When former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee stated this week we shouldn’t be surprised to see violence in the schools because God isn’t welcome in the classroom, he wasn’t saying anything new.
In December 2005, 700 Club televangelist Pat Robertson told residents of Dover, Pennsylvania they should no longer call on God in time of need. He was reacting to U.S. District Judge John E. Jones’ decision that rebuked the Dover school board for its thinly veiled attempt to bring creationism into the science curriculum using the euphemism of “Intelligent Design.” In Robertson’s view, a God unwelcome in the textbooks is a God who will be unresponsive to prayer, at least in Dover.
In October 2006, the then CBS Evening News lead anchor, Katie Couric, introduced a segment called “Free Speech” in which an angry father of a Columbine victim also railed at the absence of God in schools. In his case, he was responding to the October 2, 2006 massacre of six Amish girls at the West Nickel Mines School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His was a curious argument as all his talk of the evils of evolution promoting “survival of the fittest” didn’t match the sight of a secluded, very religion-oriented private girls’ school and a community that astonished a nation with their emphasis on forgiveness and comforting the shooter’s family.
It seems when many advocates claim God is missing from public schools, they really mean two things. One is the lack of teaching of Biblical principles, primarily creationism. The other is the legal impediments to public prayer. To be clear, it’s important to distinguish public prayer from simple, personal prayer as defined in Matthew 6: 5-8. There, Jesus discourages hypocritical public prayers and encourages private communication with a God who knows “your needs before you utter them.”
But, sidestepping scriptural instructions, voices like those of Huckabee and Robertson imply God’s protection is conditional on adherence to specific religious doctrine. One wonders how the survivors of the West Nickel Mines tragedy would respond to such views. Or those who’ve endured natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy which are, of course, indiscriminate in their destruction.
Further, divine protection doesn’t seem to insure many religious institutions. Earlier this month, on December 3, there was a shooting at the First United Presbyterian Church, Coudersport, Pa, where an aggrieved husband shot his ex-wife in a pew during services. On October 26, after the murder of a church volunteer at another congregation, the Rev. Henry P. Davis observed, “We have security, but our security officers are not armed. But that might have to change at a time when armed persons come into churches for robberies, deranged persons come in with issues.”
And, apparently security officers aren’t the only ones standing guard anymore. This week, I admit I was astonished to see a number of preachers and priests discussing carrying concealed weapons. Guns in the pulpit, guns in the choir loft, one wonders if the shepherds and angels will need AK-47s to guard the manger in future Nativity scenes.
Sure, in deference to Huckabee and Robertson, there are numerous Old Testament passages characterizing a Creator who’s both petulant and punitive. But it’s hard to imagine the Prince of Peace lining up school districts or churches in a naughty or nice list. How does anyone restrict an omniscient being with legislation, court decisions, or even denominational theology? Instead, I expect that this month countless students are mouthing quick prayers as their final exams arrive on their desks, even in those secular biology classes. At the same time, perhaps some Bible readers will remember John 18:11 where Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”