With all of the violence going on in schools these days, many of us are getting tired of the "thoughts and prayers" reactions and looking for some real solutions. A lot of my Christian friends, whether Facebook or face-to-face, are talking about the importance of putting God, or prayer, or the Bible, or all of these, back in public schools. They believe that ever since America kicked God out of schools, the violence and immorality has skyrocketed. I'm about to say something that a lot of my Christian friends won't like, and so I'm asking them to hear me out before writing me off on this issue.
We don't need to put God back in public schools, we don't need corporate prayer in public schools, we don't need creationism taught in science classes, and we don't need theology or Bible classes taught alongside the other subjects. What we need most is for the church of the living Christ to stop pointing it's collective fingers at everybody else, and start doing the job that He has commanded us to do.
Almost every time I have this discussion with a fellow church member or Christian friend, I feel as though they look at me as some kind of apostate or heretic for even doubting that morning prayers in public schools will usher in some new Great Awakening. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that prayer isn't powerful and effective, because it is, when believers pray in the right spirit. I'm not saying that there isn't an urgent need for spreading the gospel, because there definitely is. What I'm saying is that both of these things are the church's job, not the state's, and expecting the world to carry out the church's mandate is lazy and foolish.
For one thing, God never left the public schools, and God doesn't get "kicked out" of anywhere. God is omnipresent; He is everywhere at once, and that means even the darkest and most corrupt places as well. In Psalm 139, David writes, "Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!" If we really believe that the Holy Spirit lives in us as believers, then God is in public schools with every Christian student or teacher that enters them, however few there may be.
However, whether we like it or not, we live in a country that has as part of its constitutional underpinning the separation of church and state. Frankly, I do like it, and I think it's a great idea. If you don't, then consider this - if the state is willing or able to promote one religion over other, what makes you think that the religion they promote will be yours? If you allow the government to promote one religion and suppress others, pretty soon they'll get around to suppressing yours. At some point, you'll be the one who's not orthodox enough, or not active enough, or not fervent enough, to pass inspection. The church has never been partners with the government, not in this country or any other. I'll save the discussion of whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation for some other time. For now, I'd simply say that there is no such thing as a Christian nation. There is the church, and there is the government, and they are not the same thing, and never should be. Because of this necessary separation of church and state, which the beloved founding fathers intentionally wrote into our constitution by barring the government from promoting any religion, we cannot have state schools that conduct Christian corporate prayers, and somehow exclude Muslim, Jewish, atheist, and other belief systems.
Furthermore, even if we wanted corporate prayer in schools, or Bible verses taught in English, or creationism taught in science, who's going to do it? It's always remarkable to me that the same people who decry the godlessness of our schools and the secular and atheist agenda of the teachers would trust that same faculty to teach their children the things of God. I know there are some hard-working Christians in public schools, but by and large, most of them aren't. So, if you have a child in public school, which one of their teachers do you want leading the class in prayer? Which one do you want breaking down Scripture and theology for them? Which one do you want teaching them about creation? Which one do you trust to disciple them in Christ? Frankly, it's the parent's job to disciple the child first, and then the church's job. The schoolteacher never enters into the equation. There is no verse in the Bible that commands, or even suggests, unsaved educators to spread the gospel. That's our job as the Christian church and Christian parents. If you expect a secular school system to do this job, expect to get back students who have been misinformed and led astray.
As for the argument that schools were bastions of righteousness when there was prayer in schools, I would say that while the overall climate of the nation has moved towards godlessness and immorality, the blame for that is also on the church and not the schools. The fact that we ever expected the school system to proselytize for us was a grave mistake, and one that we should learn from, not repeat. Below as a few pictures from schools in this so-called golden era of education in America, depicting the racial integration of our school system. They show some very ugly moments in history when American children on their way to school had to endure racial slurs shouted at them, being spat on, having rotten food and sometimes bricks thrown at them, by mobs of violent people who opposed integration. These mobs consisted of otherwise normal men and women, fathers and mothers with their own children, jobs, and homes to tend to. The hate was so vicious that these children needed government protection from the National Guard or US marshals, because many of the local police departments would not protect them. Ruby Bridges had to walk past such mobs with federal protection every school day for a year. And yet, the first thing those children did when they got into those classrooms was to begin the school day with prayer. Every one of the people in the mob outside also grew up in a school that began the day with prayer, and they still turned out to be hateful and violent. The school taught them reading and math. The church should have taught them to imitate Christ and love their neighbors as themselves.
If you want your child to have a religious education, aside from what they should be getting in your home and your church, then you have to enroll them in one of many fine Christian schools across the country that are doing a great job at that very thing. And you have to pay them, because their job is difficult and requires special skills, and because the worker is worthy of his or her wages. Many of these Christian schools are accountable to churches who see Christian education as an extension of their mandate to make disciples, and they will partner with you in raising your child in the likeness of Christ. But you can't reasonably expect a secular entity like the government or government schools to mold your children into the form of Christ. If you are concerned about the souls of the other students in your child's public school, as you should be, then get involved as a parent and start a Bible study yourself. When I was in middle and high school, there was one parent in the neighborhood who had a Bible study in his house every Friday evening. It was loose, it was fun, but it was focused on Christ and the Word, and there were always lots of kids from the surrounding schools in attendance. You could start something like that with your kids' friends. Most teachers complain about the lack of parent involvement, so this is definitely one way for you to get involved. If the school gives you opposition to that, even though it shouldn't be any of their business, then focus on the Christian students you do know, and train them to be witnesses to their classmates. Equip them to talk to their classmates about Christ, or at least to invite them to church or youth ministry events. If you really wanted to be a radical Christian, you could demonstrate how to do this to your child by witnessing to their teachers and inviting them to church. Your children need to learn how to do this anyway, since they'll be taking over our churches some day.
Ultimately, my biggest problem with the theory that putting prayer or "God" back into public schools is that it is really just a lazy cop-out. It is a way of laying down the weapons that God has given us to fight against sin and darkness, retreating to the safety of our computers and complaining on Facebook that the school isn't doing our job for us. If God really does judge America for it godlessness, I wonder what He'll say when His church stands before Him and says, "It's the schools' fault for not teaching them about Christ!"