Category Archives: Law

“Separation” in the age of Bannon

I haven’t thought about “separation” much since leaving Fundy-land, a less-than-magical place where every decision I made as a Christian had to be run through a sieve of questions to be sure I wasn’t running afoul of the Doctrine of Separation.

Separation from sin is what defines Fundamentalism from Evangelicalism in their minds (and I’d say that’s essentially accurate, though it’s not the entirety of the difference).  It boils down to this: if someone is “sinning,” and you call them on it, and they don’t stop sinning, then you don’t hang out with them or do ministry with them or whatever. This idea extends to individuals, to entire churches or denominations, and to whole movements (basically any group in Christendom that doesn’t interpret the Bible the same way the Fundamentalists do).

Because Separation is THE critical doctrine in Fundy practice, Fundy Christians have to separate from people who don’t separate. The hall of mirrors is infinite. And no one can escape it once they’re labeled “someone who must be separated from.”  It’s one of the reasons my husband and I left the BJU orbit in our late 20s: with apologies to those who attempt to defend this as a legit biblical doctrine, it doesn’t hold water.

Here’s the most fair defense I can find of the doctrine of separation, as explained by Fundamentalist pastor Mark Minnick. I have a lot of respect for Minnick and sat under his teaching for several years. He’s a careful expositor. Though I disagree with his conclusions, he presents the best of the Fundy arguments here:
Mark Minnick on Separation (9 Marks-audio interview)
Article by Minnick on Separation (Frontline magazine)

I could have a whole ‘other discussion of how separation and legalism are related, and how separation is — at its core — a critical misunderstanding of how sin works.  If you’re interested, I wrote some posts about it a few years ago:  On Sin and On Sin Revisited.  I believe the central flaw of Fundamentalism in general and all Evangelical legalism is the rejection of Paul’s teaching at the end of Colossians 2: you can’t make enough rules to make yourself holy. Sin is on the inside, if you accept the traditional doctrine of the Fall and of sin, and as such it’s something that must be changed by God via redemption and Grace. Sanctification is active and ongoing, but it is also internal as much as it is external.

Fundamentalists talk a lot about how sin is inside us all, but they ACT as if it can be regulated and “solved” through shunning, excommunication, and rule-keeping.  [Side note: if you read that last sentence and thought, “Huh, that sounds like the tactics Evangelical conservatives are using to drive the narrative of a ‘culture war’ within American politics,” then you may understand why I think Evangelicalism has lost its Grace, and why I don’t want to be in that tribe anymore.]

In the end, Fundamentalism boils down to a lot of gate-keeping by the tribe to make sure everybody is following the rules, although not all rules are equally accepted…. and thus you have many small islands of Fundamentalism rather than a monolithic whole.  My BJU experience was qualitatively different than that of someone who attended PCC or Ambassador Bible College or Hyles Anderson or Northland or Detroit Baptist Bible Seminary or the Free Presbyterian Church’s seminary or ….  All of these little islands have their own rule book. Fail to play by the rules, and you’re voted off the island.  It’s been 100 years (or so) since Fundamentalism really came into its own as a movement, and most of those islands have merged into a few larger camps.

It’s important to note that “preserving a good testimony” is the club used to control people within Fundamentalism if there’s no clear biblical rule against doing something.  Take movies, for example.  Moves are BAD EVIL HORRIBLE NOOOOOO in Fundamentalism because of sex, language, violence, whatever. Mostly sex.  So no good person would dare set foot in a movie theater, right?  Even if you were going to see The Incredibles 2, how do people at the theater not know you aren’t there to see Slenderman or Sexx69?  So you’d better not go.

If you just spewed your coffee, I sympathize.  I lived this stuff, folks, and I thought it was Gospel truth well into my 20s.

Your “testimony” is everything in Fundamentalism because it’s about the only currency you have to gain prestige or power.  If someone can mount a credible accusation against your testimony, especially if you’re in ministry, you’re done.

Well, maybe.  There’s a stunning irony here that isolation + patriarchy + misogyny + ignorance + authoritarianism tends to work to the advantage of pedophiles and serial abusers, and that’s rampant in Fundamental churches.  (See my post about the GRACE Report at Bob Jones for a wee taste of that delightful topic.)

What’s separation got to do with Steve Bannon?

This morning, I read John Scalzi’s interesting post on the situation with Bannon and the New Yorker.  It’s a good take, and I recommend you take a minute to go read it. (Scalzi is a sci-fi writer and his blog Whatever is always a great read.)

