The controversial Schempp decision, in which the U. S. Supreme Court outlawed religious exercises in public schools, explicitly warned against interpreting the ruling as a victory for secularism. The majority opinion, delivered by Justice Clark, said the court was agreed that “the state may not establish a ‘religion of secularism’ in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus ‘preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe.’ ” This observation reaffirmed an earlier judgment in which the court held that the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution “requires the state to be a neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and nonbelievers; it does not require the state to be their adversary. State power is no more to be used so as to handicap religions than it is to favor them” (Everson v. Board of Education).
Many Americans now think that this neutrality is being increasingly violated in public education, and that evangelical Christianity, or at least the value system that it represents, is the chief victim. Serious controversies have erupted not only in Kanawha County, West Virginia, but in Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, Texas, and other states. “It’s not a few dirty books we’re objecting to,” said a spokesman for a protesting group in Maryland, “It’s the secular humanist philosophy that pervades the curricula, the concentration on what you think and what you feel, rather than academic skills and the basics.”
To be sure, there are those who are exploiting the current disputes for unrelated and even unworthy ends, and the way some of the protesters have attacked the problem is wrong. We deplore the use of violence. Those who stoop to it are hurting the cause. But we must not let these evil tendencies cloud our understanding of the basic issues. Some crucial matters are at stake.
Paul Cowan of the Village Voice, after an admirably exhaustive study, concluded:
The battle in Kanawha is a cultural revolution, in the strictest sense of the term: an effort by the rural working class to wrest schools—the means of production of their children—away from the permissive technocrats who now control them. It is a holy war between people who depend on books and people who depend on the Book [Dec. 9, 1974].
The dispute did not happen all of a sudden; it has been heating up for years, without much visibility. In many areas of the country where Christian parents became disturbed at what their children were being taught in the public schools, the “solution” was found in quietly setting up private schools. These have for the most part been avowedly evangelical, and they often use church facilities. They also are expensive, and are possible only where parents can afford to pay tuition in addition to school taxes. The income level in Kanawha County did not allow for that option, so the parents went at the problems in a different way.
The tensions are unlikely to be resolved quickly. Public schools may feel more and more of a pinch. And even in places where private schools have sprung up, there are bound to be controversies, especially in this time of economic stress. Parents who send their children to private schools may start asking ever more loudly why they should have to pay school taxes when the money is going for types of education of which they disapprove.
The Roman Catholic posture toward the problems is still unclear. It seems that the exodus of recent years from the parochial to the public schools has been tapering off, but long-range trends are hard to predict. One possibility is the rise of Catholic fundamentalism, which could change the whole picture. Pentecostalism is a major force in the Roman Catholic Church today, but it has not yet translated its concerns into the educational context.
The outcome of the textbook battle and related concerns will be determined to a large extent on how the federal government treats it. The only public inkling from Washington last year was a speech by U. S. Commissioner of Education T. H. Bell in which he urged textbook publishers to rethink current trends in content. “Parents have a right to expect that the schools, in their teaching approaches and selection of instructional materials, will support the values and standards that their children are taught at home,” he said. “And if the schools cannot support those values they must at least avoid deliberate destruction of them.” Bell is a Mormon.
Mrs. Alice Moore, who has given much astute leadership to the protests in West Virginia, feels that the federal government has been directly or indirectly responsible for recent trends in public education. She charges that funds provided by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare “are used to develop, promote and force on our schools these value-changing programs.”
If experience is a reliable prophet, educational administrators will take a pragmatic approach to the conflict. So-called alternative schools may be the result. Under this arrangement, parents can choose between a traditional type of school and an innovative, “progressive” variety. This route may save some violence in the short run and pull school boards out of their bind. In the long run, however, the effect could be to diminish the cultural unity that the American public school system has achieved.
Shared time, or dual school enrollment, as it has more recently been called, is another option, one that has been around for many years. There is a great deal of merit to the idea of attending one school for the more value-oriented studies and another for subjects in which moral dimensions are not nearly so crucial. Perhaps it is mainly logistical problems that have kept the idea from getting off the ground. A major crisis could bring on conscientious consideration and trial.
A Brighter Winter In Ulster
J. D. Douglas warns against trying to oversimplify the conflict in Northern Ireland (Current Religious Thought, page 33). The dispute is very complex; one risks being called a dreamer in voicing any hope for an early settlement. That being the case, the length and success of the truce that began during the recent holidays are a tremendously heartwarming answer to prayer. It became the longest respite in violence since the war began five and a half years ago. More than 1,100 lives have been lost in the bloodshed. The prolonged truce offers at last a glimmer of hope that tensions may be eased. It is of no small encouragement, too, to know that there are conscientious Christians working in both Britain and Ireland to bring about a lasting understanding between the parties in conflict.
Sharing Our Destiny
Speaking to the nation about its economic plight this month, President Gerald Ford was blunt, acknowledging that the situation can get worse before it gets better. The President also acknowledged that America no longer is in control of its own destiny. It has become a dependent nation. The oil cartel has proved this, and down the road it will be shown to be true with respect to other raw materials essential to the operation of an industrial society. Despite Mr. Ford’s prediction that by 1985 America will be self-sufficient in energy, it is apparent that neither this nation nor any other will ever again be able to go it alone. The myth of national independence should be laid to rest. America’s future is inextricably linked with that of other nations. Will this sense of dependency turn the nation to a firmer trust in God, who rules over all the nations?
Masters Of Sound
Within a span of five days this month, the Metropolitan Opera lost two of its most revered voices—one of a great performer, and another of a unique interpreter. The deaths of Richard Tucker and Milton Cross leave cultural gaps that may not be readily closed.
