A new report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) suggests that declining percentages of homeschool families are motivated primarily by religious conviction. The NCES, a statistical agency affiliated with the federal Department of Education, says that while 64 percent of respondents said that “a desire to provide religious instruction” was an important factor in their choice to homeschool, only 16 percent cited religion as the “most important” factor. This compares to 36 percent of homeschool parents who named religious instruction as the most important factor in a 2007 NCES survey.
Religion was the pre-eminent reason parents gave for homeschooling in the 2007 NCES poll, but in the new survey, “concern about environment of other schools” was the most commonly stated top motivation, cited by 25 percent of respondents. “Dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools” was next, at 19 percent, followed by religion. A combined 21 percent cited “other reasons,” including finances, travel, and distance of schooling options, as the most important factor.
Sociologist Jeffrey Dill of Eastern University, an expert on homeschooling, notes that an increasing desire to give kids a quality alternative to public schools does not necessarily exclude religious motivations. “Many homeschool families,” Dill told me, believe that they can “provide a better learning environment and more rigorous academic engagement” than other educational options. Dill thinks that the NCES report confirms that parents who teach their own children are often seeking the highest quality education for them, and not simply looking “to indoctrinate them with religious dogma, as some critics may claim.” Roughly three percent of American children are homeschooled.
Controversies over gay marriage continue to trouble The United Methodist Church (UMC). In late October, retired United Methodist Bishop Mel Talbert became the first UMC bishop to perform a same-sex wedding, in open defiance of church law.
Denominational officials pleaded with Talbert not to go through with the ceremony, and UMC Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, who oversees the North Alabama district where it took place, called the action a “breach of the covenant” Talbert had made with the denomination at ordination. But R. Lawton Higgs, a retired UMC minister who helped Talbert officiate at the wedding, said that he did so “to proclaim that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:1-2) for LGBT persons” and characterized it as “an act of Joyful Obedience.”
Even though the 2012 UMC General Conference reaffirmed the church’s traditional teachings on marriage and sexuality, liberal American clergy continue to push for change. The UMC’s Judicial Council, its top court, recently made several decisions affirming the right of Methodists to express disagreement with the denomination’s prohibition on gay marriage. In one case, the New York Annual Conference had adopted a resolution commending UMC clergy “whose bold actions and courageous statements help to provide for the pastoral needs of same-sex couples within The United Methodist Church.”
Thirty-one UMC pastors in eastern Pennsylvania plan to follow Talbert’s lead in November when they will officiate jointly at a same-sex wedding. They are planning the ceremony to coincide with the Nov. 18 church trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer, another Methodist pastor who presided at a 2007 wedding of his son and another man. —T.K.