A few years ago a suburban school district was the site of a memorable incident. A 10-year-old boy, ostensibly protesting the presence of costumed witches and demons in his public school’s Halloween parade, declared he was going to march as Jesus — complete with white robe, paper crown and twig crown of thorns.
The boy’s mother, host of a local gospel radio talk show, claimed that the principal told her son to forget the Jesus costume and instead parade as a Roman emperor. The principal claimed that a meeting with the youngster and his mother resulted in a mutual decision that the boy would parade as a contemporary of Jesus.
The mother took the matter to Federal Court, charging that the district had attacked freedom of religion. She added that the district was giving unbridled discretion to school officials to suppress free speech. A self-described Christian conservative organization backed the mother’s suit, claiming that it “Defends the right to hear and speak the Truth.” (Note it is “the Truth,” not “our truth.”)
Before deciding the merits of the mother’s case, one should first ask: “Whom would Jesus sue?” After all, it was he who advised his followers thus:
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile,] carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow."
- Matthew 5:38-39
Why do so few self=professed Christians take this absolutely clear injunction to heart? Are they hypocrites professing beliefs and opinions that they do not actually hold? Are they befuddled and honestly fail to recognize that they simultaneously hold, and selectively act on, incompatible beliefs. Maybe they confuse their own desires with those of the almighty. Doubtless some are bunko artists looking to mine other people’s religiosity for money, status or fame. Still others might be mentally ill. But whatever the origin of their behavior, such individuals are dangerous. For what they lack in truthfulness, clarity, insight, honesty or mental health, they make up for in unscrupulousness or narcissistic conviction that their 'holy' end justifies most any means. Thus does religious dogma become synonymous with personal peculiarity, criminality or pathology.
Why should educators care about this sort of thing? Because religious true believers regularly target teachers, principals and superintendents, that’s why. Who better for these folks to stick a bull’s eye on than relatively powerless public educators?
Compounding this vulnerability, local school boards often grant serious regard to these hypocritical, opportunistic, narcissistic, befuddled, self-righteous or just plain crazy individuals.
Americans get along as well as they do by generally holding their tongue about their fellow citizen’s most deeply held beliefs. Most of us understand that doing otherwise destroys community. But such civility lends inadvertent cover and misplaced authority to the hypocrites, narcissists, numskulls, fools, knaves and scoundrels who misrepresent, or mistake, their own agendas for the teachings of Jesus.