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Put God Back in Public Schools?

| January 5, 2013

Whose God? Whose Christianity? (Len Matthews)

Whose God? Whose Christianity? (Len Matthews)

By Adam Hamilton

One reaction to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been a call to “put God back in the schools.”  I even heard one person suggest that the violence that happened in the school was because “we took God out of public schools.”  As a pastor I have a deep desire to lead people to God and encourage people to pray, read the Bible, and carry their faith into every part of their lives.  But I’ve got a few questions about “putting God back in the schools.”

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In America our public schools are intended to be religiously neutral.  Our teachers and schools are neither to endorse nor to inhibit religion.  I believe this is a very good thing.  When my kids were growing up I wanted their teachers to teach them science, reading, math, and history.  I also wanted them to care about my kids.  But I did not want my children’s public school teachers teaching them religion.  That was my job as a parent, and the job of our church, Sunday school, and youth group.

If we’re going to put God back in schools, which God are we talking about?  Within the Christian family alone there are often dramatically different ways of talking about God:  fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals, Pentecostals, Charismatics, moderates, progressives, liberals, Calvinists and Arminians, high-church and low-church – and these are just the Protestants!  Add in Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and a host of groups that are often said to be outside the mainstream and you can begin to see the dilemma.

And while 78% of all Americans claim to be Christians, 22% claim another faith or no faith.  If these numbers are applied to teachers, this would mean that one in five teachers may be Hindu or Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist, atheist or agnostic.  Few of the folks calling for “putting God back in schools” seem to be okay with people outside of the Christian faith teaching their children about God.

The religious neutrality in our schools is, I would argue, one of our strengths.  Teachers cannot inhibit or deride religion.  But this does not mean that we’ve taken God out of public schools.  I’m reminded of the book of Esther in the Bible.  God is not explicitly mentioned in the book, but that did not mean that God was not at work in the story.

Christians believe that God is everywhere and is involved in our lives at every moment, whether we publicly acknowledge God or not.   Most of the teachers I’ve met in public schools are people of faith.  For many, their faith shapes how they approach their work as teachers.  It strengthens, informs, and inspires them to love their students and to pursue their work with excellence.  As in the book of Esther, they may not explicitly mention God, but God works through them nonetheless.

Students also bring their faith into the schools.  They are free to pray any time, provided they are not disruptive.  They are free to talk about their faith, provided they are not belligerent or hurtful to other students.

Finally, there are many ways that churches and other religious groups may partner with public schools, provided that they are not seeking to evangelize.  In the Kansas City area, the church I serve has partnered with six elementary schools in which a majority of the students live near the poverty line.  We build playgrounds for these schools and paint and rehab their buildings.  We fund literacy efforts and provide free books.  We ensure that each child has a winter coat, gloves and hat, and school supplies, and we provide funds for special programs the schools otherwise could not afford.  We also have tutoring programs with hundreds of volunteers who read to children and otherwise help the teachers and support their work.  Every Friday we send backpacks with nutritious snacks home with 1,400 children who are at risk of being hungry on the weekends.  We also distribute beds for children who we discover are sleeping on the floor in their homes.  Our people are motivated by their faith to do these things.  They don’t talk about their faith, but it is clearly seen in their actions.

I’m convinced many of America’s heroes are public school teachers and administrators.  Many of these people do what they do because of their faith.  We don’t need mandatory, non-sectarian prayers read over the loudspeaker to “put God back in schools.”  God never left the schools.  God is still at work through the hundreds of thousands of gifted teachers and administrators, committed parents, and passionate volunteers who seek to help give our children “a future with hope.”

Rev. Adam Hamilton is the founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. He grew up in the Kansas City area. He earned a B.A. degree in Pastoral Ministry from Oral Roberts University and a Master of Divinity Degree from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. This piece originally appeared at his blog. Reach him by email here.

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30 Responses for “Put God Back in Public Schools?”

