On the front page of The Tennessean this morning is the question “How does God fit in at school?” As a preacher of the gospel, I feel like this is a question that I should have settled. I have heard many sermons decrying the absence of God in schools. As I read through the article, I could not say that I would oppose a prayer to God in a public school, and I can’t say that I am a fan of the ACLU and their eccentricities. Yet, the question and its many implications still lingers for me.
So, what is my holdup? Shouldn’t I be an obvious proponent of prayer and religious education in public schools? It boils down to this: Whose God should be addressed in prayer? Whose religion or brand of religion should be proclaimed? And if the answer is “mine,” could I legitimately object if someone else’s God was addressed or religion proclaimed?
The problem is that this is a question that involves the individual beliefs and practices in a multi-cultural, multi-national context in a country that was founded upon the principle of religious freedom. I don’t think that this means that all religious activity must be eradicated, but there must be awareness and sensitivity to all members of the community.
If there is some religious teaching/practice in schools, what will it be and how in depth will it become? It seems that there are several approaches that could be taken:
- Pick the religion of the predominant community (this is becoming increasingly difficult with greater and greater heterogeneous communities).
- Teach all religions in a comparative religion setting, highlighting the basic tenets of each (probably just the major religions, but then someone will object and want their pet religion taught).
- Smush all religions together and teach basic moral principles that are common to all (basically teaching against violence, theft and deceit). Prayers would be addressed to a generic god.
None of these options jump out at me as the obvious solution. There are potential objections to anything chosen. Yet, despite the difficulty, it seems that there should be a way to speak about religious values without being obnoxious or oppressive.
In some ways, this discussion relates to another topic that is full of questions for me – the relationship between the Christian and the government. Should Christians seek to advance the gospel through the government? Part of me asks, “When shouldn’t a Christian advocate for the one, true God?” Another part of me says that the government is not the way to go with this at all. The power of the gospel shines through individual lives and not government compulsion.
Although I have many remaining questions, I fall back upon basic principles of my faith that help me think through the subject.
- There is a God, and he should be proclaimed. I’m not denying God’s existence or saying that all gods are just as good as another. I believe there is a God, and I should proclaim him. The question remains about the proper setting and how best to go about this.
- Christianity must be spread through invitation and persuasion, not through coercion. It is not a faith to be forced upon others (let us never seek to spread the gospel through Inquisition-style tactics).
- The primary responsibility to teach children falls upon parents. The responsibility to teach others falls back on individuals and churches, not the government.
- Common courtesy and Christian charity require me to be respectful of other people and their beliefs. Again, if conversion were to take place, it would best be accomplished through a posture of loving care and not brash coercion.
While, I don’t know the best method for these values to be taught or how this plays out in school, I do believe that religious values must be taught in this country. The consequences of failing to do so are becoming catastrophic. Sadly, a country founded on religious freedom for all is becoming a country of religious practice by few.
The failure to teach religious values in schools only heightens the need for Christian parents to teach their children, individual Christians to teach their neighbors and friends, and all Christians to start living out the gospel in their communities. While I don’t know exactly how to answer the question of God in the schools, I do know what I should be doing. I better get to it!