A Christian evangelical group who has worked with inner-city housing projects for twenty years in Tulsa, Okla. has been banned from continuing their work due to the Bible study classes which were being held in the public housing projects. The fellowship was told that the Bible classes were a violation of policy prohibiting religious education and instruction on the property of public housing. A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the organization citing a clear violation of a Supreme Court ruling that allows a religious group the right to use public institutions.
Although I don’t know the particulars of the case and do not have a strong enough grasp of the law to predict the outcome of this lawsuit, a quote from Larry Koehn, the evangelical organization head, caught my attention. In describing the dialogue that ensued between him and the housing authority, he said that “we can come in and play games and talk about moral things but we can’t mention the name of God.” In other words, this Christian group is certainly invited to continue the good humanitarian work they are involved with, they can just no longer bring the name of God into the mix.
On a similar note, the Bush administration established the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001 which has been renamed to the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships by Barack Obama (a critically important name change). In what might surprise many of my readers, Bush’s establishment of this office is something that I would have been happy to see never happen. Not because I am unconcerned with the social improvement these initiatives might bring about, but because the stipulations placed upon the programs leave them anything but faith-based. Such a label is spurious at best. How can an initiative which is genuinely based on its faith truly be socially engaged when the government funds it receives prohibits the faith group from activities like prayer, worship, evangelism, and religious instruction? It can’t. All that is left is social ministry, which is immensely important, but let’s just leave the concept of this being a faith-based initiative alone.
The real point of concern is when we place these two realities alongside the ministries of our churches, in particular our ministries to youth and children. Almost every conversation I have with the parent of a teenager involves morality. They want to know, or are concerned, with how much I am pushing morals on the students. Forget their view of God, forget their understanding of faith, forget a passion and love for the Bible, forget a dedication to Christ Jesus, what we really want to know is if teenagers are sitting too close to each other on the van! I don’t deny that moral issues are of great importance, but the root of these issues lies in the aforementioned things. Children’s ministry poses an even greater threat. Dr. Russell Moore has written one of the most powerful articles I have read in a long time concerning the possibility of teaching Open Theism at VBS. He is somewhat using hyperbole, but his point rings true. He says,
Today’s Sunday School and Bible study lessons, for adults as well as for children, often seem to use God as a prop for what is seen as the higher pursuit of “Christian values.” There is much in Scripture about Christian morality and life in the Spirit. But this behavior is contingent upon the people of God knowing the attributes of their God. . .Too often in our preaching and teaching we fail to communicate to our people the preciousness of knowing the God who has redeemed us in Christ. Instead, we seem to refer to Him in order to move on to the “more important” priorities of seeing our children share their Play-Doh.
Such a trend cannot be blamed on the dedicated laypeople who are doing their very best to teach and lead children and youth (and adults). This is a leadership issue and will only be changed when our pastors and elders begin to take a greater interest in what is actually be taught and the emphasis on the teaching. Is God where the final emphasis is placed? Or values? If the latter, then we would be much better off if we stop passing the plates and contact our local government representative. We might qualify for funding.