Martin Luther said, you can tell what people believe by the things for which we willingly sacrifice our children. We see wealthy elites gladly sacrificing children on altars of achievement to define self-worth, class privilege to rig outcomes for their own, and raw parental ambition to corrupt rather than promote their teens’ well-being. All of it is saturated with a narcissism that makes it sound like a good idea.
As fodder for moral outrage and indignation, this story has nearly everything. Celebrity. Money. Family. Status. Achievement. Advantage. Elitism. Cynicism. The college admissions scandal has become a news flashpoint because it so reveals our idolatries. Exposing such wrong can still touch a raw, inflamed nerve.
Maybe we don’t see ourselves as wealthy or powerful, but we are. Just imagine. It is not enough for people like us, who already enjoy systemic advantages, like finding and hiring tutors to boost our young where others can’t; or resources to train them up athletically, for more admissions leverage. This scandal proclaims our advantages in the aggregate are insufficient and must be supplemented by individual adventurism to manipulate outcomes in our favor, even unto securing a slot for our young in entering classes, robbing deserving students of opportunity. Never mind how un-American that is. Much worse, it is an abomination unto God.
We can angrily fulminate and throw down lightning bolts. Instead, we might ask, how can First Congregational become a counterculture, not only to oppose what shocks and disgusts us, but to equip families and children in honest, right living?
- Achievement. I’ve been impressed by mothers at FCC who refuse to ask the peers of their teen children where they got into college. Even that question distorts the shaping of their young lives. We aim at youth who use God-given gifts, but refuse to define their worth by their achievements.
- Status. We yearly declare your worth at Reaffirmation of Baptism. As you approach, you hear how God defines you at the core of your being. Not as masters of the universe, but as his beloved children. Against this scandal, you see how very countercultural that blessing is. Given this cruel world, no wonder no few of you approach us with tears, to hear such a blessing.
- Family. Social sentimentality around family results in worshiping family as an absolute good. Watch the Godfather trilogy if you want to see where that gets us. Families are a means for achieving the ends of God’s reign.
- Advantage. Our word for that is blessing, that God relentlessly seeks us, and loves us, as though we were the only one. Notice how we quickly add that we’re blessed, not as an edge over others, but to bless others in turn.
- Elitism. See Status, above. Being God’s beloved child is not just a feel-good identity, it’s a playing field so level that those with Down’s Syndrome or any disability stand just as tall and toe-to-toe with us before God’s eyes.
- Cynicism. Left alone to define our lives by how well we fare, we despair. For no matter how well we do—as the scandal parents’ actions suggest—it is never good enough. Here at FCC, we take ourselves out of our story, and insert ourselves in a greater story that goes back 2,000, even 4,000 years. In the alternative narrative of Scripture, glory takes on another hue.
Rev. Dale Rosenberger