There has long been debate and confusion over the place of Christianity in the American public square. Most iconically, the Scopes Trial in Tennessee typified the impassioned debate over what some have believed is Christianity’s lawfully unique and supreme, if not exclusive, place in the public square. In a country that many believe finds its roots in Christian belief and doctrine and is also a champion for religious liberty, the debate is certain to continue. And the fire of the debate has found new kindling in a Tennessee classroom.
To give you a quick summary, students in a Spring Hill middle school were spending three weeks on a unit covering Islam while the topic of Christianity was put off until a later unit on the Age of Exploration and discovery of America (and this, I think, is the more interesting point—pushing the study of Christianity off until then endorses the union of America and Christianity that is not only unhelpful but even harmful to an orthodox understanding of Christianity and the gospel it announces). The students did a project where they were required to write out the Five Pillars including the Shahadah, or the declaration of faith: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet.” Several parents were outraged and declared that this was an attempt by the public school system to indoctrinate their children since they had “skipped” Christianity and were spending so much time on Islam.
How are we to think? Obviously we don’t want to simply encourage the emphasis on other religions while relegating Christianity to a product of European imperialism. To be fair, I don’t know that this is exactly what will happen, but it seems like a fair conclusion based on the unit of study in which Christianity would be taught. In Gwinnett county world history, the subject I teach, our State- and County-mandated standards cover most of the world’s religions and their teachings. Students will learn the basic teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Unit three, the unit that we are currently in, is the unit on the rise and spread of Islam and the kingdoms of Africa.
I see our system as one that we shouldn’t attack or be angry with. Instead, I see it as a God-given opportunity to discuss how Christianity is truly different than these other religions with their works-based salvation.
I see our system as one that we shouldn’t attack or be angry with. Instead, I see it as a God-given opportunity to discuss how Christianity is truly different than these other religions with their works-based salvation. Indeed, Christianity is not merely one religion among other—it is the only true and life-giving one. In an age of State-endorsed pluralism and increased diversity, both cultural and religious, it is tempting to react to situations like the one in Tennessee out of fear of the world. Certainly, biblical wisdom mandates that we not leave our children’s minds to be formed and swayed by the teaching of the world. However, biblical wisdom also mandates that we not disengage from the world. If you are hesitant about our students learning these other religions, I would encourage you to prayerfully examine your heart for the self-dependence that accompanies fear. We tend to fear those situations we perceive we cannot control. We need to be reminded that we serve a God who controls and upholds all things, and we need to be calmed by the peace of resting in Him. Further, all the more eagerly make every effort to disciple your children, to instruct them in the way of the Lord as God has always intended (Deuteronomy 11.19). Do not shy away from the opportunity to have a discussion and bring Christian truths into the classroom curriculum where it is allowed. Some teachers are very cautious of having discussions in class for fear of offending anyone, but training our children have respectful yet convicting questions and statements regarding the differences, is a way in which they can be “arrows” (Psalm 127.4) into the school house and the world.
We tend to fear those situations we perceive we cannot control. We need to be reminded that we serve a God who controls and upholds all things, and we need to be calmed by the peace of resting in Him.
Do not be afraid and hide your children or yourselves away in times like this such as these. We serve the Victorious King of Kings under whom all the enemies of God will be put in subjection (1 Corinthians 15.24-25, Philippians 2.9-11). And He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4.4). I pray that you continue to see with increased clarity that the redeemed people of God, those in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells, are not to hide away from the world, but are called instead to be those looking for influence to mold and shape our world in order to fill the earth with image-bearers who bring glory to God. I leave you with the encouragement of Peter to the early church and to us today: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1.13).