Preparing Children for the Real World
“They were thus cautious that no poison should be administered among them.”
By far the most common concern we hear as we interview parents who are considering sending their children to Liberty Youth Academy is whether their children will be able to integrate into the “real world” if they are educated within the bubble of a faith-based private school. Many have similar concerns regarding homeschooling. When we were first confronted with this concern shortly after announcing that we were opening a branch of Liberty Youth Academy in Sahuarita, I’ll admit that we did not have the most satisfying response. We knew that we were following the Lord’s will for us, but as more and more people asked the same question, we realized that we needed to do more to help parents address their legitimate concerns. As we began our search for better answers, we began discovering truths, many of which have either been overlooked or altogether forgotten as our society has drifted further and further from its Christian roots. One purpose of this blog is to take you along this journey of discovery with us.
When addressing any concern, it is important to first understand the assumptions behind the concern. In this case, there are two assumptions that account for the concern parents have with faith-based education:
There is such thing as too much of a good thing where God is concerned. Sure, we believe that we need regular and consistent spiritual nourishment in order to preserve and grow our testimonies (daily prayer, daily scripture study, weekly church attendance, etc.), but shielding our children from evil by educating them at home or within schools that teach in accordance with our values sets them up for petrifying stupefaction when they are eventually sent into a wicked world as adults.
Exposing our children to evil creates opportunities for developing spiritual strength. In order to prevent our children from becoming petrified when faced with the world, we can inoculate them from evil the same way that we might inoculate them from viruses, by intentionally exposing them to it.
If you take these two assumptions away then the concern about faith-based education crumbles into oblivion. If you find that you agree with either of these assumptions either completely or in part, you are in good company. I grew up with faith-based education, yet I must have unconsciously accepted these assumptions in some degree, or I would not have found myself struggling to find an answer to the concern expressed by the parents of our prospective students. As I began studying the scriptures to determine whether God would agree with these assumptions, I found example after example that exposes these assumptions for the lies they are. As logical as they may appear, there is no scriptural support for them, especially where it concerns children. Here are some of the stories I found that led me to this conclusion.
The Stripling Warriors
Last year, I completed a Book of Mormon challenge with my youth Sunday school class. One day while reading, and as often happens when reading large chunks of the Book of Mormon each day, I found a connection that I had not noticed before. In “A Stripling Warrior Education,” I explore this connection and show how the stripling warriors were brought up in an environment that was shielded from worldly influences (in what some today might call a bubble), but they were not crippled when confronted with the horrors of their world. Instead, they faced their battles with courage and faith the likes of which the Nephite nation had never before seen. Here was a popular and powerful story containing a striking correlation between an upbringing shielded from evil and incredible spiritual fortitude in later years. In isolation, this correlation does not necessarily prove that their shielded upbringing caused their spiritual strength, but it hints strongly at the possibility that shielding our children from evil during their formative years helps, rather than hinders, spiritual progression. This account gave me a big piece of the puzzle in my search for answers and additional examples bearing the same message were not at all difficult to find.
Don’t Abandon Your Places of Security
As a boy, my favorite section of the Book of Mormon was the war chapters. Today, the war chapters are still among my favorites but for very different reasons. I love what the war chapters teach about how to survive the spiritual war in which we are all enlisted. If there is a repeating theme of the war chapters, it is that we should NEVER abandon our places of security. Here are some examples.
When the Lamanite king commanded his armies to attack the Nephites, a man named Lehonti mutinied and fortified himself, along with half of the Lamanite army, at the top of a mountain. Amalickiah, a Nephite dissenter, was given command over the half of the army that was still loyal to the king. His mission was to compel Lehonti and his men to obedience. With half of the Lamanite army under his command and occupying the high ground, Lehonti had the tactical advantage over Amalickiah’s force, and Amalickiah knew it. Upon arriving at the foot of the mountain, rather than attack, Amalickiah sent an embassy to Lehonti requesting that he come down to speak with him. Lehonti refused three times but was ultimately convinced when Amalickiah suggested that they meet just outside of Lehonti’s camp and that Lehonti bring his guards with him. Lehonti fell under Amalickiah’s influence, abandoned the mountaintop, and joined with Amalickiah who eventually murdered him (Alma 47:1-18).
