Where Should Christian Teachers Stand on Controversial Issues?
Disclaimer #1: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. If you need legal help, please seek an attorney for advice. You can ask a Christian attorney your legal questions here.
Disclaimer #2: At Teach 4 the Heart, our primary audience is Christian educators, and one of our goals is to help Christian teachers understand how the Bible impacts all of our life, including our careers as educators. If you’re not a Christian, fair warning: I suspect you may not understand this article and may likely disagree. And that’s okay. But if you are a follower of Christ and find yourself disagreeing, I challenge you to ask yourself if your disagreements are based on Scripture or your own thoughts or beliefs.
Okay, let’s think this through together.
Our society is getting further and further from God, and for those of you who teach in a secular school, it can be tough to figure out where you need to draw the line between going with the flow and standing up for what you believe in. I recall an email I received from Emily – a senior elementary education student at a secular university. She had this exact concern:
To say that the university and the things that I am learning are liberal and extremely secular based is an understatement. I feel alone in my program because I feel as if I’m the only Christian that won’t budge on my morals. I am trying to be open-minded and embrace the practices and ways of thinking they’re teaching us without changing what I believe but I’m trying to figure out what that fine line is between embracing new practices and beliefs and knowing when not to change or alter my way of thinking.
In my program (especially this semester) we have been talking about the LGBT community, LGBT friendly practices, etc. I don’t agree with the lifestyle but I still want to love them-whether they’re parents of students or a student specifically. Just like I love my friends who are sinful I want to love people who identify as gay without condoning their lifestyle choice. We talk about having childrens books in our classrooms that have a family with 2 moms or 2 dads and I’m struggling to know where to draw the line. I want all students to feel welcomed and comfortable in my classroom but I also don’t want to have things in my classroom that go against what I believe. We also talk about having conversations in our classrooms about the LGBT lifestyle and I don’t know how I feel about that either.
I know that the first few years of teaching are really hard and I want to have a firm foundation of my faith and how to incorporate my beliefs into my teaching and how I go about teaching. Hopefully you can offer me a little encouragement and insight in this issue!
So where exactly is the line? How do you stay true to your faith in the midst of so much pressure – both on this hotly-charged issue and on many others? And what about the (possibly even more worrisome) questions about students who want to identify as the opposite gender? What do we do with all this?
Well, the answers certainly aren’t simple, and full disclosure – I’ve always taught in a Christian school, so I haven’t had to deal with these issues in the same way as many of you have. But these issues are critical, so here are a few thoughts that to get us thinking in the right direction:
As Christian Teachers in Public Schools….
- We must believe what the Bible says. The Bible is quite clear about what is right and wrong, what is destructive and what is healthy. The question is – will we believe it? God is God, and He doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t change. If we claim to believe the Bible, then we must believe all of the Bible. We must ground our beliefs in His inerrant, unchanging Word, not on the ever-changing prevailing winds of our culture.
We need to think Biblically about every aspect of life. Our faith goes way beyond the Sunday morning worship service – it should impact every issue we face. We must know the truth and understand how it applies to the issues of our society.
- We must love without condoning sin. I love that Emily already has a good grasp on this concept, as it is vital. We absolutely must love our students. They must see that love every day in our words, our actions, and our care for them. There should never be a doubt in their minds that we care deeply for them and are desire to help them and see them succeed.
But loving someone does not mean that you condone sin and destructive behavior in their lives. In fact, it means quite the opposite. When you truly love someone, you want to help them. And depending on your relationship, that may mean confronting them with the truth. Now to be clear, in the case of your students or their parents, it’s probably not your place to confront them about their life choices. But we must still remember that truly loving someone means that we do what is best for them whenever possible. And that means that we don’t encourage wrong, destructive behavior.
- We must realize that there are those who want us to indoctrinate our students. There are many who want you to slowly convince your students that the LGBT lifestyle is not only acceptable but to be applauded. And our secular universities are trying to indoctrinate new teachers into thinking that if you don’t do this then you’re not a good teacher. They want you to think that if you don’t openly embrace the gay lifestyle that you will alienate certain students. But it’s just not true. The system just wants to pressure us into pushing their anti-biblical and ultimately destructive agenda.
p.s. If you think that “secular” means “neutral” and that that should be our goal as Christian teachers, I hope you’ll check out this article here where I debunk the myth that public schools could ever be truly neutral.
