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Teach Your Children Well

In May of 1925, John Scopes was arrested for teaching about evolution in his high school science class. The end result was what was officially known as Tennessee vs. John Scopes—dubbed by the press “The Monkey Trial.” At the request of the defense, the jury found Scopes guilty and fined him $100. As the defense hoped, the verdict went to the State Supreme Court, but contrary to their expectations, that court dropped the case due to a technicality. Nonetheless, the trial and its publicity proved to help those wanting to bring the teaching of evolution into the school system, hastening what was perhaps by then inevitable.

Eighty years to the day after that arrest, the Kansas Board of Education will begin to hear testimony about scientific controversies over evolution. The hearings were called by a three-member subcommittee of the State Board of Education that thinks students should hear more criticism of Charles Darwin's theory of how species originate. Groups opposed to mandatory criticism of evolution are boycotting the hearings. So the group will only hear from those who advocate “intelligent design,” which posits that intelligence is the best explanation for the complexities found in nature.

Of course, most people in the world join me in believing that there is an intelligent designer, the God who created all that is. This is true for the 2 billion Christians, the 1 billion Muslims, as well as Jews and many others of faith. Knowledge of evolution has not caused mass disbelief. Darwin himself seems to have seen evolution as not being incompatible with faith. In the close to his “Of the Origin of the Species” he wrote,

“There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

Others since Darwin have posited that God’s creation of the world by means of evolution would not be incompatible with the sequence of forms found in the Genesis 1 account, were “day” taken in the spirit of Psalm 90:4, "For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night."

I am not writing to neither defend evolutionary theory, nor dismiss a traditional view of the creation account found in Genesis. I would like to point out that there is a breadth of understanding within what is orthodox Christian thought on the subject. This does make it difficult for a school system to account for in its own decisions about what should be taught. This is why proponents of change in Kansas are advocating teaching that some see “intelligent design” behind creation without directly teaching about a creator God or a Judeo-Christian view of creation. Many of these proponents are, no doubt, hopeful that this will be a step back toward teaching children creationism in schools, but the current debate stops far short of that goal.

This brings up larger issues of what the school system can and will teach our children. While we have many persons of faith within the school system, who would view their job as a ministry, that job does not leave room for teaching about our faith. For what was being considered in Tennessee in 1925 and is now being reconsidered in Kansas, is what our children are to be taught in public school.

When it comes to faith in God, we can not count on the school system to teach our children. We were never supposed to do so. Scripture places teaching faith into the hands of parents and grandparents.

Deuteronomy 4:9 warns, “But watch out! Be very careful never to forget what you have seen the Lord do for you. Do not let these things escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.”

And in the central statement of Judaism, called the “Shema,” for the word for “hear” which is first word of the prayer, we also see instructing children is an expectation. Deuteronomy 6:4-7, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again.”

While prayer in public schools may have become politically problematic, prayer for our schools is not only permitted, but should be the job of us all. Certainly your child will have had teachers who prayed for him or her regularly. Hopefully, you have also prayed for your children’s teachers.

But no matter how we pray for them and no matter what happens in the current debate in Kansas, the job of teaching our children about the faith that is in us was never meant to be left to the school system alone. Teaching the faith is primarily the job of the parents and grandparents and then the community of faith to which they belong. Even in some idealized past; the job of teaching your children about your faith was never to be left to others.

(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.) 

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