Into the Words…Recalling Our History

The Domestic Expression of “Educate a Child: Transform the World”

Author Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner
Author Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner

To learn more about and participate in the domestic component of this initiative, go to pcusa.org/child.

The 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in a very welcome action, affirmed what is known as the Educate A Child Initiative. This program impulse, foreseen as one with both global and national expressions, was envisioned particularly as a response to the needs of children living in poverty. Known more popularly as “Educate A Child: Transform the World,” this mission and ministry effort is intended to demonstrate the key role education can play in breaking the bonds of crushing poverty, which can hold successive generations in its seemingly unbreakable grip. This mission of education is, without a doubt, part of God’s call to the church of the 21st century. Whether or not this is, for the PC(USA), an initiative, however, is a fair question.

An ‘initiative’ is often understood to be an introductory action, a beginning, a preliminary effort. If this is how we understand ‘initiative’, then we must acknowledge it is a misnomer when applied to this present exercise. Indeed, few mission and ministry efforts of Presbyterians can claim so rich and deep a heritage as the education of children. Rather, we might look upon the Educate A Child Initiative as a renewal of a commitment as venerable as the Reformed tradition itself.

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Early Reformers held a confident hope that the human mind was a good and gracious gift of a loving and sovereign God.
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The 16th-century Reformers, including John Calvin, ascribed to a high anthropology that recognized in each newborn human the imago Dei or image of God. The obligation of the community of faith was, they reasoned, to preserve, nurture, and guide that holy and sacred element within the young. To that end they dedicated themselves to faith formation and education of the young, even within a cultural climate that perceived children more for their potential worth than their inherent worth. As the inheritors of such a tradition, we do well to begin our own efforts by examining the extent to which our theology and practice has valued children within our culture and within the global community.

National Archives Public Domain ChildA sense of the imago Dei present in all children from birth was not the only theological touchstone of the Reformed heritage that animated attention to education as a Christian calling. Early Reformers held a confident hope that the human mind was a good and gracious gift of a loving and sovereign God. As such, human intelligence was perceived as a legacy to be treasured, and the community of believers was therefore obliged to exercise careful and faithful stewardship of this gift of grace.

Both early and ensuing generations of Reformed Christians devoted themselves to education of the young through the founding of schools, academies, colleges, and training programs. While not unique to the Reformed family, it can be argued that to an unusual degree, Even in contexts in which education itself was seen as counter-cultural – for instance, the education of girls and women – Presbyterians have persisted in providing educational opportunities, even at the expense of their own reception in cultures opposed to such endeavors. The persistent erosion of support, financial and otherwise, for public education in contemporary America might give us pause to consider afresh whether advocacy for children and their education has become a counter-cultural witness in our own context.

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The urgency of this work is told in the rates of infant mortality and teenage suicide, in lives doomed from their outset to despair and desperation, and in the squandering of God’s gracious gift of intelligence and imagination – the defiling of the sacred imago Dei.
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Our forbearers embraced a theology that took a communal approach to Jesus’ call to and promise of abundant life. However partially and imperfectly they confronted it in practice, the Reformers confessed the sinfulness of systems and structures of oppression. They recognized the capacity of the commonweal to thwart the inchoate hopes and longings of the individual and acknowledged that those systems were under the judgment of God.

child-and-books Public DomainAs we set ourselves toward a renewed effort to advocate for children, we will do well to embrace this aspect of our theological heritage. The issues of race, class, and gender are today writ large in the inequalities among children in America. Many of our children, God’s children, are relegated to small futures by virtue of their race, their zip code, or whether they are girls or boys. Powerful cultural and political structures conspire to relegate many children to substandard education – and then decry a high drop out rate that would perhaps be more accurately classified as a high ‘push out’ rate.

There are many other aspects of Reformed theology that have set generations of Christians on the path of establishing educational institutions as an expression of Christian faithfulness. The role of the church in founding hospitals and camps, in advocacy for the enactment of child labor laws, and in developing tutoring programs, scholarships, colleges, and technical education springs from a deep and rich vein within the Reformed bedrock of ministry. Our renewed effort today is not, in the strict sense, an initiative, but is rather an expression of continuity with a heritage that grows out of a particular reading of scripture and understanding of God’s claim upon our lives.

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Educate A Child: Transform the World is a bold step; let us take it in the name of the most famous poor Child in history, who did indeed transform the world.
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The 221st General Assembly stood within the highest tradition of our Reformed heritage in calling for a recommitment to the education of children. Globally and nationally, the urgency of this work is told in the rates of infant mortality and teenage suicide, in lives doomed from their outset to despair and desperation, and in the squandering of God’s gracious gift of intelligence and imagination – the defiling of the sacred imago Dei. In the days and months ahead, we will explore this calling and its requirements for faithfulness in a variety of ways. Let us remember that we do so within our heritage as a church that chose academic robes as its vestments, so high was our concept of education!

mother-holding-sleeping-babySome will question the capacity of the church to reach the stated goal of touching the lives of 1 million children through this effort. Others will question the exuberant claim that to Educate A Child is to Transform the World. Some will find efforts for the education of children in other nations a compelling cause and perceive national efforts as controversial. Others will hold the opposite view, preferring to see national efforts as appropriate and global efforts as an imposition.

A last treasure of Reformed thinking might well serve to steady our thinking and strengthen our resolve. The Reformed heritage has long held the view that the whole of the cosmos is under the authority of God and that the church, in turn, is called to proclaim and work for the redeeming power of God in all of creation. Educate A Child: Transform the World is a bold step; let us take it in the name of the most famous poor Child in history, who did indeed transform the world.

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To learn more about and participate in the domestic component of this initiative, go to pcusa.org/child.

To learn more about and participate in the international component of this initiative, go to http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/call-mission/globalpoverty/.

Read the text of “Educate a Child, Transform the World” from the 221st General Assembly (2014).

AUTHOR BIO: The Reverend Dr. Eileen W. Lindner is Senior Pastor at the Presbyterian Church at Tenafly, New Jersey. Her extensive past experience includes serving pastorates in Illinois, New York, and New Jersey; service as an overseas mission associate of the PC(USA) in Egypt in Lebanon; and service to the Carter White House during the “Year of the Child” in the area of child welfare policy. She also served at the National Council of Churches as as Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning and Director of Organizational Development and as Director of the Child Advocacy Office, during her tenure establishing the Ecumenical Child Care Network and serving in multiple projects related to health and health care in religious communities.

Lindner is the author of numerous books and articles on a variety of child advocacy subjects, including, Thus Far on the Way, Toward a Theology of Child Advocacy, and When Churches Mind Children. In May 2006, she was named the first Dean of the Riggio Lynch Interfaith Chapel at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Alex Haley Farm. Dr. Lindner also served the CDF as Interim Director of Religious Affairs. She currently serves as Theologian in Residence and Dean of the Chapel to the Children’s Defense Fund’s Annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy.

 

Read the text of “Educate a Child, Transform the World” from the 221st General Assembly (2014).

Read more articles from this issue: Pedagogy for the Distressed!

Read more articles from the “Somewhere to Start” Section!

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