If utopian tyrants whose vision for the world encompasses only theirs are continued to be allowed, like locusts, to devour every institution in their path, there won’t be even one left to provide an alternative worldview to anyone enlightened enough to seek it.
Recently, at a weekly neighborhood Bible study, I was surprised to hear a friend describe a letter sent to a church that hosts a Christ-centered program she uses to homeschool her kids called “Classical Conversations” (CC). The unsigned letter threatened the church with loss of their non-profit status for hosting a for-profit company. When the woman, a CC leader, informed her leadership of the letter, she found versions were being circulated to churches hosting CC groups across the nation.
Although her CC host church wasn’t concerned about the letter, two other local churches had closed their doors to CC groups after receiving the same letter, one immediately before the start of the school year and one at midyear.
Atheist and LGBT groups threatening churches through the Internal Revenue Service for preaching the gospel is nothing new. Yet Christians threatening a church’s tax-exempt status for hosting a Christian homeschool organization is entirely new.
What Is Classical Conversations?
Classical Conversations is a curricula and class structure many homeschooling families use, based on the mission “To know God and make Him known.” Participating parents follow a planned curriculum from pre-K through high school that “[empowers] parents in the classical Christian teaching of their children.”
As a homeschool parent and advocate, I often recommend the CC program for parents, especially when they’re starting out. After withdrawing three of our kids from public education in their early elementary years, I’m not certain I would’ve known how to even begin homeschooling without CC, even though I’d spent much of my 30s as a credentialed public-school teacher. Their easy-to-follow lesson plans fit our kids perfectly through middle school, after which we switched to a local teaching cooperative where I could teach science and math classes for my kids and their peers.
Like many classical-type homeschooling programs, CC stresses memorization of basic facts—geography, history, science and math—throughout the early years, a task easily accomplished through their catchy songs. Writing skills are begun as early as fourth grade, as is basic Latin. Throughout the middle and high school years the facts framework and the study of classic literature are used as a foundation upon for lessons in rhetoric and logic, plus formal writing and research.
One day a week, students in CC communities meet at a facility—usually a local church, since churches most strongly align with CC’s biblical mission. Some host facilities are financially compensated for maintenance costs associated with hosting a CC homeschool community. Communities are overseen by a CC-licensed director (an adult CC family member). Children break into age-appropriate learning groups each led by a qualified parent tutor, where they recount lessons of the previous week and learn new concepts to be studied at home. During the rest of the week, parents have sole responsibility for their child’s use of CC materials.
Each family pays the campus director for each child depending on the child’s developmental stage, to cover facility maintenance, instructional supplies, and tutor costs. Although curriculum and supplementary, CC-copyrighted materials are sold on the CC website, families purchase these directly as needed or desired.
Anonymous Letters Sent to CC Host Churches
Robert Bortins, CEO of Classical Conversations, said he became aware of two versions of an anonymous letter that were claimed to have been sent to “approximately 2500 host churches” nationwide in early 2019. Both letters began with the salutation, “Dear Church.” The first closed, “Former CC Families,” the second, “Concerned Christian Citizens.” (An organization named Concerned Christian Citizens sent an official statement to Bortins reporting that they not only did not send the letters, but expressly support both CC and its host churches.)
The first letter attempted an informational tone and contained internet addresses for a number of articles referencing ways various states regulate interactions between churches and for-profit businesses. A second letter sent several months later took a more strident tone. It identified the writers as “a group of Christian parents who are very concerned about the business practices of this company” and was accompanied by a “comprehensive list of issues that former Classical Conversations families have compiled.”
The four-page list documented nine “Issues With Classical Conversations,” which continued the tax-exempt theme, but added complaints about the culture of the organization and comments from its founder judged to be political “rhetoric.” Several of the complaints referred to a five-page anonymous blog post under the guise of a ‘product review.”
This blog, written by a person who “spent a year in Classical Conversations,” devoted many paragraphs to whether CC is “classical” or “neo-classical” in nature before charging it is “not an inexpensive program,” not Christian enough, too centered on memorization, and the structure was “inflexible and taxing for my family.”
In other words, the complaints at core don’t really seem to be about CC or any host church’s compliance with the law. That’s just a stick the letter writer (or writers) are using to beat up a company the writer dislikes, rather than just taking her business elsewhere and letting other people freely associate as they choose.
Education Is an Historic Role of the Church
Although it’s certainly constitutional for states to regulate businesses operating within their borders, it’s more than worrisome that any state would create regulations threatening the tax status of churches allowing Christ-aligned education because of an exchange of dollars.
In fact, one has but to do even the tiniest bit of research to find that before completely government-run education in America, children were taught either at home by a parent or a parent-paid tutor, or—thanks to Martin Luther’s insistence that Christians must read the scriptures for themselves—inside a building used for Christian worship. Local tax funds were also frequently sent to church-run schools in America’s earliest days.
The idea of Christians issuing thinly veiled tax status threats to Christian churches hosting a program with paid tutors is prima facie ridiculous, but also moronic from a state level. Catholic schools, for example, function on campuses that include their main worship building. Those schools must pay for building overhead outside worship days and, in many cases, privately contracted classroom teachers.
Whether on or off church grounds, 99.99 percent of tutors of any subject require payment for their services, and plenty of homeschooling families employ them. I have an art tutor and an algebra tutor for our youngest son, who both charge $30 an hour for their services. CC directors charge a fraction of this price for the classes they oversee.
Those challenging the use of church property by home schools also look past the fact that the true users of the church properties are not paid tutors but groups of Christian parents who use the space simply to further a key aim of the church: promoting Christian education to young people.
On a more woke level, both our tutors are women supplementing their family income using vocations supplanted by motherhood. Why call out a program which helps families not only educate their children, but provide a wage to trained mothers willing to step up and assist other families? Isn’t that a classic definition of empowerment?
Crybabies Should Never Dictate Church Policy
It’s clear after reading the blog post associated with the anonymous letters that the writer or writers have an ax to grind with CC and wish to use the threat of state action to coerce compliance with their philosophy of education. This isn’t a surprising situation. Too many people today seem perplexingly ill-equipped to dislike something without attempting to force others to dislike it too, and much of these fights hold both Christianity and education at their centers.
After receiving these letters, some church leaders have chosen to close their doors to CC programs they’ve hosted, in some cases for years, stranding enrolled homeschooling families. This is a more than inconvenient outcome that should not occur. Fortunately, some churches are inviting CC families back after additional research.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal nonprofit, has partnered with Classical Conversations to help promote their church alliance program to navigate this and other issues, yet it’s obvious some churches will kowtow to a tiny minority of cranks rather than accept legal assistance to stand against unreasonable and unsubstantiated interpretations of government regulations—an altogether too common story today.
Although it may seem easier to church leaders to cave to outside pressure and allow crybabies to dictate church policy in the short term, one of the few things standing between absolute tyranny and freedom in America today is the church’s ability to provide religious training in all forms.
In the words of one California pastor, “What right does the state have to tell the church what is and what is not worship? You are not theologians or interpreters of Scripture. Worship isn’t just singing and listening to a sermon. Every act of obedience to God is an act of worship. We are told in the Bible that it is our responsibility to educate our children, and therefore education is an act of worship and does not violate any property usage understanding.”