Kansas Pastor Makes a Surprising Statement About Putting God in Public Schools

If I told you a pastor from Kansas said something about prayer in public schools, you’d probably cringe.

So it was a pleasant surprise to read what Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, had to say about the call for putting God back in school in the aftermath of Sandy Hook:

In America our public schools are intended to be religiously neutral. Our teachers and schools are neither to endorse nor to inhibit religion. I believe this is a very good thing. When my kids were growing up I wanted their teachers to teach them science, reading, math, and history. I also wanted them to care about my kids. But I did not want my children’s public school teachers teaching them religion. That was my job as a parent, and the job of our church, Sunday school, and youth group.

If we’re going to put God back in schools, which God are we talking about? Within the Christian family alone there are often dramatically different ways of talking about God: fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals, Pentecostals, Charismatics, moderates, progressives, liberals, Calvinists and Arminians, high-church and low-church — and these are just the Protestants! Add in Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and a host of groups that are often said to be outside the mainstream and you can begin to see the dilemma.

Read the whole thing and let’s give credit where it’s due. We complain that not enough Christians fight for church/state separation especially in times of tragedy, so we ought to highlight it when it happens. We need more pastors to follow Hamilton’s lead.

(Thanks to Steve for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • K-Bizz

    Faith in Humanity: restored! (somewhat)

  • Pseudonym

    Two comments:

    1. Given that he a Methodist in suburbia, it’s not surprising in the least. Yes, even in Kansas.
    2. The title threw me, since Methodists don’t style their clergy with the title “pastor”. If it was any church which did use that as a title (unless it was the right variety of Lutheran), it would indeed be surprising.

    • allein

      Really? I was raised Methodist, and the minister was always called either “Reverend Hahn” or “Pastor Ed,” pretty much with equal frequency.

    • Ryan L

      As a member of the UMC who is in a long-term relationship with someone in the UM ordination process, I can say quite confidently that the UMC does refer to its clergy as a number of titles, including Elder, Pastor, and Reverend (the latter usually as more of a formal title, e.g. Doctor Smith). The “official” title is usually Elder, but in my experience they are almost always referred to as Pastor.

    • Birdie1986

      I used to attend a UMC before I admitted to myself that I needed to just give up trying to find a religion I could deal with, and at every church, they called the pastor a pastor. My father-in-law is a Methodist minister, and he goes to an old, Southern UMC church, and they call their pastor “pastor.”

      • Pseudonym

        I stand corrected (and thanks to the others who pointed it out too).

        Maybe it’s just the South, or just parts of the US. Everywhere else in the English-speaking world the word is invariably “minister”. “Pastor” is one of the job requirements of a minister.

        • Ryan L

          It could be a regional thing, I live in the North East, and at both UM and non-UM churches, “Pastor” has always been the title, other than Catholic churches.

          I’d also point out that, although suburban UM churches might lean more towards progressive on a national scale, that’s not universal. The church I’ve been at in the NJ suburbs has a decent portion of progressive-leaning members (mostly young people, though also quite a few in the 55+ crowd), but has an even share of folks who’d fit right in with a more conservative/evangelistic congregation.

  • jdm8

    As I understand it, UMC is one of the better denominations. Generally the mainline denominations are relatively sane, the groups that cause the real headaches are more of the evangelical or fundamentalist varieties that haven’t organized in similar ways.

  • Stev84

    Yeah, not all that surprising for a Methodist. They are relatively laid back.

    • A3Kr0n

      Not laid back enough for me, I never went back after confirmation :-)

      • allein

        Same here, pretty much. Not so much that I had a problem with the church at the time (still really don’t have a problem with that particular church, aside from, y’know, the religiousy stuff), but my parents stopped going later that year (they went back years later, and still are members), so I didn’t have anyone making me go to services. I volunteered in the nursery later in high school but that was just because I wanted to play with the kids. Did Christmas/Easter through college and for a few years after that but that was about it.

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      Most of them, although there was that United Methodist minister who told the press that the “Good Without God” billboard broke his heart:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/04/08/atheist-billboard-comes-to-fayetteville-arkansas/

      • Pseudonym

        Do read the whole quote. Even with the small amount of context in the story, it was actually quite a nice thing to say.

        The minister in question said that this was his first reaction (it’s unclear if the reaction was to the placement of the billboard, or the content, or a bit of both), but his second thought was that it was a good thing.

        • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

          I did read the whole quote, and it doesn’t make it any better.

          “The first reaction is it breaks my heart,” said CUMC Senior Pastor Carness Vaughan. “But on second thought, any opportunity to get people thinking about God is a good thing.”

