Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Creation still matters!

Rhea Central High School, 1925
Photo: Smithsonian

Here we go again...

Continuing on with my thoughts about the importance of beliefs, I want to first re-affirm that creation/evolution is not a gospel issue.  Those who reject young-age creationism (or believe it) can still be Christians, but that doesn't mean that our beliefs about creation don't matter.

I was reminded of that just now when I got a message from a friend who teaches at a Christian high school.  I don't know all the details, but the story is frustratingly familiar.  I've changed some of the details here to protect privacy and because the details are kind of irrelevant - this kind of stuff keeps happening again and again and again.  When will we learn?

My friend told me that his school hired a new science teacher this year, but no one bothered to ask what she believed about creation.  Apparently, she's not a young-age creationist, and the students are up in arms.  I shudder to think how this is going to end.

Once again, let me plead with administrations everywhere: This issue is IMPORTANT.  No, it's not a gospel issue, but I guarantee that there are people in your constituency who feel very strongly about young-age creationism (either for or against).  You can't just brush this off because you don't care or you don't see what the big deal is.  This is obviously a big deal.

Ninety years ago, my home of Dayton, TN thought it would be a great idea to have a test case tried here at the Rhea County Courthouse to see if the new anti-evolution law was constitutional.  It took only a few weeks before the people of the town realized that they had made a mistake, but by then, it was too late.  The Scopes Trial brought international infamy and mockery to Dayton.  Of course, they had an excuse: No one in 1925 had ever seen anything like the Scopes Trial before.  You don't have that excuse, so wise up.

You can't ignore the creation/evolution issue.  Every school needs to have some kind of policy or statement on the subject.  You also can't just make one department be creationist.  I've heard of schools who require affirmations of creationism only from the Bible department or the science department.  Militant anti-creationists (or anti-evolutionists) can be from any discipline.  A school where teachers feud with each other over creationism is not a good thing.  No one wants a teacher sowing discord.

It would be wonderful if one day we didn't have to deal with this kind of tribalism.  Maybe one day we could all be working toward the same goal, together seeking a better understanding of God's creation.  But that day is not today.  Today, we still wrestle with scoffers and mockers in our midst: Those who claim that young-age creationism is a litmus test of Christian orthodoxy, and those who think that young-age creationists are fools and morons.  We can and should strive for something better, but in the meantime, an effective manager will understand the times and know how to deal with the people that exist here and now.

So this is all well and good, but what should a school do if they find themselves in this kind of situation?  The first thing to understand is that it's going to be difficult to find a solution that everyone will be happy with.  The most obvious options have serious drawbacks:
  • The school could stand by the teacher and let her teach whatever she wants. That's going to alienate at least some parents who will seek another school, which is their right and privilege.  Beyond that practicality, I think it's unwise to just allow teachers to teach whatever they want.  We teachers will be held to a higher account because of what we teach, and I think that those who try to abdicate that responsibility or pass the buck to someone else will be judged harshly.
  • The school could request that the teacher not speak about evolution or origins, which some (probably the teacher) will see as an offense against "academic freedom."  It's also not an option for a science teacher or other teachers that have to deal with the question of origins.  It really would be irresponsible if you told your science department or Bible department not to talk about creation or evolution.
  • Another possibility is simply dismissing the teacher, which could very well end in a lawsuit.  I suppose you could ask nicely that the teacher resign, or maybe negotiate a severance deal.  This option will create the most hard feelings of all possibilities.  If you want to create bitterness and resentment that might last for decades, do this.  Also, you'll create yet another "martyr" story for anti-creationists.  "This poor, innocent teacher lost her job because she didn't accept the theologically and scientifically silly position of young-age creationism."  Yeah, we really need another one of those.
All of these possibilities become even more complicated if the school has never had an official position on creation.  Trying to enforce one now after the fact is not fair.

Is there a better solution?  Yes, I hope there is.  I know of at least one college that tightened its statement of faith over a two-year period.  That process was not exactly pleasant, but it also didn't make the headlines or end in lawsuits. The administration has to bear a lot of the responsibility for making this process work well.  Administrators need to think about being servant leaders and not merely ordering people around when they disagree with you.  Remember the words of Jesus: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:25-26).

To the parents and teachers involved: Pray earnestly that this can be worked out. Do NOT pray that your opinion will prevail.  Pray that the peace of Christ and the unity of the church will be preserved as you work out your differences with fear and trembling.  Remember that you might be wrong, despite all the strident voices who tell you that the church cannot afford to be wrong on this question. In fact, don't listen to those strident voices.  They will lead you astray.  This isn't a gospel issue.  God won't send you to hell if you get it wrong.

Pray for humility for all sides.  Pray that the administration that God has placed in authority over that school will make wise and humble decisions.  Pray that the teachers involved, especially the teachers at the center of the storm, will humbly submit to the authority in their lives and humbly speak the truth to them. Pray for the parents and the students that their outrage will be calmed and that the Holy Spirit will guide them.  Pray like you've never prayed before.

Next, you need to practice the spiritual disciplines together.  Pray together.  Read the scripture together.  Work together.  That doesn't mean you get together with the people who agree with you to pray that the "other side" loses.  That means you meet with those who oppose your view and pray with them.  The most important thing in this conflict is not getting the right answer.  The most important thing is becoming more like Christ during the conflict.  Use this to help you love God and love your neighbor.  Those are the greatest commandments.  So practice being Christian together with those who don't see things your way.  Figure out how to love your enemy.

Finally, please communicate with each other.  Do not give in to the temptation to gossip.  This is no time for whispering in the hall or meeting behind closed doors.  Administrators need to bring everyone together and let them know what's happening.  If you try to do things alone and in secret, you're just asking for the situation to blow up in your face.  I'm not saying you shouldn't have private time to think and deliberate, but you need to keep the stakeholders informed and aware. People will gossip or maybe even start talking to reporters if you don't.  Those of you who are not administrators need to practice discipline and not stoke the rumor-mill with disrespect and anger towards God's anointed leaders.  Find ways to respectfully and clearly communicate your objections.  That will require you to think instead of just reacting.  Pray that God will show you where you are wrong as you think about your own position.

For the rest of the church who are not directly involved, please pray for every school now facing these problems.  We are the church, the body of Christ.  When one part suffers, we all suffer.  Pray for teachers looking for jobs that they will wisely choose good employers.  Pray for teachers who already have jobs that they will make wise and respectful choices about their curriculum and that they will be humble and submissive when dealing with parents and administrators.  Pray for administrators that they will strive to serve as leaders and follow Christ's example as He humbled himself to die for a world that rejected Him.  Pray for parents faced with such difficult choices in protecting and educating their children.  Pray that they will also make wise and humble choices and that they will trust the Lord to guide and protect their children.  Pray for the students that they will see in adults the Holy Spirit at work and not just petty power-plays like the unbelievers.  The students are watching everything these teachers, parents, and administrators are doing.  Pray for the culture around us that they will see Jesus Christ as we work through these difficulties.  Pray that we will not once again make a mockery of our witness by ugly, public squabbling and infighting.

Let me close with the wisdom of Scripture:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.... Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Phil. 2:1-4, 14-16).

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.