America’s Schools Can’t Afford Evangelical Dominance

America’s Schools Can’t Afford Evangelical Dominance June 8, 2024

America’s Schools Can’t Afford Evangelical Control

Public School
Picture by Mary Taylor

Suppose evangelicals were told, “Merry Christmas! You get your entire bag of culture war issues inserted into public schools!” I mean the entire old, sleazy bag of evangelical dreams: prayer in the name of Jesus, Bible classes in the curriculum, intelligent design in biology classes, Christianized American history, reciting the pledge of allegiance to the Christian flag, singing Christian songs at Christmas like “Away in the Manger” and “Silent Night,” and the posting of the Ten Commandments in every classroom. And every school can put a nativity scene in the foyer.

Let them teach David Barton’s revised history, Ken Ham’s creationism in biology classes, Tim LaHaye’s rapture, James Dobson’s Christian psychology. Will it matter? Will it make America more Christian?

If we gave evangelicals the entire bag of alleged goodies. Would the invasion of our public schools by evangelical Christians make America more Christian? No.

There’s historical evidence available for how such an explosion of evangelical zeal can backfire. The Puritans attempted to build a holy community consisting of holy people. The harder they tried, the more rules they made and enforced, the more people they punished. And it grated on people and left people feeling repressed. And finally, the entire experiment faded away.

The more laws evangelicals pass to require people to worship what they worship, respect what they respect, and live as they live, the more people will resent the entire project.

There’s not enough gospel in all the culture war issues to save the proverbial church mouse. Maybe we should grant every evangelical wish and see how long it lasts. I doubt it will last as long as Prohibition.

Do you believe students will embrace a Christianity insisting the earth is only 6,000 years old, promising Jesus will come soon to rapture all the good people, teaching global warming is a hoax, and racism doesn’t exist in the USA?

Perhaps the nation’s students would become more judgmental, less accepting of LGBTQ students, more sexist, more racist, more intolerant, less diverse, but not more Christian.

Our public schools are not the “fields white unto harvest” for evangelical shills. If grown adult evangelicals want America to be more Christian, they should practice better Christianity in the adult world – the grown-up, skeptical, doubting, agnostic, secular world where all adults live and work and play.

Evangelicals need to get over the idea of God bringing revival of “the old time religion” in the public schools. Pastors need to visit the grown people in their own churches and communities. Bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Instead of concentrating on schools, curriculum, and Christian symbols, Christians need to be an alternative to the politics of violence, fear, anger, and outrage.

Evangelicals are trying to put up signs and symbols shouting, “Look at us we are really good Christians.” But it will not work. Slogans, signs, and symbols are empty idols with no power to redeem.

As evangelicals pile up more burdensome rule and practices for students, they will resist. As Jesus said of the assembled legalists in the gospels, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.”

Posting the Ten Commandments on the walls of classrooms is a public deed seen by everyone. But even those responsible for the posting are not somehow transformed into holier people. It’s all for show. There’s no good news in the action.

The Ten Commandments

The evangelicals love to parade all their pet ideas before the public to show what great Christians they are. They love to pontificate, insist, and demean others. Jesus saw the futility of this sort of legalism. He says, “You cross land and sea to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”

This is reason enough to deny all evangelical dreams of making our schools into churches and religious establishments.

America did not solve her race problem by sending African American children to integrate the schools with the support of National Guard troops. We will not make our nation more Christian by making schools evangelical Bible academies.

At school, children need to learn history not a twisted version of holiness. They need to grasp physics not public prayers in the name of Jesus. They need computer skills not church lessons. They need math skills not Mass.

The entire project reminds me of two United Methodist children attending Southern Baptist Bible School in the summer. At one such VBS, on the last day, on Friday, the pastor made an evangelistic appeal to get as many children saved and baptized as possible. In this church, the preacher baptized all the new converts right then and there. No permission slips from parents. No consultation with parents. Baptism by immersion.

When the Methodist children came home from the last day of VBC, still dripping wet from their fresh baptism, their mother was outraged. This strong-willed mother went to see the Baptist preacher and as was as “mad as a wet hen.” She gave the preacher “down the river” by reminding him her children had been baptized as infants and didn’t need another one at the Baptist church. She told the preacher he had no right to baptize her children without her permission and for good measure, her children would never darken the doors of his church ever again.

I think the version of Christianity the evangelicals would bring to our schools would drive away more people than it converted. I think it would produce more anger among parents than acceptance.

The Wall of Church and State Separation. Picture

I vote we add some more bricks to the “wall” of separation of church and state and keep the evangelicals from running public schools.


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