          He finds the existence of atheists heartbreaking, yet, as I mentioned on the other thread, he would never have dared to make such a statement about a Hindu or a Buddhist billboard. I found it especially disappointing coming from a church that professes to have “open hearts” and “open minds.”

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

            i was “confirmed” as a methodist, mostly because my parents wanted to please a dying grandparent and didn’t want to make a fuss. we never went to church before or after the 3 weeks or so i was “instructed” in the ways of the church.

            what was really funny was that we had to memorize and recite to the pastor two things in order to be confirmed: the books of the bible, and the methodist creed. i got the first right, but totally blew the latter. it was so stupid and didn’t make any sense to me and i just couldn’t be bothered.

            i got “confirmed” anyway. hypocrisy, thy name is religion.

            • allein

              Only 3 weeks? Our confirmation classes lasted a year – though we voted to take the summer off; that’s how dedicated we were. ;) Don’t recall having to memorize anything. We were supposed to read one of the gospels but I don’t think anyone did. I still have my confirmation certificate…I keep it in my bible that they gave us in 3rd grade.

  • Not Submitting To Atheist Rule

    Adam Hamilton is a real leader in that part of Kansas, and his church has over 10,000 member.
    As against this the local atheist meetup groups…after 5 years…do good to get 30 people to a meeting.
    The recent convention of the Kansas City Atheist Coalition, back in early October, only had and average attendance for each speaker of 75. (And some of them were Christian trolls.)
    The remarkable success of the atheists…NOT…in that area can be credited in no small part to the vicious, small leadership of organizers who routinely smeared Christians on a local blog; and there were some not so subtle threats as well.
    You are not going to win.

    • Pseudonym

      10,000 members? Are you telling me that Methodist megachurches actually exist?

      If so, wow. Only in America.

      • Jafo

        Yup, this church is HUGE. Doesn’t seem like you can go anywhere around here without running into someone that attends this church.

    • RobMcCune

      The thing is there is no expectation for an atheist to attend any kind of gathering whatsoever, a better (though still not perfect) measure would be declines in church attendance and membership. As much as you like to rant about how triumphant humble christians are, the influence of religion in daily life is declining.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      You are not going to win.

      I didn’t realize there was a fight. Unless you’re referring to coerced prayer in school. In which case, I think we’ve reached a tipping point. One doesn’t need to be an atheist to understand the attack on freedom that coerced prayer represents. There are enough Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Pagans, Spirituals etc. that also don’t want their kids to be coerced into a particular prayer, that I really don’t see us going back to the 50s.

    • Baby_Raptor

      What, christianiists never smear and threaten people who disagree with them? What a lie.

      Turn off Faux. Atheists aren’t a threat to you. We aren’t trying to “take over the country” (unlike your side.)

    • Baal

      You are not going to win.

      Oh yes we are so nyah.

      In a less cheeky note, the internet and modern media erode narrow minded thinking for much the same reason college does. Exposure to a variety of ideas makes religion look like an utter waste of time.

  • not-a-yank

    My guess is that this guy will be joining The Clergy Project before the year is out…

    If not, he’s already in it.

  • Conspirator

    This guy does seem to really get the problem. He also sees the obvious solution, that religion (if it’s going to be taught at all) should be handled by the parents, church, etc. Parents have plenty of time to corrupt their children’s brains, they don’t need the schools doing that also. Of course this guy is a Methodist, and the one thing I know about Methodists is they are among the worst of the worst. Granted I learned that fact from Blazing Saddles and don’t know why it’s that way, but I put my faith in Mel Brooks when it comes to these things.

    I think it was an episode of Moral Orel that highlights some of the trouble with choosing the god to be taught. Orel met a girl from another Christian church and they differed over the wording of the Lord’s Prayer so it caused some friction between them. So to those that would introduce the Lord’s Prayer into schools, which version?

  • Birdie1986

    I’m with Stev84 that this did not surprise me coming from a Methodist pastor. I still think unthinking Methodists can be as much blind followers as the next Christian. But this pastor echoes the views of most thinking Christians I know, most of whom are Methodists.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Excellent. More of this, please! While it’s not surprising since the United Methodists are relatively sane, any defense of separation of church and state is welcome, particularly when it comes from a minister.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Here’s the comment I left over at his site, which currently has more than 200 comments. I’ve had to write this sentiment so many times, it’s getting more concise and efficient:

