I do not understand why some parents want government schools involved in teaching their children to pray and read the Bible, when they do not trust government schools with something as simple as sex education. If parents are so fearful that public school teachers might veer from science to instill the wrong values in sex education classes, why in the world would they want those same people deciding why 1 Timothy 2 says the woman will be saved through childbearing?
Nor do I understand why it is Christian parents clamoring for prayer and Bible teaching in school. “Mere Christianity” as C. S. Lewis termed it, does not exist. The problem of an imagined consensus is belied by the fact that there is a church on every corner. All of these churches will tell you they teach the truth of the Bible, yet no two can agree on its interpretation. Their diversity is revealed not only in large denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Church of God) but the fact that each of these divisions is further divided (Independent Baptist, Southern Baptist, Cooperative Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Primitive Baptist, etc.)
As a Christian, I don’t even understand how this imagined goal of “putting the Bible back in school” would work. Parents could not even agree on which version. King James 1611? New International? With or without gender inclusive language? I would want them to use the New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha, but I suspect we would never reach consensus. If we ever agree on the Bible to use, who gets to decide how the readings are interpreted? Anyone who says Scripture needs no interpretation either has not read the Bible or has not understood its contents.
I wonder if these particular parents just have not thought enough about the implications of handing religious training over to the government. They may live in a fantasy world that imagines everyone belongs to their church, or at least should. They may fantasize that it is their version of the Bible being read, their interpretation of it being taught, and their formulaic prayer wafting over the PA system. I invite them to stop and ask themselves, what if it isn’t my Jesus being preached?
Individuals can pray any time they want, but I don’t know what sort of public prayer would be acceptable for public schools. Do Baptists mind if their children are taught to pray in tongues? Will Methodists be pleased to hear their children pray “Hail Mary, full of grace?” Is it all right with these parents if the teacher asks the children to kneel toward Mecca? It seems to me Christian parents should be the loudest voices demanding freedom of religion – which means keeping religious training in homes and churches and private religious schools, out of the government’s control.
Jeannie Babb is a Ringgold native. You can find her on Facebook or pedaling a neon green bike through the Sewanee fog to the School of Theology, black academic gown billowing behind like a sail. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.