A particularly hot topic that is dear to me is that of prayer in schools. For several years I served as a youth minister and now by working in the school system, I see how these two entities meet. Here are some thoughts I have for churches, as I am first and foremost a Christian.
A Different World
We no longer live in a world where your teacher goes to church with you like my kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and sixth grade teachers did. We no longer live in a world where all those you are friends with or work with believe as you do.
I wish our society were more like Mayberry and that cartoons still quoted scripture like Charlie Brown’s Christmas special. Unfortunately, our society has changed which is an indication of a general departure from Christ-centered values to worldly values, even among Christians. What can change this? Only the church reaching the lost, doing what it’s supposed to do, can change the direction of our world. Many Christians become upset when for one reason or another they are pushed out of a school system. However, do you think God cares about the decisions made by school systems and the ACLU? He’s going to get it done anyway. Christians must not lose sight of this and they must not be distracted by secular policies but focus on how they can change the world with what they are given. Think of the early church and how many were martyred for their beliefs. We actually have it pretty good in 21st century America.
What Do You Really Want in the Schools?
Without a doubt, God needs to be in schools. It is law that Christian students can pray and meet and this is a good thing. But what does “prayer in schools” look like to you? What would happen in a classroom of 25 where six different churches are represented along with atheists and even students who don’t know what they believe? What if something went on in a classroom, in the name of the Christian religion, that another Christian did not agree with? There are churches on almost every block in small town America. How are we going to agree on what should happen in schools when in many single congregations there is regular dissension on certain issues? Would we have Bible studies during homeroom? This sounds good, but have you seen some of the characters educating our students? I’m not sure this is a good idea.
At a middle school in Jefferson South Carolina Christian rapper B-SHOC,
declared “324 kids at this school have made a decision for Jesus Christ.” As a member of the Church of Christ, I wonder what B-SHOC teaches about baptism. I wonder where he stands on the Lord’s Supper. What if at events like this things went on that you didn’t agree with? I believe Christ wants us to follow His word and too many “modern” churches don’t even encourage their members to bring their Bible to worship. They don’t talk about sin. They only talk about what makes them feel good. This is a departure from my deeply held beliefs about living a sacrificial life for Christ. Why would I want someone teaching my children differently than what I want to teach on these matters? Would you want someone teaching your child things you didn’t believe even with Bible in hand? I send my boy to school because I can’t teach him about math, science, etc as well as the school can, but no one can teach him better Bible than me. I’m sure you believe the same about your children.
What is the Church Doing?
We expect a lot out of our schools. They make sure students have their shots, they feed them, clothe them, and teach them about respect, responsibility, and other character traits. One thing that schools should not be doing is reaching those who are spiritually lost. How can it? Their hands are full already and according to Matthew 28 and Mark 16, this is the church’s job. Churches should stop worrying about things that probably weren’t happening in most schools anyway and begin worrying about how they are going to reach those families who struggle and are hurting in more ways than I can list here.
It is Upsetting.
What lawsuits against schools by the ACLU amount to is that someone said something in a group of people about what most people in that group accepted as normal. In other words, Christian employees were allowing Christian practices to go on in a place that the law says they shouldn’t. However, there were so many Christians involved, no one cared and so the practice continued. On October 20, my Alma Mater (Smith County High) had a prayer before the game by the preacher I grew up listening to, Edward Anderson, and on October 29, a prayer was led at a University of Tennessee game. How long before these entities are encroached upon? I hope not but it may very well happen.
It is upsetting that communities have changed to the point that there are people who don’t want us to do such things in schools. That what is held dear by the many can be changed by the few. It is a strength that many draw upon in a world that is dying for something with substance to believe in. However, according to the ACLJ (the non-profit on the Christian side) the ACLU is right about some of its accusations towards school districts.
Here is where many school districts are with prayer in school: Employees can’t openly pray at a school event. Alright, but if Jonah can do it in a whale, I can do it sitting in my office chair or walking down the hall. I can pray before the school begins. I can pray before lunch and no one will ever know. I hate this side of it but I am still maintaining my relationship with Christ in a very real way. Besides, didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 6:6 “But you, when you pray, go into yourinner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret,and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Secrecy was a necessary part of prayer in the first century church. I question how often people actually do it openly anyway.
What Should We Be Worried About?
How much employees can express themselves religiously should be a concern. We should be allowed to express ourselves to a degree and thankfully we still can. I think we should be able to do more (how about it ACLJ?), but after recent news reports on church and school, I have taken inventory of what I have been doing as a Christian in a public school. I very soon plan on exercising the rights I do have by wearing a ring with a cross on it. This isn’t much but I can do it and being a Christian man in a school doing all that I can is a plus. Jesus tells us to render to Caesar what is his (Matthew 22:21) and I’m fine with that, but Caesar is gonna know I’m a Christian. I will of course hold to my same values and express them when necessary on moral issues while being respectful to those who believe differently.
