Dear Thoughtful Pastor: Shouldn’t We Put God Back in Schools?

And what would it look like to “put God back in schools?” I’m old enough to remember filing into the lunch room at school, having a teacher ring the triangle chime, and either leading us in a sung grace or being silent when someone would offer a prayer. It had no effect on me.


God back in schoolsDear Thoughtful Pastor: I have a question about the response to the mass shootings specifically and to the role of religion in our society in general.  I have several family members and friends who seem to feel ‘putting God back in our schools’ will solve the gun violence problem.  Leaving the First Amendment concerning the establishment of a national religion out of the dialogue, what is a reasonable way to respond to this? This seems simplistic at best, since it ignores the assaults on the churches in Charleston and South Texas.  And how does one ‘put God back’ when we are a nation of various faiths (or non-beliefs)? Our schools do not compare with those of other countries in terms of math, science, or history as it is. I feel we should focus on making them better and safer, and leave the rest to the families and churches.

With many others, I’m horrified by what happened in Florida and terrified by what might happen tomorrow when yet another disturbed and angry (likely young white) male, armed to the teeth, goes after those who he thinks have tormented or bested him in some way. If I thought we could solve this by “putting God back in our schools,” I’d be on the front lines of the demand.

Unfortunately, angry young males have been taking out their wrath on the unfairness of life on unarmed innocents for a long time—certainly from before the beginning of recorded history. Remember Cain and Abel?

What they didn’t have until recently were military-style rapid-fire weapons that have no other purpose than killing other human beings as efficiently as possible.

And what would it look like to “put God back in our schools?” I’m old enough to remember filing into the lunch room at my elementary school, having a teacher ring the triangle chime, and either leading us in a sung grace or being silent when someone would offer a prayer.

In my lily-white, upper-middle-class part of Dallas, there was one Jewish student, no Muslim students, a few Roman Catholics, and the rest stolidly main-line Protestants, attending our Baptist, Methodist, Disciples, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Community churches each Sunday. Everyone had a religious affiliation of some sort. Just the done thing.

We spoke the same religious language (except, of course, for our Jewish classmate, whom we routinely excluded). We also tormented, bullied, insulted, got into fights with, and systematically made one another miserable in the myriads of ways only pre-teens and teens can do.

What we didn’t have were military-style rapid-fire weapons that have no other purpose than killing other human beings as efficiently as possible.

But back to my upbringing, I wonder how many religiously segregated public schools like that there are left in the US? And that being the case, how dare we mandate a shared religious experience on them?

And, even with that religious commonality, I had no sense of “God being present” in school. Prayer was just something we did, kind of like saying the Pledge. I also vividly remember nuclear strike drills, heading into the hallways, getting on our knees in front of the lockers, putting our arms over our heads, feeling very, very afraid.

Schools were not our safe places even then. But what we didn’t have were military-style rapid-fire weapons that have no other purpose than killing other human beings as efficiently as possible.

Providing our kids with honest, nurturing, religious instruction is one of best things parents can do. Forcing religion in the name of the state has never, ever been a good option. I have yet, in all my reading of history, to see a positive outcome when one nation or one group of people conquers another in the name of “God” or some stated religious purpose.

Let’s also look at the greater problem you noted: the purpose of the public school system. Why do the most advanced nations generously support universal education for its citizens? Because an educated populace is necessary for healthy self-governance to thrive.

Democratic governance, as opposed to rigid autocracy, demands an informed population making reasoned decisions about laws and policies. For this, we need universal literacy and an ability to think critically.

Furthermore, counties that will continue to prosper economically must have people who can compete in the world of artificial intelligence, robotically-staffed factories, international finance, all with intricate cultural distinctions. Without talented instructors, focused firmly on their tasks, we cannot achieve these goals.

Yes, we need God in school and everywhere else. How, without coercion? Parents must step up and recognize their primary responsibility to make sure they and their children have healthy spiritual lives. That’s their job. Then they carry into the schools–and everywhere else–the Holy Presence well-integrated into their lives.

In other words, parents, find a good religious community, get involved, attend regularly, volunteer faithfully, quit letting weekend sports activities be your “gods,” and put “God back in your families” yourselves rather than insisting the schools do that particular job for you.

