From a child I have been a person of deep faith. When my mother took me to church unlike most my peers I actually wanted to sit towards the front instead of hiding in the balcony. I wanted to be up close so I could especially hear what the minister was saying. If I sat too far back, I would get lost and eventually fall asleep. Learning about God and the characters in the bible was a fascinating thing to me. I took those opportunities seriously.
My spiritual journey has taken me through many places. One principle that has reinforced and remains with me is that my faith is a very personal journey. The journey itself and the fruits thereof may be shared with the public at large. But the beauty of it being a personal journey is that no one can prevent my soul from connecting or communing with my creator.
I thought about this when I came across an email recently that suggested (not the first time I’ve heard) that a major downfall of this country happened when the Supreme Court took corporate prayer out of public schools. Since that time lack of prayer has been blamed for dropout rates, teen pregnancy, school violence etc. Years ago I was lukewarm on the subject at best. I remember having corporate prayer in school and the benefits of it was debatable.
There was still mischief, bullying, drugs and pregnancy. Nowadays I have strong opinions that taking public prayer out of public schools was not the tragedy people made it out to be. Especially considering the world we live in today. I’ll make my case:
Religion is Polarizing
We live in a society that is more diverse than ever before. With that comes faith with all sorts of flavors. Who gets to decide what brand of faith is emphasized for public schools? The general consensus among those desiring prayer in public schools is Christianity. But which kind of Christian; Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist? Of course not only would either of these choices leave out another Christian persuasion, it would also exclude and isolate people of other faiths that do not include Christianity.
The natural strife would distract from the original emphasis of primary education which is to teach the basics of reading, writing (typing) arithmetic, and now technology. Remember we are talking about publically tax payer public schools. This brings me to my next point.
This is what private schools are for
In any given metropolitan area, there are hundreds of private schools which in addition to academics emphasize their faith. There is nothing wrong with a family choosing a school based on their own faith. Some schools have struggled to remain solvent as the economy has suffered making it more difficult for parents to afford tuition. And some have been vibrant enough to offer scholarships to those less fortunate. I have several close friends who put their children in private school for both religious as well as academic purposes. All of them are not coming straight out of pocket either.
Some live in public school districts known to be inferior. Some seek Catholic institutions for their young though the parent’s faith is far from Catholicism. They simply believe the quality of the Jesuit education will prepare their children for college better than the local public school will. It is a beautiful thing to have educational choices for American families. Still, I have never heard one parent tell me that they chose a school because there is corporate in it.
God has never left the building
While I never attended private school of any sort, it never stopped me from praying neither in school nor out. I prayed for good grades on test before and after I took them. I prayed to make it off school grounds fast and slick enough to avoid bullies and being jumped on. I prayed not to get thrown out of school for fighting. I prayed my team would hit the jump shot or score the touchdown against the cross town rival to win the big game. Since I believed that God and prayer were within my grasp as surely as my own personal belief, nothing could prevent me from making a connection. No politician, no school administrator, no teacher. I didn’t need my relationship with God legislated to make it any more legitimate.
To believe that I don’t support God or prayer within the scope of society or youth would be the furthest thing from the truth. As I’ve stated I have a strong faith in God and a deep appreciation for prayer. When I go to some private schools as a sports official, some of them conduct pre-game prayers. I participate in these prayers with the kids and coaches. Not because I have to, but because I want to. When a school is private, they have a unified point of view that everyone agrees to following before enrolling. No one is singled out or ostracized in the midst of any of those prayers. Prayer should be a unifying tool, not a dividing one.
I’ve heard it said many times that Christianity is under attack. I believe that in the United States of America that sentiment has been greatly exaggerated. It’s easy and historic for most all religions to claim victimization. Certainly there is conflict and strife among people of faith vs. those that claim none. The same can be said about differing Christian organizations/denominations etc. I explained all of this in a previous article titled, “Why I Refuse to Join A Church Part 2”
The reason I say that Christian ‘martyrism’ has been overblown is because there are thousands of churches in any given metropolitan area. Startup churches are being formed daily. Nothing is stopping them. There has always been a running joke about the city I’m from that on every block, there is a Rice House, (Chinese take-out restaurant) a liquor store, and a church. I don’t call that an attack.
Faith is as American as our desire for freedom.
Finally, I’m not some ACLU honk. While they have served a good purpose at times, they are also often more zealous and ridiculous as any raving mad TV evangelist. I look at some of the causes they take up and just wish they would go away.
What I am saying is that at the end of the day prayer is a private and personal thing first. And if we do well others will be attracted to our faith through our displays of character that reflect the love of our creator. One doesn’t need religion to have character. But without character, religion is tyranny. There is a scripture that says “they shall know me by the love you show one another,” That carries more weight than a nativity scene on school property.
Meanwhile I’d just assume teachers and administrators do what it takes to make our schools better and prepare our youth to create and compete in this ever increasingly competitive market. I don’t need James Dobson trying to ‘take my local school for Jesus.’
I’ll pass the concept of faith to my children at home. I’m just saying.