A Christian man, husband, and father who lives in Sweden writes in with today’s question. “Hello, Pastor John! I love this podcast and your teachings. I live in Sweden, a coercive country — socialist in a lot of ways. Homeschooling exemptions for religious convictions were outlawed here not long ago. We must send our children to school, or the government threatens to take them away from us. The state forces children to begin preschool when they’re just six years old. Christian schools are practically illegal, and a school may have a ‘Christian profile,’ but it’s a meaningless title. These few Christian schools are still not allowed to be ‘religious’ or teach a Christian worldview. They’re still forced by law to abide to the same teaching plan as secular, atheistic schools to give children a secular education and must even teach our children LGBTQ as a positive norm. In such a country, Pastor John, how should we parent?”
Let me try to build up a case or an understanding from the more basic and broad principle to the immediate application to a parent in Sweden faced with this kind of difficult challenge.
Parents and Partnership
I would start at the bottom by affirming that God has assigned to parents — not to the state but to parents — the rearing and shaping of the minds and hearts of the children in the knowledge of God and in how to live that out in the world. I would base that on texts like Ephesians 6:4 (“Fathers . . . bring [your children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”) and Deuteronomy 6:6–7 and the book of Proverbs, which focuses on the teaching of fathers and mothers as foundational for life.
And of course, parents have always known that they need help from others in many ways — church, community, for example — with expertise that they don’t have to build into their children. And that’s not an implication just for modern living in the technical age. In the first century, Paul’s parents saw fit to supplement what he got at home with the education he received “at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3). That’s not a new principle. Parents build into their children, and parents partner with others to build into their children, what they need for life. That’s the first principle that’s a given, I think, for Christians.
The second principle I would lay down is that God has ordained for there to be governments and states, and government wields the sword, meaning that the government can enforce laws with coercion, fines, imprisonment, bodily harm, death (Romans 13:4). This government is to have the good of its people at heart (1 Peter 2:14), which implies that it will have a compelling interest in whether its people are educated — at least educated enough to make society function.
Just imagine what would happen if in modern societies no one could read or no one could do basic arithmetic — not to mention be able to think critically in regard to the vast complexities of what makes the infrastructure of cities function. Last winter, we had this spate of weather in Minneapolis that was ten or twenty degrees below zero for days on end. And I thought to myself that if the infrastructure of this city broke, we’d freeze to death. We really would. It really matters to the government, who cares about the welfare of its continued working, that there be a basic education — and more than basic.
Avenues for Education
The third principle, though, which is really important in this situation, would be that this compelling interest of government to have an educated population becomes evil when it preempts the more foundational right of the family to educate its children.
In other words, governments, I would argue, should find a way to encourage an educated populace by respecting the rights of families and promoting multiple avenues of all kinds of lower and higher education, as parents seek out ways to partner with those who have expertise in equipping their children to function wisely and morally and productively in the world.
Three Options for Families
Now, with those three basic principles that I would lay down, we can look at the situation in Sweden and parenting there. Of course, Sweden is not the only country in the world that, according to these principles, overreaches in their intrusion upon the rights of families. I know at least two families right here in Minneapolis who came from another country in Europe precisely because they forbade homeschooling and required state education with all of its indoctrination of the modern worldview.
Millions of Christians around the world have lived and do live in oppressive regimes that have such overweening power that they can overreach their God-given role and enforce that overreach with the power of imprisonment and death. This is not unusual. I mean, this is common throughout the world and has always been common.
So, I see three possibilities today for Christian families in a situation like this family in Sweden finds itself in.
1. Seek freedom elsewhere.
One is emigration out of their country to a more free society — an option that probably simply does not exist for most families for many reasons, including increasingly restrictive immigration laws, and lots of other things that would not only make that difficult but unwise probably.