  1. Flagler Native says:

    School is for A,B,C’s and 1,2,3′s. Not for any religion or personal beliefs. Unfortunately schools don’t feel this way. If they did then the wouldn’t decorate the halls with Christmas decorations or have teachers dressing up as the Easter Bunny and hopping from class to class to say “hello” to the kiddies. The colonists who founded this country came here to escape religious persecution. They wanted to be free and to be able to practice their own beliefs in peace. Funny how this country has deviated from those original values. Everyone’s beliefs are everywhere. Every year starting with New Years then on to Valentines day and all the way until Christmas shoveling holidays down our throats. In advertisements, in stores, in even the prices that we pay, just pathetic. If you want to be Christian then practice it at home, if you want to be atheist practice it at home but for goodness sake stop ramming it down our children’s throats at school.
    Maybe if the public school system taught more in reference to A,B,C’s and 1,2,3′s instead of getting side tracked on the holidays then maybe just maybe America would be producing smarter young adults come graduation instead of kids that don’t even know where all of these traditional pagan holidays come from. At some point people really need to scientifically research each and every holiday one by one through encyclopedias or other reference books, and then 90% of the global population wouldn’t celebrate these traditions and our poor children could finally be taught the truth instead of all their parents lying to them about fat men dropping down chimneys. Parents don’t want their kids to lie to them but then again, what do the parents do to the kids for their entire premature lives for every holiday?? Lie. And then the parents excuse it by saying “well son/daughter I told you those lies so it could be a surprise”! So adults celebrate a holiday that they say is supposed to represent Jesus’ birth and then….. LIE…sooo hypocritical. Any parent that does that to their child should be ashamed of themselves.


  2. BP says:

    People have a very poor understanding of someone who is mentally ill. God in school or not will not help someone who is mentally ill. Religion sometimes makes the mentally ill worse. I have encountered people who truly believed they were Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary reincarnated. Pray will not fix it either Only better understanding of mental health, better funding for research and better funding for social programs to allow someone to get help ca help reduce of risks of the next tragic event.

    These valuable programs were badly cut (as they were deemed “social programs for those too lazy to get a job” were cut years ago. Now we have these ticking time bombs walking the street. So are the cuts worth it?

    The discussion needs to start right there and leave God in church.


  3. Seadog says:

    When I was in Junior High School, the principal got a bad case of religon and brought in these fundamentalist preachers to give fire and brimstone sermons to the entire student body. I would not want to put my kids through that or any one elses.


  4. Stevie says:

    Christian schools escape mass shootings. Could it be that criminal shooters know the students are protected by a well regulated militia? People who are willing to sacrifice in order to protect the weak.


    • BP says:

      No Christian schools do NOT escape mass shootings. Last year or so 7 students were shot and killed at a Christian school mass shooting in California. There have been many others. This is a problem caused by people. Only people will solve it.


  5. Raul Troche says:

    The Muslims teach the Koran in schools. For a good rounded education I believe the Bible should be taught in our schools even If you don’t believe it. Here are several reasons I say that: It teaches a lot of vocabulary, it teaches wisdom ( knowing the difference between right and wrong) after all some of it was written by the wisest man that ever lived. It teaches us to love one another, it teaches patience and it teaches us to have faith. These are just a few good reasons. So even if you don’t believe in God it is a wonderful learning tool.


  6. Get it correctly, there is only one true God and those that actually have a Christian background will confess that Jesus is the true son of God. To deny God is to deny yourself. Do we need scientific evidence to know that black is black and white is white.
    Sure I would love to see God back in our schools. God serves a purpose in any person’s life. People on this site need to wake up. Nobody is forcing God on anyone, but take warning that a house divided will not stand Mathew 3;25
    To each to there own belief of ” What God” but the God that Created Heaven and Earth is the Supreme Authority….. Jesus Christ…… with man it is impossible but with God all things are possible.
    So what’s wrong with this country…….. think?


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