This is one of those posts where I know people are going to hate me, but if I am going to be true to the Church I minister in, the students I serve, and the Bible-belt culture I live in, I have to write it.
I was watching the news tonight and they were talking about a Christian student group at Colleyville-Heritage High School "fighting for their right" to worship after school at Colleyville High School. This group "Students Standing Strong" apparently brought in the strong arm of the lawyers to get the school to allow them to worship in the gymnasium.
The way it is being reported on Fox 4 news, I get real mixed feelings about it... but they could be presenting it in a bad light (news often does). But, since I am a youth minister about 15 miles away from this school, I thought I might ask one of my students in that school district what they knew of the group.
I asked this person: What do you know about this group? Is it a good thing? What are your feelings about it all? Honesty is appreciated...
Here is what they wrote back (their words, not mine, but names and genders are deleted):
Students Standing Strong is a Christian club for our two high schools in our district. Our high school won't allow SSS to be held with in our school, [but] the other high school Grapevine will. I'm not sure why our school won't host it, but I do know that our Principal's wife is a priest, so I don't believe he has a personal bias towards it.
My opinion of SSS isn't a very fair one, I admit. I went to the first meeting with one of my Christian friends... after much prodding by another one of my more "evangelical friend[s]" who really wanted me to go. I think [it was] because [this person] gets sick of how PC [politically correct] I am at school, because I'm not very verbal about my faith, [and] instead I try to let Christ shine through my example rather than my words.
Anyways, [my friend] and I went to it at GHS [Grapevine High School]. We had a hard time finding a parking spot and we came into the cafeteria that was filled to the brim with students. People were serving food so we got that, but we were starting to feel sort of uncomfortable about it because we were seeing so many kids that were the type of kids you just didn't care to see outside of school, and it felt really fake just being there. Like "Look! I'm trendy too! What, YOU didn't know that I was a Christian? It's like my second life, duh!"
I saw my friend... [who] seem[ed] to enjoy it, so I didn't express my opinion. Then after we all signed our name (they had over 1000 attendees that night ) we were herded into the gymnasium. All of us packed it. Then we had a few people introduce themselves, yelled a couple of huzzahs and then this local band came out and started playing. It was a Christian band but you couldn't hear the lyrics. And they just kept playing.
Seriously Nate, it had as much spiritual value as a talent show. [My friend] and I looked at each other and we were sort of turned off, so we quietly slipped out of the doors. As we were sneaking out we came across my friend... [who] asked us accusingly where we were going. With out any qualms I told [my friend] that we were leaving and [they] told us that [they were] doing the same thing! For [them] the whole thing was so showy, and the last straw was when [they] turned around to see all the "shining faces" of Christ, only to see people making out in the stands! In the end we all laughed it off and went out to Subway where we had a really enjoyable Bible study.
Basically, I was sort of disgusted by the program. It could be a very beneficial club if well directed, but I think it lost focus of its goals while trying to appeal and involve everybody and become a "just say no all ye Christians" organization to reduce alcohol consumption. Plus, how is an organization based off a religion devoted to loving one another going to accomplish its goals by creating hostility in its own community through brandishing lawyers like weapons? The only offensive weapon given to us by God is his word. Perhaps the additional lawyer weapon was omitted in the translation.
I think the last paragraph is priceless. I am as "evangelical" as nearly anyone. I love to tell people I meet about Jesus and the love God lavishes on us through him. And yet I am perplexed at those who would "fight for their rights" as Christians using legal coercion. I mean, I understand using the courts and legal coercion to protect one's home, property, person, or family from crime. But to force Jesus in somewhere he is not wanted? If we are the body of Christ, is this not like using Christ's foot to kick in the door of the public school? Is it not like brandishing Christ's fist to give someone a legal "sucker punch" if they do not let us do what we want?
The only place Jesus ever used force when he was on Earth was in a religious establishment: to drive hypocrisy out of the temple. He never used force to bust into people's houses who did not want him there.