What else should we be worried about? When the rules become so strict that Christian students can’t meet or express themselves. They still can, remember? We should worry when an atheistic point of view is taught and all others are considered inferior.
We should worry when Christian values are attacked like it was this past September at a school in Fort Worth, TX
when a 14 year old was sent to the principal’s office for saying that homosexuality is wrong. During a discussion in his German class they were talking about religions in Germany. The young man said, “I’m a Christian. I think being a homosexual is wrong.” Hetold Lari Barager of KDFW News, that his statement “wasn’t directed to anyone except my friend who was sitting behind me. I guess [the teacher] heard me. He started yelling. He told me he was going to write me an infraction and send me to the office.” This should worry Christians. Schools should teach about different points of view when appropriate, but they shouldn’t chastise someone for their biblically held beliefs, particularly when they are not born out of hatred but a love for scripture and the souls of all man. Our views are valid as well.
What Can We Do?
First, thank God for David French and the ACLJ. Dr. French works with schools free of charge. He is a graduate of Harvard and of Lipscomb. I am thankful for him because if he didn’t fight for the rights of Christians, I don’t know who would.
Second, all parents, but especially Christian parents, should stay informed of what is being taught in school. Many schools have adopted Gay Pride Days and have taught on homosexuality in such a way that many Christians would not agree with. This steps out of the bounds of what a school should be doing. They should promote tolerance (a lesson some Christians could learn) otherwise, no one will get along in a school day. However, schools should not be indoctrinating our children to the point of telling them they should accept and approve of what all people do. Jesus accepted but didn’t approve of the sinners he associated with, and He is who Christians follow.
Third, if you are interested in a Christian world-view, subscribe to Think Magazine and Kaio
rather than only secular publications. Join with other parents to make positive changes in the school system. Two books by Leonard Sax
and Girls on the Edge
) talk a lot about parents that work to make a difference in their schools. Parents can move to make this change; Christian parents. Why couldn’t the Bible be taught as literature if an appropriate textbook was selected? Why couldn’t more churches work to positively affect the lives of poor, hungry students instead of sending millions to India and Africa? This could be the church’s part in helping raise test scores because a child can’t learn if he’s hungry. Too many churches alienate themselves from the community. Contacts and a working relationship can still be made. The backpacks, school supplies, and benevolent money I’m given by churches each year are a testament to this. These churches expect nothing in return except for the knowledge that their money is doing some good.
Finally, make sure teens know that they have rights and they need to use them. They are the evangelists. 1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” I’m afraid that if we focus on the wrong issue with prayer in schools, we will lose sight of what we can do. Namely, our youth being the evangelists God has called them to be. I hope Christian parents have taken inventory of their child’s Christian faith and are working to strengthen them as Deuteronomy 6 instructs. I think our teens are the best ones to evangelize the schools. The Apostles turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). Wouldn’t it be great if our youth turned their schools upside down, causing their friends to become Christians?
Are You Asking the Right Question?
Why are we taking God out of schools is the wrong question. It will cause us to think we are losing. Cause us to think that our only vein of influence has been eliminated. Cause us to think that Satan has won. Doubting Thomas had to touch Jesus’ wounds before He would believe. What’s it going to take for us to see that Christ can change the lives of students through the work of the church and the youth that infiltrate the school walls everyday?
What’s the right question? How can we get more of God into the students? Help our students as they are facing the world as Peter did in Matthew 26. They are scared and the world around them screams everything but Christianity. Peter denied Jesus three times. We must make sure our students are not denying Him because Christianity in many ways is being pushed out and I’m sure many are scared. Teach your teens and children what Hebrews 13:5, 6 says, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” so that we confidently say, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID.
WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?”
I believe that every person in the world should know Christ, but it won’t happen because the schools allow it. It will happen because Christians are doing what they are supposed to do.
We are afraid God is going to be pushed out but God has always been in schools. He’s always been in the hearts and minds of students and teachers who took Him there. He is in the teachers who will speak up when things aren’t right. He is the leader on the football team who asks for safety from God before every game. She is the person in math class who asks her classmates to pray for her sick friend. However, God doesn’t belong only in a classroom no more than He belongs only in a church building. May our Christian lives never be simply the act of being somewhere but may they be the totality of how we live.
If God is pushed out, it won’t be because a school board or the ACLU stopped something that wasn’t even happening in most schools to begin with. It will be because students and teachers stopped taking Him and making Him active in their own lives.
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