Amalickiah later succeeded in assassinating the king and becoming king himself. During the war he started with the Nephites, the Lamanites succeeded in taking several Nephite strongholds. The Nephites found “that it was impossible [to] overpower them while they were in their fortifications,” so they devised a plan to use an apparently inferior Nephite force to decoy the Lamanites out of the city. It worked, and the Lamanites lost a city that they could have maintained indefinitely had they simply remained in their stronghold (Alma 52:17-40).
Later in the same war, Helaman with his stripling warriors used a similar strategy, and, once again, the Lamanites took the bait and lost the city (Alma 58:16-29).
Other Scriptural Examples
The scriptures are full of other stories and examples that carry similar messages as the “don’t abandon your places of security” stories. Here are a few of my favorites.
In another episode from the war chapters, the Lamanites attempted multiple times to poison the Nephite’s wine. The Nephites were cautious though and tested their wine on the Lamanite prisoners, “and they were thus cautious that no poison should be administered among them; for if their wine would poison a Lamanite it would also poison a Nephite” (Alma 55:30-32, emphasis added). For years this statement left me scratching my head because it seemed so obvious, but in the context of avoiding the poison of the world, it is a chilling reminder that we are in dangerous territory if we think that, because we are followers of Christ, we are immune to the poisonous influences of the world. In truth, if we allow ourselves to be exposed to evil influences, we are as susceptible to being influenced by them as an atheist. I suppose the Nephites could have, like Wesley from the Princess Bride, attempted to build an immunity to the poison, but the Nephites did not accept the inoculation theory. It was far better to avoid poison altogether.
In Doctrine and Covenants 45:32, the Lord states that his followers “shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved.”
In Lehi’s vision, when he ate the fruit of the Tree of Life, which is symbolic of God’s love for his children, he found it sweet “above all that [he] had ever before tasted,” and his soul was filled “with exceedingly great joy.” As he looked around, he called to his family and others to join him. On the other side of the river stood a great and spacious building “filled with people” who “were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.” Lehi stood near the tree (his holy place) pleading with all who were within the sound of his voice to come and feel the incredible joy he was then experiencing, but he never once set foot in that great and spacious building. Lehi knew what it meant to “stand in holy places, and… not be moved” (1 Nephi 8, 11-14).
In Matthew 5:14, Christ taught, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” Like Lehi at the tree, the city-on-a-hill is meant to stay on that hill so that the power and warmth of its light can draw to it travelers who are lost in the low and dark places. Christ never intended the city-on-a-hill to become a city-in-the-valley.
The Counter Arguments
But what of Ammon and the sons of Helaman who left the safety of the Nephites to preach among the wicked and degenerate Lamanites? What of Abinadi who was sent to reclaim the people of King Noah from their debauchery? They all left places of security to spread their light in places that had become very dark indeed.
Occasionally, we see instances of exceptional individuals called to establish footholds in enemy territory which they eventually build into places of security and spiritual safety. Ammon joined the people of Lamoni as a servant, but he quickly established a spiritual haven among them and eventually brought them to join the Nephites. It was there that they established a society of spiritual strength and fortitude so absolute that they expelled Korihor from their borders when he attempted to introduce his spiritual poison among them (Alma 17-19, 27, 30; see also “A Stripling Warrior Education”). Abinadi, on the other hand, did not see the fruits of his labors before his martyrdom, but Alma and those who believed Abinadi’s words separated themselves from the rest of King Noah’s people to create their place of spiritual security in the land of Mormon (Mosiah 23).
Some might hear such stories and envision their children in public schools bringing light much like Ammon, the sons of Helaman, and Abinadi. There are two major differences, however, between our children and the accounts of Ammon, the sons of Helaman, and Abinadi:
Ammon, the sons of Helaman, and Abinadi were following specific commands from God. If you search the scriptures and the words of modern-day prophets, you will find no commandment requiring our children to attend public schools so that they can share the gospel. It’s notable that even when President Nelson challenged the youth to join in the gathering of scattered Israel, his recommendations for doing so are things that even “sheltered” homeschoolers can do: seven day social media fast, weekly sacrifice of time for the Lord, get and stay on the covenant path, pray daily for all to receive the blessings of the gospel, and give someone a copy of For the Strength of Youth.
