I am, among other things, a Christian theologian. How do I think my Christian faith should affect what I do as a school-board trustee? You have a right to know.
I’m writing this on Friday for posting on Sunday. Sunday is a day that many of us in West Michigan still regard as a different sort of day, a day when we leave behind the day-to-day work of the week, when we rest, when we turn our minds from the mundane to the spiritual, when we gather for worship, which is to say, for joining with other people to open our hearts and dedicate ourselves once again to a Power that is higher than ourselves, to a Good that is better than the goods we toil for all week long, to hear sacred scriptures read and interpreted, to be consoled for our losses, and to renew our awareness of the deeper purpose of our existence and our strivings.
That is to say, many of us in West Michigan are Christians and will tell you that our identity in Christ, as children of God, is the most important thing about us. Some others in West Michigan have learned to take all this with a grain of salt. And some others have learned to fear this strange devotion of ours. And not without cause.
I will not give you the date, because I do not want to single out the person, but I can tell you that I have sat in a schoolboard meeting and heard scripture quoted, and prayer offered, in a way that suggested that the speaker’s religious convictions put her in a place to know with certainty that her political notions were correct—indubitable, ordained by God Almighty—and that those whose understanding of how education should work she was condemning are enemies not only of herself but of God.
Seeing in my bio that I was trained to be a theologian and a preacher, you might wonder whether I might do something like that in a school-board meeting. I will not. I regarded that person’s three-minute performance as offensive to the point of blasphemy. I assume she meant to honor God, but what she performed was a species of self-justifying, other-condemning show-prayer that Jesus expressly condemns. Bible-reading Christians will know exactly which texts in the gospels apply.
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and people who accept or reject those or any other belief systems in part or in toto are equally entitled to the rights of citizenship in the USA. All are equally entitled, if they are students or teachers, to have their faith or nonfaith respected in the schools and in school board meetings.
I think my Christian faith will help make me a good school-board trustee. If you read the portion of my platform that describes the positive values that I will bring into that role, you may recognize exactly where I found some of them in the Bible. But in school-board meetings you will never hear me say that the public school system should promote or honor Christianity or Judaism or “Judaeo-Christian values” (a phrase that should set off alarms for both Jews and Christians) above any other religion or philosophy. Public schools follow the constitutions and laws of the USA and of the State of Michigan, which do not privilege religion in general or any religion in particular.
This does not mean that I am a relativist. I am an absolutely committed Christian. It means that I have thought long and hard about how I can be both a Christian and an American who rightly honors every bit of the Bible and every bit of the US Constitution. Some of the people who bang on loudly about how Christian they are and also about what patriots they are—even calling themselves “constitutionalists”—seem to have read little of either and understood less.
In my view, if Christian students, parents, teachers, and administrators will “take heed to themselves” (Christian readers will know whose phrase that is), following Jesus faithfully in their own lives and forgoing the pleasure of flagellating others, they will make the schools warmly hospitable places—not hostile and unsafe places—for students, teachers, and parents whose self-understanding or mode of life might be very different from theirs. I assume that adherents and teachers of other religious traditions and philosophies of life could also tell us how their heritage positions them to contribute positively to our life together in the schools and otherwise.
That’s just a lead-in to this: It’s OK if you’re not interested, but I thought that for an August Sunday afternoon I would offer this possibility to any who are curious: if you would like to get a taste of what I say to Christians about how they practice their faith in public spaces—check out the sermon that I preached at the church of which I am a member in March of this year: https://youtu.be/ajaiRWzFUys. If you’d rather read than watch and listen, you can find it as a post on my personal blog.
I wish all who observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day a blessed sabbath, and I wish everyone a peaceful and refreshing Sunday.