And we need to eliminate from private hands military-style rapid-fire weapons that have no other purpose than killing other human beings as efficiently as possible. Having God in our lives does not dispense with the need for common-sense laws for public protection.


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  • CroneEver

    Look, if prayer is going to do the trick, then how come prayer didn’t work against that white supremacist who shot up a black church AFTER sitting through their prayer meeting? Or the November 7, 2017 shooting by the convicted domestic abuser in a Texas church which killed 26 people? And don’t forget the 2006 shooting in an Amish school which killed 5 Amish girls. All of these were places of prayer. It’s not the lack of prayer – there will always be prayer whenever people want to pray. It’s the guns, the weapons of mass murder, available to all and sundry with a credit card.

    • Marshall

      prayer is not a formula. The praying man is looking up, rather than across the schoolyard to wander in his mind as of whom he may bring harms. In prayer, the man is guided from heaven rather than to be encircling his own meager thoughts hour upon hour. Prayer doesn’t guarantee anything; it is a stage change “on earth and in heaven”.

      Yes, possible to remove firearms from the hands of Americans. Today this change would only require a full-on civil war and consequent re-writing of the US Constitution. If a projected 40+ million American deaths by conflict is worth the price of getting weapons out of the hands of US citizens, then let’s do it!

      • wullaj

        Australia worked out okay…

  • Marshall

    We ought to acknowledge by inference that God is not “in school” largely because He’s not much in our neighbor’s homes anymore. A secularized, individualized, marketized neighborhood isn’t going to perceive much an asset in God. And to invite God to school, but as-if He’s only a student guest, then what’s the point?

    Indirectly, there is a strong correlation between absentee dads and school shooters; further correlation between unwelcoming God and unwelcoming of another spouse. A correlation between breaking the relationship with Dad, and breaking away from “our Father”.

    Most obtuse: the desire to kill. If progressively more people continue to fall prey to such forbidden desire, we may soon enough be seeing tens of thousands assaulted — regardless of the killer’s weapon of choice. Just five minutes under the knife of a single attacker can leave more a hundred children slain.

    Can people think themselves out of the allure of violence? The drug-like “rush” of destroying young life (whether in a school building, or for practice at a game console) by members of a narcotic-seeking culture continues to seek out your children for adrenaline-pumping sacrifice. Freud recognized of what destruction man is woven to… but do we?

    • Kathy Ruth

      There are absentee dads in European countries, too, you know. (This most recent shooter’s father died. Are we to outlaw dads dying, somehow?) In fact, these countries have mental illness, undisciplined kids, atheism, socialism, any and all of the “ills” pointed at as the reason we have these shootings BUT what they DON’T have in these countries is easy access to rapid-fire weapons made for killing large numbers of people as quickly as possible!
      I am SO sick of this finger-pointing! The easy access to weapons IS THE PROBLEM!

      • Marshall

        The flawed logic of “I’m not going to speed because I don’t have a fast car”? School shooter incidents can each be run as a simulation, both with, and also without, “rapid-fire weapons”. The results of those re-enactments will show terrible loss of life under either scenario.

        “Easy access to weapons” is finger-pointing. I do believe we will see (more) legal restrictions in the US States upon “bump stocks” and other “rapid fire” features. With this (as Americans hold a growing disregard for law), little change in the overall tendency & outcome for men to be killing themselves and other people. Consequently, you may remain “sick” for a long while still, as you yet have nothing to propose proven to effect change in the heart of man, nor to undo the insanity that dogs his children.

    • Illithid

      …further correlation between unwelcoming God and unwelcoming of another spouse. A correlation between breaking the relationship with Dad, and breaking away from “our Father”.

      Citation needed. Most people I know who leave religion do so because they realize it isn’t true.

      http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/24/why-americas-nones-left-religion-behind/

      They could be lying, or mistaken about their own reasons, I suppose. Personally, I’ve been married 25 years now, and my dad and I get along great. But that’s only one datum, and I was never religious anyway.

