I keep reading and hearing internet posts and comments that the reason we have so many problems in schools is that we have taken God out of them. The idea is suggested that if we once again allow (or even mandate) prayer in schools or if we could teach creation in schools or if we could do other things to bring God back into the classroom, these problems would be solved. I’m a pastor. And I don’t want God put back in the schools. Here’s why.
First of all, we must ask, whose God gets put into school? Let’s face it, among the various Christian denominations and non-Christian religions, there are all sorts of different views of God. Do we mean some “God” in general? The Jesus of the Bible? Allah? The life force of eastern religions? When someone says we should get God back into schools, it’s generally their version of God not necessarily the biblical one. In most cases, it’s the god whose job is to enforce and control our behavior so kids will act better, show respect, and leave each other alone. Frankly, I wouldn’t want my children exposed to the religious whims of one teacher or another. Kids go to school to learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic, learn geography, and so on, not to learn their morals and opinions from someone’s conception of God.
Second, the Lord has given parents the calling of training up their children in the faith. Schools, especially public schools, have increasingly seen a rise in their expansion of their roles beyond simply teaching and educating children. Now, in many instances, they have taken on parental responsibilities for feeding, after-school care, and even extended discipline and behavioral monitoring. While it is surely a good thing when schools can assist parents, it should never be that they replace them. Far more important than bringing God back into schools is getting parents back into their children’s lives as the main source of their religious and moral formation, not to mention providing for their basic physical need.
Third, the purpose of schools is not the proclamation of the Gospel. I’ve addressed this before in the broader notion of religion being kept separate from the state, but it bears repeating: The center of the Christian faith is the forgiveness of sins which is given for the sake of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It has never been the school’s (or the government’s) job to deliver this gift. This is why the Lord instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry (pastors) and by that preaching His church (the people of God who hear the preaching). A school is, by nature, the institution of the Law. While teachers can certainly exercise mercy when appropriate, their job is to teach and enforce rules, and guide children according to the grades and standards in place to measure their performance. In other words, in school, a child is evaluated on the basis of their merit and performance. That’s not at all how things work in the church. But it’s a good way of doing things in the school.
When people want to see God back in the schools, it’s really a cry for a time when they think things were probably better. The fact is, children are afflicted with sinful natures from birth. They are sinners just as their parents are. As long as you gather kids together into groups and put them under authority, that sin will play out. Bullies, cliques, poor performance, jealousy, fights, timeouts, and all the other things that seem to go with school will always be with us. Instead of cries for more religion in a place that isn’t meant to be religious how about this: Let’s pray for our teachers, that they have the patience to love, discipline and teach the children entrusted to their care. Let’s pray for parents that they might know the forgiveness of Christ and teach it to their children, that the Holy Spirit would bear fruits of faith in our little ones as they interact with their peers. Let’s thank God for our schools but not inject Him artificially such that we forget why He gives us churches. Here’s a good prayer to use when thinking about such things:
Heavenly Father, you have blessed us with the care and nurture of children. Bless all parents to faithfully train up the children in the true faith of Christ, that they may rejoice in all the blessings He gives. Bless all teachers, and school administrators and staff, so that they may carry out their callings with joy, teaching and helping our little ones and youth that they may grow up to lead lives of help and service to others and to you glory. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in McHenry, IL.