The ACLU reports that:
A public school in South Carolina flagrantly violated the Constitution recently by holding a Christian rap concert for students on school property during school hours. While most people would go to great lengths to avoid being caught breaking the law, footage of the event, believed to be taken by the event’s organizers, was posted online….
A school-sponsored performance of this nature would be unconstitutional by itself, but the list of transgressions doesn’t stop there. The video shows event organizers being instructed to pray with students before they return to classes. And as part of the assembly, a preacher, Christian Chapman, delivers a sermon to students. His message? “A relationship with Jesus is what you need, more important than anything else.”
Chapman even admits to a group of parents that the event is legally problematic: “Your principal went to me today and I said, ‘How are you getting away with this?’ and he said, ‘I’m not… I want these kids to know that eternal life is real, and I don’t care what happens to me, they’re going to hear it today.'”
The principal seems to view himself as a martyr. I understand the perspective that one’s commitment to God should take precedent over human traditions. Valuing God’s way of love, forgiveness, and justice as preeminent is what motivated acts of civil disobedience (or, perhaps better, “holy obedience”) in the lives of people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero — and, indeed, in the life of Jesus when he turned over the tables in the Temple.
However, the rub is that just because you think you are acting in alignment with the way of God does not mean that you are, in fact, embodying God’s way. Our human tendency tends to be, for example, to pray for victory in war — to pray for God to be on our side. But, as Bob Dylan prophetically sang, “If God’s on our side / He’ll stop the next war.”
Looking to James Fowler’s brilliant work on Stages of Faith, one could argue that the principal of this school is operating from a “Stage 3” faith that is tribalistic, in which one cannot see beyond promoting one’s immediate tribe, which in this case is evangelical Christianity. As a native son of evangelical Christianity in South Carolina, I have extensive experience with this sort of tribalistic worldview. But these days I find myself much more challenged by people at higher stages of faith such as the Roman Catholic priest Richard Rohr, who said the following in a recent CNN interview:
You have to allow the circumstances of God and life to break you out of your egocentric responses to everything. If you allow “the other” — other people, other events, other religions — to influence you, you just keep growing.
We don’t have to convert everyone else to believe just like we do. Thanks be to God.