      • Marshall

        as Pew Research echoes from the link you provided, it’s a split, and this amidst the reality how-that (modern) religious practices attract people for a wide range of facets… mega church rock concert scene, Starbucks-bookstore “third place” enviro, social meetup, etc. As the following article relates, 30 million “dones” have already left institutional church to effect that they would not of consequence to staying, lose their faith.

        https://www.houstonchronicle.com/life/houston-belief/article/Dones-are-searching-for-a-church-that-s-not-11275034.php

        • Illithid

          I wax about to reply that your link doesn’t address your claim that nonbeiefc correlates with oor reationhips with fathers or spouses. Then I realized that mine didn’t, either. So we have dueling non-sequiters. Sorry about that, I’m pretty sick.

    • honesttoGod

      Except– violence of all sorts has been declining for decades (it ticked up slightly last year, but the overall trend is still clear). The death and injury rates of the attacks has increased, but the actual number of attacks is not really increasing. What IS different is the sort of weapon used in mass shootings, and their ability to fire rapidly. Your fundamental premise is incorrect, and leads to a mistaken conclusion that violence qua violence is the problem when it is not.

  • This is all crazy talk. Where is there an evidence of God ever leaving the schools? Any school anywhere?

    The only question before us is whether schools in the United States are to be infested with a bunch of halfwit Christofarians or whatever they call themselves this week. I thought this question got settled waaayback when, but I guess there’s a bunch of overpaid staff suits in forsaken places like Tulsa and Dallas who’ve got nothing better to do with their time than try to subvert the 1789 United States of America.

    • Chuck Johnson

      “This is all crazy talk. Where is there an evidence of God ever leaving the schools? Any school anywhere?”

      No, this is metaphorical talk.
      Read “God existing in the schools” as “Christian indoctrination existing in the schools”.

      Christians often indulge in metaphors.

      • Yes, Chuck, which is why I ask for any evidence that this set of metaphors connects with, or even parallels at a distance, objective reality. Get it?

        • Chuck Johnson

          The “objective reality” of our ancestors of thousands of years ago is a far cry from the (widely held) “objective reality” of folks in the twenty-first century.

          But unfortunately, for some people, that “old time religion” is “good enough for them”.

          “Parallels at a distance” is the way that I would describe the situation, but at quite a distance.

  • Chuck Johnson

    “Parents must step up and recognize their
    primary responsibility to make sure they and their children have healthy
    spiritual lives. That’s their job.”

    My parents fulfilled their responsibilities to make sure that I had an enforced spiritual life.
    I was forced to go to church and to Sunday school for many years.
    When I turned 13, I was forced to be confirmed in the church after I said “no” to confirmation.
    Eventually, they gave up and I was no longer forced to go. This happened when they both stopped going to church.
    My parents were not really religious, this was just a social habit or function.

    Both of my brothers were treated with this same contempt and neither of them had any interest in going to church after my parents gave it up.

    • Mr. James Parson

      As soon as I was 18, I got a job and the best hours were on Sunday. I needed the money, and I wasn’t going to donate it back a church. Going to church was boring anyway.

      I only go back for funerals. Everyone I know who has gotten married, has done so in a secular setting. And they are all still happily married.

      My GF of 28 years is happy to not go to church either.

      • Brand New Key

        I bet your “GF” is an inflatable item. No woman would ever spend 30 seconds in the same time zone as you.

        • Mr. James Parson

          One of the things that the Internet does is provide us a shield where it is easy to be rude. I bet you are kinder in real life where you don’t have that shield.

          • jekylldoc

            Or at least more careful.

        • wullaj

          Do you pay your parents rent? Or do they let you live in the basement for free?

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  • Bill Mantis

    The US has among the highest rate of active Christian participation in the world, and, at the same time, the highest rate of gun violence. Are the two phenomena causally related? If so, wouldn’t we want to discourage active Christian participation?

  • jekylldoc

    There are actual skills that are part of life in the Kingdom of God and they can be taught. And most of them can be taught without any content that is specific to a particular religion. Mindfulness, reflection, gratitude, appreciation, patience, kindness, putting others first, finding joy in life: against such there is no law. Many schools have introduced elements of these into the curriculum. And, as with learning critical thinking, they will not be hurting those students any.