Our children are children; Ammon, the sons of Helaman, and Abinadi were not. Christ’s invitation to children was to “suffer [them] to come unto me, and forbid them not.” When Christ saw his disciples trying to keep children from him, “he was much displeased” (Mark 10:13-14). How do you think he must feel about those institutions in our day who try to insulate our children from Christ?
Some might use the heroic accounts of the young David, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as evidence in favor of educating our children in environments that challenge, rather than promote, faith. They had their faith tested in the godless nation of Babylon, and they are indeed incredible examples of spiritual strength in a nation whose name is synonymous with worldliness and evil. We should remember, though, that their forced education in Babylon was the direct result of Israel’s enslavement for not following God in the first place. I seriously doubt that they would hold their enslaved educational experience aloft as an example for the free Christian peoples of the world to follow.
Fire and Testimony
Have you ever tried to strike a match in breezy conditions? The weak flame of a single match has the potential to consume entire forests, but it is easily extinguished with even the smallest breeze. If you wish to use that match to light a bonfire, it is possible, but it requires friends and family to crowd around the match and fire-starting material to protect and shelter them from the breeze. As the flame grows and gains strength, exposure to some breeze and wind can actually help the fire grow, but too much and the still-tender flames are overwhelmed. Once the flame has grown into a bonfire, however, the same breeze that would have instantly extinguished a match will fan a bonfire to greater brilliance and strength than it could have achieved on its own.
Similarly, tender testimonies are easily overcome by even small temptations, and Satan’s buffeting winds in these latter days are gale force. They are so strong that Christ said that even the elect will be deceived (Matthew 24:24). Our spirits were never meant to withstand prolonged exposure to the full force of filth, sleaze, and depravity that the devil has let loose on the world (even a bonfire can’t withstand the winds of a hurricane). As we seek to strengthen our testimonies through the daily practices of discipleship, and as we stand immovable in those places where we can feel God’s love and spirit, we will be sheltered from the full force of Satan’s influence, and the winds of adversity and temptation that we do face will not overpower us. Rather, they will drive us on to greater strength and intensity than we could ever achieve otherwise.
In summary, God’s message throughout the scriptures is that we should not abandon our places of security for any reason, not even if we bring our guards with us and only come down a little way. Experiences with the Holy Ghost create spiritual strength, and the more the merrier. There is no such thing as too much time with Christ and his spirit. You will also find no example in the scriptures where God recommends intentional exposure to evil as a strategy for building spiritual strength. Instead, he cautions us to ensure that we allow “no poison” among us… period. Even when we do all we can to spiritually fortify ourselves and avoid the poisonous influences of the world, trial and temptation will inevitably find us. We do not need to seek it out. If we keep ourselves and our children in holy places where we can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, our trials and temptations will tutor and prepare us for Celestial living. When we abandon our places of security and intentionally put ourselves in unholy places, even the very elect risk being deceived.
If you have been watching the moral decline of our country and its institutions, and if you have been considering faith-based education for your children as a way to combat the rising tide of evil in the world but have worried that you might do your children more harm than good, I hope this article has helped you. There is much to consider when deciding whether faith-based education (either within the home or without) is right for your family, but you can rest assured that you will not ruin your children if you choose a faith-based educational model. Far from it. I also sincerely hope that each family prayerfully seeks to discover the Lord’s will for the education of their children, and I hope that you keep your options open. If you get the answer that your children are to attend public school, who am I to argue? If you get an answer that points you to faith-based education, however, I promise you that the view is worth the climb. As you prayerfully consider your options with a complete willingness to make whatever sacrifices are required to follow God’s direction, you may get a hard answer. I can assure you, though, that you will see miracles, and God will magnify your capacity equal to whatever challenges you may have to face.
Korihor: Alma 30
2000 stripling warriors at war: Alma 56-58
President and Sister Nelson’s Devotional for Youth: A Call to Enlist and Gather Israel - https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/youth/article/president-and-sister-nelsons-devotional-for-youth-a-call-to-enlist-and-gather-israel?lang=eng