In Tucker, an orthodox Jew who was an ordained cantor, the world had perhaps its greatest tenor since Caruso. May God be thanked who in his common grace affords his children the privilege of hearing so magnificent a voice, which we can continue to enjoy through recordings. Tucker sang little outside of opera, which has limited appeal in our day even though humanity supposedly has attained a greater aesthetic sense. Thanks to the gifts of performers like Tucker, few who take the time and trouble to understand opera ever cast it aside.
Milton Cross will long be remembered for his remarkably successful efforts to interpret opera. His weekly commentaries communicated a sense of excitement and suspense that did more to popularize opera than any other one thing in America. To those who listened over the years to the Texaco broadcasts of the Met, Saturday afternoons will never be quite the same.
Mates And Martyrs
Thanks primarily to zealous merchants eager to sell cards and candy, Americans think of St. Valentine’s Day as a day for celebrating romance, a tradition dating back to the fourteenth century, when many came to believe that February 14 was the day when “every bird chooseth him a mate.” Originally, however, the day marked the anniversary of one or more martyrs of the early Church. That is an identification not to be lost upon Christians, for people are still suffering and even losing their lives for the sake of the Gospel. A great deal more concern needs to be shown for persecuted believers.
Lent begins two days before Valentine’s Day this year. Economic conditions being what they are, this year may find us more inclined than usual toward an austere observance of Lent. It would be highly appropriate to be particularly concerned about the needy and the oppressed during this season, especially in light of the Lausanne Covenant’s call for Christians in affluent circumstances to adopt a simple life-style.
No Dead Loss
Medieval times are getting a lot of attention these days, and not just from scholars. There has been a boom in academic study of the Middle Ages, but our new fascination with the period goes beyond that. Take, for example, the sudden popularity of stained glass: all kinds of do-it-yourself kits are now available. The average person can create some truly beautiful stained-glass objects.
Perhaps we are entering an era when the Middle Ages will come into better perspective. For far too long we have simply written them off as a time that human history could have well done without. The truth is that much of what evangelicals regard today as fundamental Christian thinking was developed during the Middle Ages. One has but to do a little reading in Augustine to become aware of this.
There was also a lot of error promulgated in medieval times, but much of the rich thought that arose out of those times is far more reasonable and Christian than the ideologies that are prevalent today.
The Battle Of Boston
There can be no doubt that on the whole black children in the United States get poorer education than white ones. The reasons may be debatable, but the fact is not.
This being so, do not Christians, who are expected by God to be concerned for their neighbors, share responsibility for corrective measures? We deplore the violence that the city of Boston has experienced in recent months over court-ordered busing. Busing is never an ideal solution; however, in at least some cases busing may be the only effective way to start to improve the educational opportunities for black children.
There is probably a good lesson in the Boston situation: here, in what was supposed to be the Athens of America, liberal abstract thought has failed miserably. But Christian parents have a responsibility that transcends gloating. If they are going to oppose busing, they should be putting even more effort into righting the educational injustices that brought it on.
‘Ferments Of Infidelity’
Pope Paul acknowledged last month the growing theological deviations in Roman Catholicism. In a thirty-four-page “apostolic exhortation” the pontiff noted that down through the centuries there have always been rifts, “but there appear equally dangerous … the ferments of infidelity to the Holy Spirit existing here and there in the Church today and unfortunately attempting to undermine her from within.” The Pope, as could be expected, expressed dismay at lack of obedience to official teaching. He lamented those who “cause bewilderment to the whole community, introducing into it the fruits of dialectical theories alien to the spirit of Christ. While making use of the words of the Gospel they change their meaning.” He also said that “the process that we have described takes the form of doctrinal dissension, which claims the patronage of theological pluralism and is not infrequently taken to the point of dogmatic relativism, which in various ways breaks up the integrity of faith.”
Such high-level recognition of theological problems is a welcome sign. Liberal Protestant Christianity has been showing this kind of discord for many years. More recently many Roman Catholic theologians have shown a similar bent. One result is that orthodox evangelicals have that much more within Roman Catholicism to dispute: not only the doctrinal differences dating back to the Reformation but now the liberal drift as well.
Not all thinking Roman Catholics are taking this route, for which we can be thankful. What evangelicals are beginning to realize is that the new Catholic pluralism is as much a problem for biblically oriented Protestants as the old issues, perhaps even more, and that there is more hope for fellowship with conservative Catholics.
The Prophet Elijah participated in one of the most stunning events in Scripture. In his confrontation with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah boldly proposed that both Jehovah and Baal be petitioned to send down fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice; whichever one did so would prove himself to be the true God and worthy of men’s worship. The priests of Baal, in their efforts to get fire from heaven, “cried aloud,” “cut themselves with swords and lances,” and “raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation.” But their crying and raving were in vain.
Then Elijah drenched his altar and his slain bull with water and called upon Jehovah. The fire fell, and the people said, “The Lord, he is God!” What a victory this was! How Elijah’s heart must have sung!
When King Ahab reported to his wife, Jezebel, that her priests had been slain by Elijah, she sent a message to the prophet: “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Although Elijah had just seen God do a mighty work, the word of this woman struck terror to his heart. He who had courageously faced the people and all the priests of Baal “was afraid and went for his life.” Moreover, in his post-victory depression he called on his delivering God to let him die—“Take away my life.” God was gracious: he sent the overwrought prophet away on a vacation and later “translated” him so that he did not experience death.
Depression sometimes does follow on the heels of a great triumph. In place of spiritual vitality there is apathy and even doubt. Could not Elijah’s God deliver him from Jezebel, too? Of course, but Elijah had lost his perspective on the problem.
Today many Christians are caught up in the prevailing mood of despair and doubt. The Church is beleaguered; the world seems to be in a shambles. But our God is one who “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).
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