The Ten Commandments on School Walls is Religious Theater

The Ten Commandments on School Walls is Religious Theater June 20, 2024

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Blame it on my strong Baptist roots, but I firmly believe in the separation of the church and the state. Forcing teachers, who may or may not believe in God or follow Jesus, to display the Ten Commandments opens up vast scenarios that conservatives will gnash their teeth against. Having them displayed may do some good, but at the end of the day, it is religious theater carried out for political gain.

Two Commandments

Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was. He even answered that question for His followers. First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, mind, and soul. And second, love your neighbor. Then Jesus tells the story. The hero of that story is the most hated type of person. The expert in the law couldn’t even bring himself to call the Samaritan by name. In the political climate, we live in today, you might say that the same type of hate is reserved for those on the other side of the political aisle. We have no problem with believing that a fellow American is our enemy. Love your neighbor indeed — as long as they aren’t liberal or conversely as long as they don’t vote for Trump.

Jesus also tells a story about people who paint the outside of a tomb with a fresh coat of paint. Or someone who only cleans the outside of a dish or cup they are using. The outside looks great but, on the inside, it is dead and dirty. As Christians, we must constantly fight against the urge to make the outside look good and ignore what is happening on the inside. We must avoid teaching people how to play a bit that looks like a follower of God and instead invite people into the journey of following Jesus day by day. Will painting the walls with the Ten Commandments draw people to God when our words and actions are the opposite of how Jesus lived?

Ten Commandments as Religious Theater

Why do you take your shoes off before being allowed into the secure areas of an airport? Because one time someone tried to sneak some explosives in their shoes onto an airplane. So now, to show that we won’t let that happen again, we all walk through security in sock-clad or bare feet. And we feel safer because we see that security is addressing a threat. But the reality is that someone isn’t going to try and do that again. We often feel safer (and will put up with the extra steps to fly). We think that these security measures are effective and necessary.

Having the Ten Commandments posted on a classroom wall feels similar to me. What are we doing to change the hearts and minds of the next generation? They can’t go one day without seeing the Ten Commandments. Surely we have won a victory for all moral-loving people across the country. As a bonus, the liberals and democrats are going to hate it. But will children’s lives be changed by seeing the Ten Commandments on every classroom wall? Or will they become so ubiquitous that they will blend into the background? So common that they lose all meaning.

As followers of Christ, we know that it is Jesus that changes lives. Can God use the Ten Commandments? Absolutely. God can use a talking donkey if He chooses. But most often people are changed because of people. We need more mentors, youth leaders, and adults who love people like Jesus loves people. That type of light will always shine brighter than any religious display. Why are we asking the stone tablets to cry out when we know it should be our job to proclaim God’s goodness from generation to generation?

Setting Precedent

What happens when a child asks a teacher who doesn’t believe in God about the Ten Commandments? That teacher is now free to say whatever they want. So as a parent, do you want any teacher to be invited into a discussion about God by your child? An overriding principle should be that you can send your child to learn without worrying about having them introduced and invited to a religion you don’t practice. Public education should be a neutral ground. Learning should be focused on how to think and not what to think. Parents are responsible for demonstrating their faith and inviting their children to follow.

A state government authorizing one religious text on a wall opens the door to all other texts. It can be dangerous to set such a legal precedent. While Christianity has been the major religion in the recent past, studies show the majority shrinking.  Writing rules and laws while assuming Christianity will be the majority is short-sighted. Instead, we should focus on laws that promote religious freedom. We should support causes that end religious persecution. We should live out the second greatest commandment to love others. As Hebrews commands, we should look for new ways to spur one another to love and do good deeds.

Another Path

It is easy to sit back and criticize without offering any alternatives. So here is my dreamer’s dream. What if instead of spending dollars displaying words on walls, we used that money to rebuild communities? We could build houses for the homeless, many who are veterans in unfortunate circumstances. We could create community centers that provide alternatives to children who are at-risk in their communities. Men and women could be provided with educational and work opportunities to help lift them out of hopelessness and poverty.

What if the love of God was proclaimed from one neighbor to another? Imagine the little lights being passed from one soul to another, and then seeing whole families changed. Education reform like increasing teachers’ salaries and providing adequate school materials to every child could be passed. And as people learned about who God was, and were invited to walk by the Spirit, how much more would they fulfill the promise of the Ten Commandments?


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