Every morning, at about 7:50, I hear a loud tone ring out over a speaker. A voice comes on and asks us all to stand for the pledge of allegiance. We all face the large American flag that hangs over the white board at the front of my room. It's covered in dust and the fabric is worn. I never bothered to buy my own flag; rather, I inherited the current one from my friend Ryan, who used to teach in the room I have now. The voice starts us off: "I pledge allegiance, to the flag..." and then cuts off, allowing us to continue to recite the rest on our own. My kids and I piece together a stumbling, droning performance, half of us still waking up the muscles in our mouths or still waking our brains. We near the end: "...and to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation..."
What comes next? Say it with me:
Under who? From what I've heard on Facebook, Twitter, and certain news outlets since Friday, we've been entrenched in a war on that guy, and we've kicked him out of our schools. As a result, he has abandoned us and left our children defenseless.
Friends, I'd like to offer my perspective: The war on God that has kicked God out of our schools is a myth, an exaggerated rallying cry that indicates the condition of a large segment of American Christianity today.
Perspective is everything. If we believe that there is a war on God and that it is our task to raise the flags and sound the horns, then we begin to perceive every minute occurrence (such as a ruling to cease publicly led prayer) as an act of war, and magnify and exaggerate its impact.
God hasn't been kicked out of our schools. Publicly-led prayer has been kicked out of our schools. Teaching directly from the Bible has been kicked out of our schools. Anyone who abides by and enjoys the rights of the Constitution should understand this. I'm curious to know if the people that want to see prayer and the Bible back in schools would be okay if we had publicly-led Muslim prayers. Or taught from the Koran. Or had articulate displays of Buddha or Shiva lining the hallways or waiting in the lobby for students as they enter the buildings.
My gut tells me the answer is no. My gut tells me there would be people freaking out if any one of those things happened. My gut tells me what some people are asking for is not freedom of religion, but a theocracy. God hasn't been kicked out of our schools. Our schools have simply not met our expectations of a theocratic school system. And for the record, I'm not sure if I know of a single adult who doesn't work for a church that leads his or her colleagues in public prayer, or stands up in his or her cubicle and reads passages of scripture to the rest of the office. And yet, God hasn't been kicked out of our workplaces.
But back to my point: God hasn't been kicked out of our schools. In fact, I ran into him earlier this morning in my room. A student Christian group meets there every Wednesday. They share and talk about passages of scripture. They end with prayer. They have not been arrested or questioned by authorities yet, to my knowledge.
I run into God pretty frequently at school, actually. He's there when my eyelids hang heavy after a light night of sleep and I know I have to be the first, best thing my kids see in the hallway in the morning (God help me, and them). He's there every time I'm standing outside my room to talk to a troubled student and I need grace I simply don't have on my own. He's there every time I make a mistake and my students offer me grace they don't have on their own. He's there. He's just not there in the way some of us want Him to be.
Ultimately, God hasn't been kicked out of our schools because we couldn't kick him out if we tried.
I'm reminded of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he died. As a group of men try to arrest Jesus, Peter, his disciple, drew a sword. He wanted to defend his mentor, his rabbi, his Lord. Springing into action, he swung his sword and struck a man in the ear. In response, Jesus told him to sheath the sword and, to Peter's shock, surrendered himself to the hands of his enemies.
Had Peter had his way, he would have struck down each man that had come to arrest Jesus, and Jesus never would have gone to the cross, never would have died, never would have taken on our sins and shame, and never would have conquered death. Fortunately, Jesus went through with his plan, not Peter's.
We easily forget that God is, well, God. There is no man, woman, ruling, law, or government that can hinder Him or hold Him hostage. We easily forget that God has moved most powerfully in some of the most dire and dark situations. He set the nation of Israel into motion with Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery. He raised up one of Israel's greatest leaders in the midst of genocide and slavery--Moses. In the midst of a sinful city, God found a prostitute to aid the nation of Israel. Over half of the books in the Old Testament were written during or borne out of civil war and oppression. And let's not forget Jesus, born on the run from a king looking to kill him.
In this "war on God," we have convinced ourselves that we need to fight for God when, in fact, God has no need for us to defend Him. We have spent far too much time and energy being alarmed, frightened, and agitated over events we interpret as hindrances to God and His gospel. As Peter found out, God often works in mysterious ways we can't understand. Rather than expend our time, energy, and resources defending God, I suggest we turn our focus to what He actually called us to do: defend the defenseless, free the oppressed, heal the brokenhearted, feed the hungry, provide for the needy.
Unfortunately, there is a mindset in our country that has confused Christianity with the American Dream. It has led us to believe that any perceived infringement on our "rights" is a declaration of war on our faith. It has led us to believe that we're entitled to certain rights, and that in order to maximize our impact as Christians, we must have those rights. It has led us to play victim, to cry foul, to take an us-vs.-them view of the world.
Truth be told, there is hardly anyone outside of American Christian circles who sympathizes with our "struggles." Certainly not Americans who don't consider themselves Christians--not allowing public prayer in schools doesn't seem quite the struggle when compared with racism, sexual abuse and harassment, poverty, and a laundry list of legitimate problems. And certainly, there is little sympathy from Christians in other countries around the world--they are too busy meeting in underground churches, fearing for their families' lives, or simply scratching to find any money or resources to have a place to meet at all.
In America, we have convinced ourselves that God is like water, that He seeks the path of least resistance in order to accomplish His goals. When I look at the scriptures, at history, or even at my own life, I know this isn't the way God works.
There is good news for us to remember in the wake of this most recent tragedy: Despite our best efforts, God has not been kicked out of our schools. God is not limited by our rules or laws. God is not limited by our expectations of Him.
God is moving now more than ever.
For a much more eloquent expression of a similar thought, you can read this post, "God can't be kept out," from Rachel Held Evans.
There is also this open letter to Mike Huckabee by Kimberly Burkett.