- We must do what is best for our students. If we believe what the Bible says then we realize that promoting wrong behavior would be harmful to our students. And if we love our students, we certainly want what’s best for them.
You do not have to promote a gay or transgender lifestyle to your students – especially to elementary students. They do not need to be discussing this issue at all unless it comes up in another form. And they certainly don’t need to be taught that it’s just as good to have 2 moms as it is to have a mom and a dad.
Our society is not just trying to make sinful behavior acceptable. They are taking it one dangerous step further and trying to change the very definition of what is normal. For example, instead of promoting the ideal of a traditional family, they want to push the idea that 2 moms or 2 dads is just as good – thereby changing the definition of family that has stood for thousands of years. They realize that the way to change these definitions is to change the thinking of the next generation – and I have to say their strategy is working. But we absolutely should not help them in their destructive task – on this issue or on any issue. It’s simply not what is best for our students. So why would we participate?
- We can and must teach the truth. When I wrote awhile back on the topic, “Should Teachers Leave Their Faith at Home?” I got some interesting responses – many of which argued that we shouldn’t present our faith to our students. That actually wasn’t even what I was trying to say. Of course you can’t stand in front of your class and proclaim “Thus says the Lord,” but my point is that the truth should be such a part of who you are and what you believe that it cannot help but infuse itself into your teaching and interactions.
Everyone has personal philosophies and beliefs that influence what they say and do, and even the public school system, by and large, has its own beliefs and agendas. So while you cannot openly promote any particular faith or religion, that doesn’t mean you have to forsake what you know to be true when you walk into your classroom.
Once again, to be clear, I’m not saying to start preaching the gospel in your math class. But I am saying that it’s okay and good to allow the truth to shine through. On this question, for example, it is right and good to present an example of a traditional family, to discuss your own marriage (or the marriages of those you know) in positive terms, and to speak about the blessings of a life-long commitment.
- We have more freedom than you might think. Don’t be tricked into thinking that anything religious simply cannot be brought up. That’s just not the case. According to the article “Teachers’ Rights on Campus” presented by the Liberty Counsel, you have the right to discuss religious topics in an objective manner as long as they are related to the curriculum. And you certainly have the right to answer any questions that a student asks you – even if they are in regards to your own personal faith and beliefs. We must take advantage of the opportunities that arise.
You may also consider joining a group like Christian Educators Association International that will help you better understand the rights that you have in this regard.
- We must be willing to face criticism. Even though we have Constitutionally protected rights, there are those who will pressure you and maybe even try to silence you or take away your job if you don’t toe the line. But, my fellow Christian, we need to be willing to take this risk. Do we care more about our students or our job? I’m not telling you to do something stupid, but I’m telling you not to be ruled by fear.
- We must pray for wisdom & seek the Spirit’s guidance. Above all else, we must pray. If we’re trying to do this on our own, we will land ourselves in a heap of trouble and may even do more harm than good. Determine to pray for wisdom and to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit in these and all situations that you face in your classroom.
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Update: If you’re struggling with what I’ve said it may be helpful to read some of my clarifying comments in response to others below. I received an email with this statement that I thought was helpful: “On the issue of LGBT I don’t think we should give opinions as educators.” This is actually basically what I’m saying. In most cases, it is not our place to say anything or give any opinion at all (unless you are somehow in a position where that is called for). The problem is that many teachers are feeling pressure TO give an opinion in favor of the LGBT lifestyle – something that would violate not only their faith but what they believe is best for their students. And my point is that we shouldn’t be pressured into doing this. This question just doesn’t need to be brought up at all in the classroom (especially lower elementary classrooms) unless absolutely necessary.
Image Credit: Cover of Mommy, Mama, and Me by Leslea Newman. This book “shares the loving bond between same-sex parents and their children.”