By David Tulis
The South’s strong cultural Christianity comes from its Protestant heritage and the influence of reformed theology, particularly the many Scottish Presbyterians who fled religious persecution.
This theological heritage explains the region’s resistance to federal armies in 1861 and the strong sense of localism and self-determination that has marked the political and economic thinking of Southerners since the defeat.
Christianity’s strong claims are alluded to by Joy Lukachick, a reporter for the Times Free Press. She delves today into the threatened legal action seeking to secularize public schools and tug away at Christian expression and custom within them. “Ridgeland team plays amid prayer scrutiny” looks at the piety and religious interest of football coach Mark Mariakis at a school in Walker County in north Georgia.
“To many area residents, faith is everything. In Rossville and many surrounding towns, there are more churches than places to eat. Faith is not a Sunday-only activity with Jesus here but no Jesus there. Faith is embedded in every aspect of their lives. ‘[To] ignore faith as the fabric of our community is to ignore who we are,’ said the Rev. John Moore.”
THE IDENTIFICATION of many Christian people is cultural and crosses boundaries. They are committed to Christ and worship at church on the Lord’s Day. They are committed to football teams on which their children play. They are devoted to state-run schools with names such as Ridgeland where neighbors work in classrooms or the cafeteria.
The Christians want to maintain a sense of possession of the school and what it represents to the county’s people, the present and past members of the “Panther community.”
The bullying of what the newspaper dubs a “watchdog” group is strongly resented as an attack on a way life that includes free expression of Christian ideas, principles and hopes. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has sent letters of inquiry about Christianity among staff and team sports, and these letters alone have drawn Page 1 coverage about possible “illegal” exercise of religion.
IN FOLLOWING THIS STORY I wonder if earlier generations of Christians have not agreed to a compromise so great that no one today sees it as that. The raising up of Christian youth in state schools is so widely accepted that it is impossible to question it and get a fair hearing. The school has enculturated itself, and is fixed in American society. Families are convinced they are well served by it. If a public school is bad, I hear it said, it’s not mine.
My question is as follows: Why do Christians reject explicitly Christian education? Is that not a duty? Why have generations of dedicated believers in the Lord Jesus Christ committed themselves and their children to Ridgeland high school? Do they believe they can rear Christian children based on Sunday school, church service, Wednesday night at church and family worship? Do these suffice to raise a generation of men and women who will remain faithful to Christ today and the day they quit their father’s house?
C.S. Lewis, in his essay “We have no ‘right to happiness,’” which focuses on another topic altogether, restates Christ’s teaching of the leaven of the lump of dough. “The fatal principle, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives.”
THE FATAL PRINCIPLE of the public school is traceable to its use of compulsion to attain its market share and fund its payroll. It is a miracle of custom more than marketing that clients of government school systems agree to accept as a “free” gift that for which they are compelled to pay. But accept it they do. Once they accept taxpayer subsidies to meet their education needs, they theoretically accept all the requirements of that master, who is accountable to legislatures and judges. The law seems to be slowly turning against Christianity and rights are being turned into privileges. The religious show of believers is being turned into an object of toleration.
The enemies of Christianity are pressing their advantage. With boilerplate legal letters they generate an uproar among school boards and county commissions, put them in near terror. They are following a trend that seems against Christianity in public schools, especially addresses to God through public prayer.
The denizens of Walker County feel as though Ridgeland school belongs to them. They perceive the public school from the beginning has represented the interests of family and town and is loyal to them. But is not the proprietor of any single state school the civil government and its many co-dependents, including unions, suppliers, publishers, bus makers and public policy think tank three-piece suits?
In the prayer battle we see the leaven filling the lump to its last extremity. In his accusations against the Pharisees, Christ is pointing out the danger of their doctrines and ingenious rules intended to put a protective hedge around God’s law. He compares their dogmas to leaven. One evil idea will corrupt an entire system of thought, in other words. One heresy, if not openly defeated, will eventually make any set of truths unrecognizeable.
The coercion that Christians have long ignored in their endorsement of public schools is now oppressing them. The object of attack is a practice at the margin. Curriculums since at least the 1930s have been secularist, materialist, evolutionary and statist, according to the histories. Going after expressions of piety that are extracurricular is a mopping up exercise. Ferf wants to force an end to prayers, church-sponsored meals and other natural expressions of joyous Christianity at events beyond the curriculum. Ferf strongly supports public education, and would love to have it totally secular, in keeping with its original compulsory purposes. They represent a claim of ownership against Walker County and Ridgeland High, not that Ferf is the owner, but the idea Ferf represents — that is the true master.
THE ABSENTEE OWNER of public schools, as it were, is coming back from a long trip, and expects to see an increase in his vineyard. He’s hearing a report that there’s altogether too much religious foolishness going on in his domains, and he’d like things straightened up.
The fruit for which he is looking is not the genuine godly virtues Paul writes about in his epistles. He has had decades of success controlling schooling, and has his own idea of what constitutes a good harvest. While Christians operating the farm feel as though it’s theirs, they do not have title to the property, and the crop it produces is one they seem to know little about. They are in for a shock.
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (London: HarperCollins,1971)
See Samuel Blumenfeld, Revolution Via Education and Other Essays (Vallecito, Calif: Chalcedon, 2009)
Samuel Blumenfeld, NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education (Boise: Paradigm Co., 1984)