Over 20 years ago, my wife Amy traveled through India for five weeks.    As a young minister, she was particularly interested in religious and ethical issues, and she was immersed into Indian Hinduism throughout her travels. 

In one home, she was shown a presentation of the family’s gods, a series of small figurines, displayed on a table in the dining room. They were exhibited much as Christian families display a crèche in the Christmas season. On this particular night, the evening air was cool, and as Amy was escorted to her bedroom she was shown the display again, the family member taking pride in the small wraps that had been draped around the shoulders of the gods. 

This winter clothing gave protection from the chill in the air. If that contrast from her American home and Christian environment wasn’t enough, Amy and noticed just a few feet away from the gods, enjoying their warm night’s sleep, the young boy who served as the family’s servant, curled up on the marble floor asleep, with no pillow, and no blanket.

Foolish idolatry!  Can you imagine, wrapping up some little stone statues to keep them warm, while a child lies shivering in the very same night air? We good Americans, schooled in the virtues of Christian orthodoxy, have been gratefully enlightened beyond such silly, abusive hypocrisy. We would never do such a thing.

Or would we?

Sure, we would spend hundreds of dollars putting the newest Nike tennis shoes on our children’s feet, while some of their school classmates spend their nights in a car and endure the shame of eating free lunch and taking home a snack bag, which will be all they have to eat between Friday afternoon and Monday’s free breakfast. But that’s not idolatry. 

Yes, we would spend thousands of dollars a year to send our kids to private schools, while some of the kids just down the street languish in failing public schools, starved of resources, parent support and teacher talent. But that’s not idolatry. 

Admittedly, we would enjoy the benefits of an economic system that values the hard work of those who have, while other parents are beaten down by their failure to thrive under that same, so-called freedom. But that’s not idolatry.

Or, maybe it’s just more convenient to point a finger at someone else’s hypocrisy than to shine the light on our own. 

Maybe the self-righteousness, the pride of accomplishment just feels too good to examine, when it is wrapped in our own justifications, viewed from within our own, little self-absorbed worlds. Maybe it’s just easier to criticize someone else’s religion. It’s obviously easier to sleep at night when we convince ourselves the little boy who is shriveled up in the cold night air or the girl who’s trying to sleep through hunger pains, is someone else’s child.

But “there’s no such thing as other people’s children.”

I could spend the rest of this blog quoting statistics, bemoaning the condition of American education in general, the public school system in Charlotte in specific. I won’t do that, though it is worth noting that while we live in one of the most affluent communities anywhere in the United States, over half of the students in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools qualified for lunch subsidies last year. Over half of our students live in poverty. Over half of our children live in poverty. 

There are 157 public schools in CMS, and last year 61 of those schools had poverty levels of 75% or better, and in 14 of the schools the poverty rate was 90%-plus. We would not tolerate this for our children.

And “there’s no such thing as other people’s children.”

Studies have shown that students from all races learn better in diverse environments, but a 1997 lawsuit against CMS schools eventually ended the mandatory busing which had begun in 1970, a largely successful effort to integrate our schools. But the busing mandate was overturned, and since 2002 our public schools have become racially divided at pre-1970s levels. In about ten years we have returned to the 1960s. Most of the racially-segregated schools are failing academically, because of the segregation, the isolation. We would not tolerate this for our children.

And “there’s no such thing as other people’s children.”

In Sedgefield Elementary school, more than 70% of 3rd grade students read below grade level. More than 70%!  How can this be?   I am sure you have all heard the metric that prison construction in this state is determined by the reading level of 3rd graders. If you are not reading on grade-level by then, there is a strong possibility you will spend some portion of your adult life behind bars. Obviously, we are more willing to build prisons than fund public school education – even though studies show it is far cheaper to educate than to incarcerate. We would not tolerate the incarceration of so many young white, males – our children.

And “there’s no such thing as other people’s children.”

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once said, “If you bungle raising your children I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” It’s time for Americans to confess that we are bungling the raising of far too many of our children.

In her book Jesus’ Family Values, Deirdre Good attributes the popularity of the phrase “family values” to the 1992 presidential campaign. Since then there has been no end to the air-time devoted to the need for so-called “family values” and to decrying the loss of such values from our culture. But who was Jesus’ family? And what were the values he taught? It’s tragic how many people want to jump on the “family values” band wagon who have no understanding that there’s no such thing as other people’s children.

Their children are our children. We are in this together. Their success is our success. Our success, or failure, is theirs. 

Look at the hand-wringing and listen to the rhetoric of presidential politics these days, about the state of the economy and the demise of the American dream. I personally do not share this depressing pessimism, of either our present situation or our future, but if you want to adopt that logic you cannot do so without an understanding of the collective whole. The success of the wealthiest Americans is unprecedented. The last 30 years of American life has created wealth for a few that is unimaginable, if not down-right sinful – but that success, feeding the top, has hardly made us safe and successful, has it? 

Listen to the rhetoric: we have a few of the wealthiest people the world has ever known… and we’re going to hell in a hand basket. The same people are making both assertions – without making the connection between the two.

Their success has got to be our success. Our success, or failure, is theirs. There is nothing more important than family, and no greater challenge and responsibility in this world than raising children, but if we care so much for our own children that we cannot see the needs of others, then our understanding of family is clearly too small, our vision of the world too narrow, our faith, well… it may be fair to say we, too, are dressing up our idols, to keep them comfortable at night.


 1. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Newsweek January 15, 1996.
2.  http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article31029576.html.
3.  “In 1989, less than 2 percent of black students in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord area attended a school that was 90 to 100 percent minority. By 1999, 6 percent of black students were in that situation; by 2010, it was 36 percent. This year… 60 schools in CMS have student populations that are less than 10 percent white…”  http://www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/September-2014/The-Fall-of-the-Lions/.
4. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in Kennedy, Theodore Sorenson, 1965.

Photos by Angela Vincent and Sam Deng