Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The latest challenge

Yesterday, at the womanchild's high school, there was a mandatory assembly for all students. It was supposed to be an amusing lesson on character building that featured a Guinness World Record holder (for spinning a basketball on his fingertips) and his children who rode unicycles and did basketball tricks. The presentation was sponsored by The Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Near the end, my daughter and her best friend walked out and headed to the principal's office. There she called me and asked me to come to the school. By the time I arrived, she, her best friend and a few more students were meeting with the vice-principal to protest this assembly. Its message was that character, including talents and abilities, only comes from Jesus Christ, and that without Christ, all is lost.

Oh, this is a public school.

Now, I'm a Christian, and I'm Trinitarian. In my beliefs, God is three persons and still completely indivisible. It's one of the great wonder and awe inducing tenets of my religion that Jesus is God. I do believe that all good things, including character and talents come from God's great love and provenance. Though, my understanding of "lost" may differ from some Christians (I'm not assigning lodging space in hell to anybody), I agree with the message.

And I'm still very angry.

This is just such a blatant infringement on the separation of church and state. When a school sponsors a speaker in an assembly that all students must attend, they are tacitly saying this is correct, believe this. In effect, every student who was not mainstream Christian was completely marginalized and condemned. Beyond that, it affects my ability to raise my child with the religion and the values that I want to teach her.

I know my daughter better than anybody. (My inner teenager is wincing, remembering how many times my mother said that and how absolutely false it was.) I know that the one way to make her shut out a belief entirely from consideration is to set it up as the only acceptable one. She is in an exciting, vibrant and scary time in her spiritual development. The teen years are when we, as people, start to define our individual take on the big things in life. Now, as an old, tired woman, I appreciate just how many more changes will come her way, but as part of claiming her own sense of self, what she believes is very, very important to her. Spiritually, she has strong pantheistic leanings and a tremendous admiration for the teachings of Jesus and Buddha. She has serious and difficult questions about issues of Christian faith, like the virgin birth and the resurrection. I consider it both a wonderful blessing and challenge in my life that my daughter will share her spiritual beliefs and questions with me and seriously listen to and consider my own.

We cannot force anybody to believe as we do, even our own children, no matter how much we would like to. That tremendous gift and pain in the derriere known as free will was given by God to all humans and should be highly valued. Without it, a belief has no personal value. It is mere instinct, programming. Now, the school has made it just a little harder for me to pass on my beliefs because her stubborn reaction was pushed.

We live in the Bible Belt where Christianity is omnipresent, the Protestants denominations particularly so. Sometimes even Catholics are regarded a little suspiciously. I know of one Jewish synagogue and one Muslim masjid within roughly a hundred mile radius. I know a handful of Pagans and a few Buddhists in this area. The rural areas are not exactly bastions of diversity. My friends have been fortunate that they have never experienced outright acts of hatred, but there has been verbal hostility at worst, and at best, the intimation that they would be better if they just gave up their own religious beliefs. As liberal Christian, I have been told that I'm going to hell more times than I can count for what I see as babysteps away from orthodoxy. It's not easy being different sometimes.

The school administration told me that they didn't know that the presentation was going to be evangelical in nature. One of the benefits of living in a small town is knowing about people away from their jobs, and this makes it easier for me to believe them and not look at their words as just institutional butt covering. I was assured that greater research would be done on any future speakers, and that children would be given an option of not attending assemblies where there was potential for religion to be on the agenda. This just isn't enough. Having a small group of non-believers segregated and probably sent to the library where they'll need to be quiet when the rest of the school is just getting a break from the routine is still marginalization.

I don't believe that religious groups need to be banned from public schools. The extracurricular activities of good schools reflect the interests of their students and community, and many, many people are interested in religion. I don't want to take away good things which coincidentally happen to reflect my beliefs away from kids, but I don't want them forced on those who can be hurt or lack interest.

Kids who pray will pray wherever they are if they feel the need. Those who don't pray can't be made to really pray if they don't believe, so I've always found the issue of school prayer to be moot. I've personally always found public prayer, outside of church worship, a little too reminiscent of the Pharisees for my own comfort.

This is not an easy issue, but I know this. I will not allow my daughter to be treated differently because her spiritual beliefs are not set in stone. I will fight for the ability to teach religion to her without outside interference. I will fight for the rights of any of these kids to believe what they are led to believe. I love these kids enough to let them be who they are. I hope that they can come to enjoy a rich, spiritual life. This is part of being a Christian for me, even when it sets me in seeming opposition to other believers.

I've looked up the number of the local ACLU. I hope I don't have to call them, but if I need to, I will.


Blogger Lisa :-] said...

I can't even imagine an evangelical group being allowed to perform (evangelize) in a public school. If indeed the school board did not know the religious nature of the program, they were not doing their homework.

Still, I know it's desperately hard to guide kids in positive directions these days... I think maybe you could chalk this up as a faux pas made with the best of intentions...?

November 08, 2006 11:35 PM  
Blogger Virginia said...

Good for your daughter to recognize this was wrong and to be willing to speak out against it. Being one of those "outsiders" I am a very very firm believer of the separation of church and state.

Peace, Virginia

November 09, 2006 5:59 AM  
Anonymous andrena said...

Thanks for stopping by!

I have seen that guy on television (The Trinity Channel or something). I had fallen asleep on the couch and woke up to this guy spinning basketballs all over the place.

He has a wonderful testimony. But I agree with place in a public high school.

November 09, 2006 8:20 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Kudos to the WC for having the sand not to sit through it. I hope their are no recriminations from her Xtian classmates.

November 09, 2006 10:26 AM  
Blogger Judith HeartSong said...

ahhh... you and the girlchild have ALWAYS amazed me, and you know that I adore you both.

I am thinking of both of you in these times and want you to know that my support is here, even when I cannot be.

much love you two.


November 09, 2006 5:45 PM  
Blogger Gannet Girl said...

What a wonderful daughter you have. Well, we already knew that.

One of my friends who lived in the south until recently tells me that this kind of event and similar activities are not the least bit unusual.

I remain utterly baffled as to how people could mistake these kind of shenanigans for the grace of the Christian message.

November 09, 2006 9:28 PM  

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