Some time ago I received an invitation to join a facebook page called “Keep God in our schools”. It came as a surprise to me, given the fact that the person who invited me is a member of a Baptist congregation. Moreover, it was a big surprise to know that God needs of our help to stay in school. Here are my reactions to these sorts of religious questions.
I am committed to the Baptist principles. Over the years, I have grown to accept, cherished, and make mine the principles upon which my denomination was established. Back in the 1600s many Baptist people suffered persecution because of their understanding that the Sate and the Church should be different and separate entities. They also suffered persecution for the – then new – idea of giving every human being the liberty to come before God as his or her conscience told them. These were ideals that we take for granted today. Yet, these ideas were new to the people who grew up in oppressive religious regimes – both Roman Catholics and Protestants.
There are various wrong ideas of what it means to uphold the principles of separation of Church and State, and liberty of conscience or soul freedom as is most commonly referred too. I would like to tackle on them today.
First, separation of Church and State is a concept that serves the Church, not the State. When the religious realm was attached to the political realm, the church was bound to the pitfalls of the State. For instance, it was the prince who would appoint clergy to different positions. There are many a story of bishops and cardinals that were more interested in war and financial riches than in the spiritual well-being of their parishioners. At the same time, political leaders would call Councils to determine theological issues, giving little if no room at all for the faithful to freely come to decisions on matters of faith and theology. The church became a business more than a place to receive consolation and guidance from God through God’s own people who were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
It was for these reasons that some early Anabaptists (Mennonites) and later the Baptists as well, joined in calling for a free Church in a free State, wherefore each institution was in charge of particular needs of the people whom they served.
The Church is called to serve the spiritual needs of the people. Some churches have schools where children learn about history, math, biology, and languages, as well as about God, Jesus, and the story of salvation. These religious schools are protected under the law and are free to teach their students in whatever way they feel is the most appropriate, as long as they follow the basic guidelines and fulfill the basic requirements of education of the State. On the other hand, public schools are places where people from a varied array of faiths come together to learn. The learning experience is not only regarding biology and literature, but also how to interact with people whose social, political, economic, and theological views are different from yours. Public schools are places where differences are experienced and lived out in order to become global citizens.
If we were to “bring God back to schools”, the first questions we must answer is: What God? This is very important since there are many religious traditions and as many understandings of “God”. For many Christians, the God of the Bible is the same as the God of the Jews and Muslims. However, some Christians understand that these three religions have a different interpretation of who God is. Moreover, Buddhists do not have any gods, while Hindus believe in a plethora of gods and goddesses. So, what God are we going to bring back?
Second, there is a fact that disturbs me greatly as a theologian. Whose God is so small, so weak, so powerless, that needs of our help to “keep God in our schools”?
It is disturbing to think that some people see God as someone who has the need for us to put “him” back in the schools because some atheist have taken “him” out of the schools. These people must have forgotten the words of Jesus when he says: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18.20, KJV). Is your faith so weak that you do not believe this promise?
For all of my life I attended public schools. From kindergarten to college, I was blessed to have wonderful schools where I was formed as a professional and as a citizen. Many times, I bowed my head in the cafeteria to say grace before lunch. Every time before a test I would take a few seconds to pray in silence for guidance and wisdom to answer well. There were many a conversation regarding church and God in the halls of the schools I attended. I did all these because I felt called to do it, not because a teacher asked me to. In fact, I think that I would have felt very strange if a teacher asked me to pray in class or to read from the Bible (which, by the way, was one of the many books I kept in my backpack.)
A real believer does not need of the State to control his or her faith. A real believer does not need of a teacher to tell him or her when or how to pray. A real believer looks for the opportunities God grants us to come before God – who, I should point out, is neither “he” nor “her” – and to look for God as freely as God looks out for us.
I do not need to “bring God back to our schools” because my God has never left me, and as long as I am in God and God is in me, God is present wherever I go.