermath of last weekend’s shootings investigators are beginning to uncover lots of stuff about the shooter Matthew Murray and his background. They discovered many of his online hate-the-Christian rants. They also found out that this very confused and twice as angry young man was homeschooled.

Now I don’t know Matthew’s parents or their child raising philosophy. But I do know his uncle. He is a godly, loving man. So I’m going to assume Matthew’s parents are cut from the same gentle cloth as he is. In other words, this is not a blame-the-parents rant. After all Matthew Murray is the one who pulled the trigger again and again, not them. But I do think this painful tragedy offers an awkward opportunity to springboard into the whole subject of homeschooling.

Some will blast the entire homeschooling movement over this one tragic incident. I won’t. I think homeschooling when done in love and grace and with effective socializing can produce high caliber kids. I’m thinking in particular of a family I know in St. Louis who has some of the best kids I have ever seen. They are godly, educated and sweet. They are also kids and have lots of fun. Their household is a house of laughter. But when its time to buckle down and work that’s exactly what they do.

But there are other parents who use the unwritten rules of the totalitarian branch of homeschooling to psychologically beat young minds into submission. These poor kids can end up like mindless drones (think Stepford children) or absolute rebels (think Children of the Corn.)

Some people swear by some of the more legalistic approaches to homeschooling. And, I have to admit, I’ve seen some solid Biblical teaching when it comes to character development in some of the more “strict” sects of this growing movement. But in many of these materials there is an undercurrent of legalism. There is a big emphasis on the do’s and don’ts. Do memorize verses out of the King James Version of Scripture, do read the Bible everyday for ten minutes anddo follow all the rules and regulated steps in the proper order in order to insure maximum holiness.

On the no-no side of the ledger there’s the daunting list of don’ts: Don’t listen to rock-n-roll (Christian or otherwise),don’t watch movies (with the possible exception of Left Behind series)trong>don’t blah, blah, blah.

What I don’t see a lot of in this sieg heil type of Christianity is an emphasis on the freedom that we have in Christ, of the relationship that we develop as we learn to stay dependent on the Spirit and on the joy that should overflow from us, not because of the seven steps we followed or the seven sins we avoided but because of the seven fold passion we have for Jesus.

The apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 2:20-3:2,

“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Paul is reminding us that being sanctified is not a matter of the rules we keep for God (“Do not touch. Do not taste. Do not handle.”) but of the relationship we have with God. Legalism is not so much the rules but the attitude about the rules. It is a subtle or not so subtle dependence on adherence to the list to sanctify you. To be honest I feel sorry for the children in this small stream of the homeschool movement whose parents are little hitlers driving their little kids to this very little version of Christianity.

Again I’m not against homeschooling at all. I’m all for it when done in a Biblical, balanced and loving way. But what I can’t stand, what I can’t tolerate is legalism in any form.

I hate it…and I’m in good company. Jesus hated it too. For those of you who beg to differ check out Matthew 23 in the King James Version.

Thou will findest its true.

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