Wesley Elsberry, on The Panda’s Thumb reports that the Clergy Project is nearning its goal of 10,000 signatures. As I write this, I see that it has attained that goal. I encourage all of my clergy friends to sign this document. It is not only protecting the teaching of science; it is protecting religious education as well. I encourage all of my friends and readers who are not clergy to pass this on to any clergy they know and urge them to sign it.
But now a quick note: You won’t find my signature here. Why? Because contrary to popular opinion, I am not clergy. I am not ordained. I am a writer and religious educator. I received my MA degree at a seminary (actually the graduate school granted it, but the classes were taken at a seminary). I study and teach Biblical languages and Biblical studies, but I’m not an ordained minister, and thus don’t qualify as “clergy.”
Why is this so important?
Both “creation” and “intelligent design” are essentially religious or theological doctrines. They are not science. Things are not necessarily bad because they aren’t science, but they should not be taking up time in the science classroom. Further, we should be very concerned if science teachers, chosen and employed by the government, trained to teach science are instead asked to teach religion.
Often Christians look at separation of church and state as a barrier to sharing their faith and even to living their lives as Christians. Separation of church and state is not about keeping you from being a Christian. It’s not even about keeping our leaders from being Christians, leading Christian (or better Christ-like) lives, and even testifying to their faith. It’s about keeping the government from promoting religion. We, as Christians, should want to keep the government out of the business of promoting religion.
Let me give two major reasons. First, the government tends to get things wrong many times. If I let the government prescribe prayer for my child in school, I have no guarantee that this prayer will be appropriate, in accordance with my beliefs, or in accordance with what I want my child to be taught. That’s my selfish reason for keeping the government out of it. Let me teach my child spiritual things. Let me choose a church, synagogue or other organization to teach my child about religion. Second, for me as a Christian, religion cannot be forced. When we place a person in authority in front of our child, someone who represents the state, however indirectly, we tend to imply a force of law to their faith. I believe that is damaging. Spirituality needs to be voluntary. Separation of church and state has given us that. This means, in addition, that we Christians, as the majority, need to be sensitive to the pressure we put on those in the minority, such as Jews, Muslims, or those who reject religion entirely when we attach our spiritual beliefs to the power of the government. I don’t believe we do ourselves any favors by doing so either.
But what if you disagree with what is taught in the classroom? No problem! If you are willing to get involved with your children, you have much more influence on them than the school does in any case. Get them some books on your point of view. Let them learn your beliefs from them.
Why can’t your child pray during those school hours? Actually, your child can pray. If you teach your children to pray, they can be involved in prayer and religious activity throughout the school. Student led prayer and student led religious activities are protected forms of free speech. Here the law forces us to do what we should have done anyhow–educate our children, and then trust them to lead.
Keeping science the subject of the science classroom will be good for both science and religion.