I can understand that the school district didn't want the gym taken over by a religious group because they don't want lawsuits from atheists and non-Christians, nor do they want to be forced to grant similar rights to other religions to pass out their religious propaganda as well. I mean, Texas schools are in enough trouble just trying to teach academic subjects right now. We don't need to make them a religious battle ground as well! Our students might not know reading or math... but they can have praise and worship led by a uber-trendy band after school! Praise Jesus!
But, the parents and pastors got some Christian legal defense team to write some nasty letters about potential lawsuits and lots of [taxpayer] money lost in the legal battle, and guess what? The school district crumbled. Now the Christians have successfully used legal COERCION to demand their RIGHTS. My question is this: Is this type of coercion a Christ-like attitude, and does this type of coercion help establish God's Kingdom on Earth?
First of all, I would say that demanding "our rights" is not a Christian attitude at all. Jesus emptied Himself of all of His rights, even His place in Heaven, to become our servant- our slave (Phil 2:1-11). Jesus tells us to give up all rights to ourselves and give everything self-sacrificially to serve Him (cf. Mat 10; 16.24-28). Paul tells us that we are not our own, we were bought at a price (1Co 6). Paul does not even try to "grasp" his own rights by force (cf. 1Co 9), but instead gives up his own rights so that he could "become all things to all people, that [he] might by all means save some" (1Co 9.22).
We do not spread God's Kingdom by demanding our rights as citizens in a supposedly "Christian Nation" (is there such a thing?). Rather, we spread God's Kingdom by sacrificially emptying ourselves in Love and serving others. They will know we are Christians by our love, not by our legal threats or political platform (cf. John 13:34-35). Jesus Himself says that if we want to be "first" (first in the Church, first in society), we must become "slave of all" (Mark 10:44). Conversion of culture comes by spreading the Gospel through Love (genuine caring for all people), Service (self-emptying self-giving to help others), and Truth (well reasoned discourse on the reality of Jesus Christ). It does not come, it cannot come, by "demanding our rights". That is to use the weapons of the world, and we are called to NOT use the weapons of the world (2Co 10.4).
Secondly, does the impersonal sharing of the Gospel through mass media work at forming Christ in anyone- particularly in teenage students? In my 13 years of experience working in youth ministry and counseling, I can honestly say that if someone is not discipled by a mentor in a one-on-one or small group setting, they will not remain Christian, no matter how sincere a conversion experience they have ever had at a mass rally. Furthermore, I will tell you that someone who has never had a emotional "conversion experience", if they are discipled for years in a small group, will become a devoted follower of Jesus. Furthermore, if you get people serving others and praying for others, their likelihood to become a follower of Christ goes up exponentially.
In fact, to take it a step further, I doubt that massive, consumer-oriented, entertainment focused rallies, can ever do anything to bring anyone into the Kingdom unless there are tons of mature Christians on hand to integrate converts into the Body of Christ over the long haul. In short, I have a problem with the idea that legally coercing a school to allow a non-church affiliated "Christian" group to pack a gym full of students, have a "pep rally for Jesus", and entertain them with a "really cool" Christian rock band, will do anything to spread God's Kingdom on Earth. In fact, I fear it may do quite the opposite.
Wouldn't it be a better use of Kingdom vision and Kingdom resources to get all of these "on fire" youth into mentoring programs where they go to Junior Highs and Elementary schools once a week and tutor and mentor at risk kids? Or, how about getting Christian adults to come in and tutor at-risk high school teens? In this way people could learn that they were genuinely loved by Christians, and this could open a door to share the Gospel with others.
Or, how about using the same energy to start a campus club that gathers old clothes and shoes from rich suburban kids and gives them to the needy? Or, how about a club that goes around doing lawn work for elderly and indigent residents in their community? Or, how about starting a system of small-group Bible studies and prayer groups that met before or after school, so that people could actually be discipled, rather than merely entertained?
I know I am just a voice crying out in the wilderness here... But isn't that what this generation is hungering for?
No more plastic, trendy, legally-enforced Jesus. We want the real Thing!