    Thank you Reverend, for your clear and courageous statement. I am an
    atheist, and I oppose the mixing of church and state, including
    school-led or school-sanctioned/endorsed prayer in public schools
    only because I wish to preserve
    everyone’s freedom to worship or not worship as their
    conscience dictates, rather than as the government would dictate. The
    Founding Fathers vividly remembered the centuries of bloody nightmare
    caused by mixing religion with government, and they wanted their new
    nation to not suffer the same fate. People who flirt with mixing the two
    again are naive to think they will like the result. To remain a free
    nation, we must all have the integrity to work to preserve everyone’s
    freedom of speech, thought, and religion, including
    the freedom of those with whom we disagree. We must all be free, or
    none of us will be free.</blockquote

    It's very important for us to take the time to praise Christians who stand up for doing the right thing. Being atheists, many people dismiss our arguments simply because we're atheists. They assume our disbelief is our only motive, and that that motive is not legitimate. The strength of our argument is irrelevant once they shut their minds to anything we say. We cannot preserve our secular nation without having many Christians and other religious people working to preserve it too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

      Your comments about the Founders is accurate. Bear in mind that the Colonies, as they were then, had been populated by large numbers of religious refugees such as the Puritans who were driven out of Britain just before the Civil Wars and immediately after the collapse of the Cromwellian Protectorate and Commonwealth by the mainstream Protestants.

      Also remember that the Founders themselves were born and raised at the time of the last major religious conflict on British soil – the Jacobite Rebellion and bloodbath at Culloden and the Highland Clearances that followed.

      Your nation was a child of the wars of religion and your population the children of its refugees. No wonder the Founders took a look across the Pond and decided to try to ensure no repetition on their own side. It is a tragedy that since 1970 their principles have been thrown to the wind, and now you reap the whirlwind as a result.

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        In light of the truth of your last paragraph, there’s both an irony and a poetic symmetry to the fact that secular Americans now look again across the Pond to Britain and much of Europe, this time for inspiration and example from their mostly secular societies. I’m optimistic enough to think that we’ll survive the whirlwind, (an indelible American trait) and finally live past our long adolescence. We had better, or we’ll damage the whole world if we fall. Please forgive us for our arrogance, and help us to learn quickly what the “Old World” (now the renewed) had to learn so painfully and slowly.

      • Stev84

        It’s myth though that Puritans came to America for religious freedom. Far from it. They were too crazy for Europe and only sought the freedom to do to others what had been done to them. In America they promptly established their colonies as theoracies and mercilessly oppressed anyone who didn’t do exactly as they commanded. Especially Catholics and Quakers. The first colony that explicitly guaranteed religious freedom for everyone was founded by people who were banned by the Puritans or fled from them. Their reign of terror was eventually ended by the British King after they executed a couple of Quakers.

        If you want to see what a marriage of politics and religious fanaticism does, Americans don’t need to look to Europe. They can look at some of the early American colonies like Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth (not all were like that. Others like Jamestown were business ventures).

  • http://twitter.com/Satyagrahi_ji Satyagrahi_ji

    the way I see the pastor main objection is that he doesn’t want a “different kind of Christianity ” to be taught to his children What humanity need is a total repudiation of all forms of religion ”’as Bill Maher puts it ” Religion must die in order for humanity to survive ” :Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag
    about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are
    intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and
    nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction.”

    ” Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do.”

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      If religion is to die it must be from attrition, disinterest, and neglect, not by obliteration. Let us be careful not to adopt the same tactics, the same self-aggrandizing conceit, and the same self-justification of the old oppressors. That would only lead to a new tyranny replacing an old tyranny. Let us truly grow up as a species, and abandon forever our childish fantasies of conquest.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

        your forgot manga. heh. teenage fairy warrior elves who worship the tree goddess save the world!

  • Baal

    That was a very heartening read. I especially liked the part where the pastor notices that the different denominations exist.

  • SeekerLancer

    The post is fantastic and he’s really ticked off a lot of less open-minded Christians in the comments section. If at least one of them realizes they’re wrong his message was worth it.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    kudos, Mr. Hamilton. this atheist thanks you. please, continue in this vein. frequently. your god would approve.

  • John of Indiana

    This is not going to sit well with those who serve that angry, jealous, mean, and spiteful gawd. you know, the one that’s exactly like THEY are? I’m glad that SOMEBODY in “the faith community” gets it. So many, including one of the members of our House of Bubbas, doesn’t.

  • noskcire

    My father spent 46 years in public education as an administrator. He said every few years he would be approached by some parents who asked to put prayer in the school. He said he always responded, “Great! As long as Iget to write the prayer,” and they would reply, “Why should you write the prayer?” and he would reply, “Why should you?”
    He said that if a tornado was heading toward the school and a teacher or even a janitor jumped up on the table and yelled, “Let’s all pray that the tornado misses us.” that would be a violation of the establishment clause. If a student yelled the same thing, that would be freedom of speach.


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