2. Keep the kids home.
Second, you can keep your children out of school and run the risk of losing them. In recent years, we saw in the news families in Sweden where that happened. They took away five kids from the parents because they wouldn’t send them to public school. Now, that’s a massive risk and probably most parents are simply not going to say, “That would be worth it.” It probably wouldn’t be worth it. Keep your kids, and risk the education.
3. Send the kids to school, but still educate at home and church.
That brings me to my third option, which is the one most families probably will follow and will more or less, I think, rightly have to follow — namely, that a radically Christian education at home, alongside the state education (which is going to be diametrically opposed in many ways), will be needed in order to build into the children’s lives two deep and unshakable convictions. This is the goal now:
Jesus, the kind of person he is and the kind of amazing salvation he offers, is better than anything they will meet in school or anywhere else among their peers. That’s the first conviction they want to build into these kids with this radical Christian education at home and in the church and among friends.
The way of Jesus, the lifestyle of Jesus that he teaches and models and calls for, is better, better, better, better than any lifestyle offered at school or in the media.
This is not different. This is not a different kind of parenting in any culture. But I would think that in a situation where children are forced to be indoctrinated with unbiblical views of what is true and false, and right and wrong, and beautiful and ugly, the intentionality of the parents’ Christian education at home would be greater and more urgent to build the mindset into our children from the earliest age that we really are not part of this system.
I think that’s true here in America, but parents don’t feel it. They don’t feel it. They increasingly know it’s true, but we’ve felt like we belong here for so long. We don’t feel like we’re really not part of the system. It is our system sort of, and that’s increasingly not the case. Well, in Sweden, they’ve declared it’s not the case. I think there’s this greater intentionality where we actually teach our children that we live in a coercive, unbiblical, unjust system. We teach them that. I mean, that would be considered unpatriotic in some countries. Americans consider it unpatriotic in large measure today, and increasingly they shouldn’t.
So, in Sweden, I would think that you’ve got to teach your kids from the get-go that we live in a system where they are compelling us to do what they ought not to be compelling us to do. The kids have that mindset from the beginning.
Confident in King Jesus
And what I would stress for this Christian father is that the great challenge is to make that sense of alienation from the state and from the culture clear without becoming bitter, or acrimonious, or sullen, or fearful. But instead, model for the children abounding joy in Christ. Model great confidence in his sovereignty over evil, coercive regimes. Model tremendous hope that even under these constraints, Christ is able to show himself and his way as far more deeply satisfying and finally rewarding than anything this present world offers. That’s the great challenge.
The biblical commands to rejoice always and to give thanks in everything — indeed, “for everything” in Ephesians 5:20 — those commands to rejoice and give thanks were spoken in situations that were profoundly oppressive and embattled. So, the great challenge in parenting is to be a certain kind of person who is so confident in the power and wisdom and goodness of King Jesus, President Jesus, Premier Jesus, Prime Minister Jesus, that our joy is indomitable. The children must be shown that the way of Jesus is most joyful — even if it is a painful way, a self-denying way, a narrow way that leads to life.
I would just add one more thing, and I’m sure this father knows this, probably better than I do. Families shouldn’t be fighting this battle alongside their kids to show them the truth alone. If possible, they should be gathering in healthy churches, surrounded by other families with similar hopes and longings. Young people love to have friends, and the power of peer pressure is enormous. The Bible says that bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33), so we need to pray earnestly that God would raise up for our children other Christian friends.
We must band together as Christian parents to help each other provide the kind of alternatives for our children and young people that they can enjoy, so that when they’re offered alternatives that would not be healthy from their non-Christian peers, they are able to stand.
There is no safe place in the world to raise children — not in America, for sure, not in Sweden, not in China, not in North Korea. There’s no safe place to raise Christian children — children who will treasure Christ above everything. Only God can work the miracle in the hearts of our children that we long for.
So, with all of our teaching, and all of our modeling, and all of our friendships in church, and all of our rejoicing, we must pray without ceasing for the miracle of regeneration in our children.