By Robert Morrison
I can still remember the sting of the question from a quarter century ago. One of our neighbors, a good friend really, in liberal Montgomery County , Maryland , asked me at a social gathering where our children went to school. “Calvary Lutheran, in Silver Spring,” I told him matter-of-factly. Ah, he smiled, white flight, eh? My friend knew I was conservative. I was then serving in the Reagan administration. But the imputation of racism hurt. I had, after all, campaigned for Hubert Humphrey in my home county. I even went to Minnesota and worked for a year there, always carrying high the banner of Humphrey, the greatest white champion of civil rights.
I patiently explained that Calvary Lutheran School was eighty-five percent minority enrolled. My wife and I had chosen the school because of its Christian values. Every day, our children lined up on the spotless playground and marched in to class under a portico. Engraved in stone above those well-behaved, well-loved children were these words: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” The kindergarten teacher at Calvary was named Silvi. She and her family had escaped from Estonia in 1939, when Silvi was a little girl. Her family fled into the night when the Soviets invaded in September, 1939. Stalin had a long list of Estonians to be shot, whole families. Silvi’s family was on that list. You might say Silvi’s family’s escape was a white flight, too. Fleeing the reds.
Calvary Lutheran School averaged 123 students when our children went there. Many of the children, even then, came from single-parent homes. The mothers and dads who entrusted their children to Calvary knew they would be well cared for and wrapped in prayer. What about academics? Every child at Calvary read on grade level. That was something that could not be said of the surrounding public schools, even in wealthy, liberal Montgomery County .
I was once asked to speak at a Calvary graduation ceremony. I chose to quote the famed child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim. I tried to mimic his famous heavy accent: Zumbuddy must be c-r-r-azy about ze childt! I recall the squeals of delight of the children at this Mr. Morrison who talked so funny. I made a point of not looking at my own children, who would reliably be embarrassed. (What are parents for, kids?)
Now, our daughter has three children of her own. This week, she and her husband sent their son to a pre-school in her town. He’s attending a Lutheran school, too, they tell us. He’s the only white boy in his class of black, Hispanic and Asian children. He seems not to notice this. I remind our daughter that she was the only white girl in her class at Calvary , 25 years ago. It seems this white flight thing has become a family tradition.
Yes, we did take flight. We flew to the all-embracing arms of the church. We had heard that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. We see in these classrooms the fruit of carrying the Gospel message to all nations. That is the kind of multi-culturalism we believe in.
I had a conversation with a Nigerian lady last week at the Values Voter Summit in Washington . She said that before the British missionaries brought the Light of the Gospel to her village, newborn twins were drowned and their mothers driven away. They were said to be accursed. Then, she said, our people ran around naked. “Now, I understand,” she said with a sly smile, “there are even British princes running around naked. Maybe we can bring the Light of the Gospel to them!”
Too many British, European and American white people have fallen away from the truth of the Scriptures. When a reporter asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of Western Civilization, he replied with an impish grin: “I think it would be a good idea.” Perhaps. But Christian Civilization is a better idea. And it is to the welcoming arms of Jesus that our family took flight.
Robert Morrison is senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.