God is not Elvis. He has not left any buildings – especially a public school classroom.

Awful if it is true…

I’ve heard this erroneous statement more than once: The public school system has made God not feel welcomed, so God has left the public school system.

There are a number of things wrong with this statement. First, it makes God petty – a God who is offended if someone calls Him a name. God is the Creator of the Universe, the Ancient of Days, the Mighty Warrior, the Lion of Judah. He does not bow and He does not cower… especially if someone insults Him. He already suffered at the hands of Pontius Pilate, was crucified by the Roman Empire, died upon a cross, was buried, and rose from the dead. What can you do to the Son of Man that hasn’t already been done? Do you think a few insults are going to hurt Him?

Further, it denies the omnipotence of God. God is all-powerful all the time. The public school system is not so great and powerful that it can make God feel anything, especially not feel welcomed. To think so is absurd.

Also, it makes God sound like Elvis leaving the building. One gets a picture in their mind of God, having been humiliated by the school bully, slinking away after school after all the children have gone home so no one will see Him. The opposite is true; God does not leave anywhere. God does not desert someone or something – ever! God is omnipresent, everywhere at the same time.

But the gloomiest consideration of thinking that God has left the public school system might be that God is not present in places where He is needed most. And believe me, God is needed in public schools.

California is unique, but probably not this time

I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in California, faith is alive and well in public schools. The governor of California will deny it. The Department of Education will deny it. Every corporate school board and most school superintendents will publicly deny it. Many teachers deny it. But every day in every school in California students who consider themselves people of faith walk onto the campuses and through the doors of public schools, and when they do, the Spirit of God is alive and well in public school classrooms.

Within minutes these students declare that they live in “one nation, under God.” Within minutes they might pray that they will pass a test or run the mile in the required time. They entreat God to help them play the right notes of a challenging musical passage or master a difficult math concept. Throughout the day they treat others with respect and treat others like they themselves want to be treated. These students of faith meet the needs of other students around them. They draw close to the isolated, the dispossessed, and the hurting. They sit next to those eating alone at lunchtime. They encourage those who struggle. They discuss the social happenings at their local churches. They launch and participate in food drives for the marginalized, toy drives for kids with cancer, backpack drives for students living in foster homes or children’s homes. These students come alongside others who feel threatened or disregarded or taunted. They become  “little Jesuses” (christianoí) of their schools, the same name given believers in Jesus by the citizens of the Roman Empire.

Biblical textbooks

In some grades, students read and study curricula based upon the Bible and most textbooks include sections from the Bible. The subject of Christianity is mandated by the California Department of Education in the California Common Core to be taught in sixth grade social studies. It even covers the missionary journeys of Paul the apostle (California State Social Studies Standard 6.7.6 and 6.7.7.) Reading anthologies include literature written by prominent Christian authors. In some grades, students actually read Bible passages or biblical poetry.

Thou shalt not…

Even though Moses gave written laws for the Jewish people to see, hear, and follow, as did Hammurabi, Emperor Qin, and the Phoenicians, California schools may not post the Ten Commandments apart from teaching it in sixth grade. While the Supreme Court of the United States of America will not allow the Ten Commandments from the Torah to be posted in any classroom, it might be noted that the Ten Commandments are inscribed above the steps going into the Supreme Court. But walk into any classroom in America and you will find the greatest commandment from the New Testament of the Bible, the Golden Rule, posted as part of the rules. The actual Golden Rule states, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”[i] In a classroom, it takes many forms – Treat others like you want to be treated, Treat others with respect, Treat others with kindness. No one prohibits this from being posted. On the contrary, most administrators require classroom rules to be posted. The Golden Rule is usually there.

School prayer

School prayer is not prohibited in California public schools. However, the leading of corporate student prayer by administration or teachers is prohibited, even though both houses of California government start sessions with prayer, and the governor attends a monthly prayer breakfast. But that never stopped a Christian from praying. Since prayer is a spiritual act that happens on a spiritual level, it is impossible to see when the praying is actually occurring… except before meals in the cafeteria, or before a difficult test or SAT’s, or in the bleachers when the home team is on the 4 yard line and there are 4 seconds on the clock in the 4th quarter, or after a football game by a circle of Christian players huddled and kneeling on the field.

During a rare southern California lightning storm in which the thunder shook the cinder block walls of my classroom, I suspended class for students to peer out the door and windows to witness the spectacular aerial display and torrential downpour. However, some students were so terrified that they huddled under their desks, having never been separated from parents during a thunderstorm. I looked out the door when one tremendous bolt flashed followed immediately by a deafening crash of thunder. When I looked back into the classroom, one of my students had gathered those frightened into a circle where they all held hands and prayed for God’s protection during the storm… a perfect teaching moment about irony (but the moment was not conducive to teaching or learning.) Prayer in the classroom was alive that day!

More to come

Evolution, survival of the fittest, the teaching of homosexuality as a lifestyle, persecution of Christian belief in the classroom, pseudo-spiritual programs, and programs that mirror the Church will all be discussed in the future. Suffice to say, faith is not dead in California public schools. It is just reported to be.

[i] Matthew 7:12


©2018 Douglas Hanks. All rights reserved.

Boy with backpack photo by Max Nelson.

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