Religious Training is the Job of Churches, Families
This summer marks 50 years since the Supreme Court ruling that effectively banned official prayers in public schools.
Ever since, wave after wave of proposed bills and amendments have sought to undo that ruling – or at least circumvent it.
And now, a former minister says prayer as government-sanctioned religious training never had a place in public school classrooms anyway.
Students are free to pray, individually, to their heart’s content, says former minister and NASA engineer Charlie Webster, author of Revitalizing Christianity (www.NewCenturyMinistries.com).
“If we as Christians are looking to the government to instill biblical values in our youngest citizens, then we’re in bad shape,” says Webster “Any time the church wants the state to teach morality and biblical matters, we’re definitely on the wrong path.”
After working as an executive for the space shuttle program, Webster earned a master’s degree in New Testament studies and taught that subject at the college level. He offers a list of reasons why official school prayer could never be a good source of religious training, including:
• Religious pluralism: America is a melting pot of nationalities, cultures, ideas and especially religions. “If we did allow the reading of sacred writings and public prayers in schools, we Christians want to think that they would always be compatible with our beliefs,” he says. “But in this country, government must give equal time to all religions within a community. It would be extremely difficult – if not impossible – for schools to provide meaningful training for all the religions represented by their students.”
• Differences in the specifics: Even among Christians, different groups have disparate beliefs, customs and viewpoints. Again, there are too many to expect schools to address each in a meaningful way.
• Prayer in school was largely ignored: I know because I was one of those who joined my classmates in ignoring them.
• Pew’s rising “unaffiliated” percentage: In addition to religious variety, the Pew Research Center shows that more than 16 percent of 35,000 polled Americans check the “unaffiliated” box. They include atheists, agnostics and those who believe in nothing in particular. Whether non-believers are teachers or students, Webster says, their presence would present a number of dilemmas if official school prayer were sanctioned.
“The truth is that it was not what happened in schools that affected the moral fiber of this country; it was what happened in homes and churches,” Webster says. “Today, comparatively few Christian homes devote a significant amount of time to religious training, and more and more the same is true of churches.”
Nowadays, many churches have resorted to gimmicks in an effort to draw in more followers, he says. These attempts do more to distract from the Christian message than promote it, Webster says, and government-based policies have much the same effect.
“Instead of trying to find a political solution, we need to do our own jobs,” he says. “If all Christians did that, any political decision would be of no significance at all. The world is starving for what we as Christians are supposed to have, but we’ve left it behind.”
About Charlie Webster
A former minister with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biblical studies, Charlie Webster has taught the New Testament at the college level and has served as a minister. He is currently an engineer for NASA.