Friday, September 4, 2009

Religious Liberty part II

As a sort of short follow up on yesterday's post, I wanted to talk a little bit more about the religious liberty policy our school district is considering and its ramifications for teachers.

I guess the way I interpret the policy is that it allows for teaching about religion from an academic standpoint but not a devotional standpoint. To cross the line into devotional exhibition would be considered a proselytism, a violation of the policy, and possibly grounds for punishment.

But let's say a teacher is talking about the divide of Christianity between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. This can be approached academically by discussing the Great Schism as a political struggle between Istanbu/Constantinople and Rome by two theocratic political factions. But there is more to the story than that. The debate is also about Apostolic Succession, and whom is the patriarch of Christianity, Peter or Paul.

So a student could ask you, "What do you think about that?" and any answer is likely to be loaded with heavy theological implications that could be over the vague boundary line. Or a student could ask you about the impact of Martin Luther on the political landscape of Europe. And any honest answer is going to have to do with a centuries-old religious debate. You can't talk about Luther without talking about the reasons why he reformed, all of which have high theological implications that in some way tie into our beliefs. That's likely to offend some and be interpreted as devotional exhibition on the part of the teacher.

As a Christian I find it impossible to discuss religion from a totally academic standpoint. It is impossible for me to separate the devotional from the academic. It's impossible for me to talk about the significance of Christianity without sharing a bit about my belief and faith in Christ.

So how are teachers supposed to know where to draw the boundary line?

How can you open up the school to academic religious liberty for the teachers without opening up devotional liberty and faith sharing as well. For me, you can't. It's either all or nothing. Everything goes or nothing goes. We can either talk about our faith or we can't.

Again, as yesterday, another sticking point in this issue is more likely to arise when someone of a non-locally-dominant faith tradition begins practicing in school. I suppose people of other faiths probably have just as much trouble separating the academic from the devotional as I do. We Christians may not have a problem if a Christian teacher unwittingly grazes across the boundary. But are we going to be equally forgiving if a Muslim or Buddhist teacher does the same?

I'm only asking because we need to think about it before we go into it.

I'd really like to hear from any teachers on this issue if you're comfortable speaking up. Be sure and familiarize yourself with the policy before commenting. It's linked on yesterday's post.

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