The Whatever Digest, 9/4/18 (Scalzi)

Here are two paragraphs that grabbed my attention:

As a former journalist, I can understand Remnick’s thinking on this one: He’d been angling to interview Bannon for a while, and the idea of getting that festering lump of white “supremacy” on a public stage where he couldn’t equivocate or finesse his way out of his shitty racist ideas seemed like a good one. The problem was that Remnick was thinking with his journalist brain and not his event coordinator brain. The event coordinator brain should have realized that inviting Bannon to a New Yorker-branded “festival of ideas,” complete with travel expenses and honorarium, was in effect paying Bannon to take on the New Yorker imprimatur for his ideas. It’s not reportage; it’s the New Yorker saying “these ideas are important enough that we paid to get them on our stage.” And note well that Bannon was meant to be the headliner.

Which is of course the New Yorker’s, and Remnick’s, privilege — it’s perfectly within its rights to book a fascist piece of shit to its festival and hope people pay to see Remnick chat that fascist piece of shit up on a stage. But Remnick’s event coordinator brain should have probably realized there was going to be a backlash to that. It’s not just the New Yorker’s brand associating with shitty fascism up there on that stage; it’s the personal brand of everyone else on the program as well. Strangely enough, a fair number of other people didn’t want their brands smeared with shitty fascism, and theywere perfectly within their rights not to participate for that reason. Remnick’s problem then, as an event coordinator, was realizing that soon his “festival of ideas” would be nothing but shitty fascism unless he dropped Bannon. Oh, and that his staff hated it. Oh, and that social media hated it too.

Huh.  That, my friends, is the EXACT argument made by Fundamentalists (though for different reasons and with zero curse words) for refusing to share the stage with Billy Graham, and for then refusing to share the stage with any pastor who had shared the stage with Billy Graham.

If you’re new to all this and that example made zero sense to you, well, lucky you for not growing up in the weirdness that is Christian Fundamentalism and separatism.

Also, it’s worth noting that even the most moderate of Christians who doesn’t believe in The Doctrine of Separation™ as it’s practiced by Fundamentalists still holds to a line that he/she will not cross, though in general progressive Christianity is much more likely to take someone’s faith claim at face value and treat them like a brother/sister in Christ unless there’s evidence to the contrary.

It’s usually the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who demand receipts before they will accept someone as legitimate.  This might explain the shocked and horrified response of many moderate Christians to James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr, Eric Metaxas, and other Christian “leaders” who have rushed to affirm Trump as a baby Christian despite zero evidence to this being true (and plenty of evidence that Trump is using them for political power but they’re too stupid or power-hungry to see it).

Vox has a really good explainer on this, and it’s fair to the Evangelicals IMO.

And Metaxas got dragged hard on Twitter last week for playing into this ridiculous charade by Trump instead of seeing it as outright pandering to a group of people willing to trade away their conscience for the sake of some political power. But I digress….

Anyway, back to Scalzi….

John dives deeper into the question of when it’s right for an author to bail on an event to avoid appearing with someone distasteful like Bannon, and when it’s probably a poor decision.

Again, I was somewhat stunned to see the exact same style of argumentation happening here as was discussed in my ministry classes at BJU. How far is too far?  When is an author’s “testimony” on the line in the age of Bannon, Trump, and alt-right fascism?

Scalzi takes time to parse out which types of people would provoke him to withdraw his presence from an event (separation from the event because of the presence of others) vs when he’d be wiling to attend but not be on the same panel (personal distance) vs just avoiding being on a panel with someone because it would generate into a mess (or the person is a jerk).

Notable:  Scalzi defines his rules based on a mix of factors, and he progressively intensifies his “distance” (and the lengths to which he would go to enforce that distance) from someone based on how reprehensible their ideas are (or their actions as a person).  So, for example, he has no desire to be anywhere near Ann Coulter (and I agree with him, having heard her speak myself) but he wouldn’t pull out of an event just because she was there.

The question I’ve been chewing on today:  is this qualitatively the same species as Fundamentalist separation, or different?

It’s common in Fundamentalism to reject anyone outside the tribe because of their loose moral code and “anything goes” associations (and thus loss of testimony).  I think Scalzi is a great example of how this simply isn’t true. He’s got a clear and well-organized set of principles plus a clear plan for implementation and flexibility to judge things case-by-case.

Why do I reject Fundamentalist separation but laud Scalzi for his “separation” from alt-right fascists?

I think it boils down to this:

  1. Scalzi isn’t pretending he’s gaining brownie points from a higher power because of his rules.  Legalism can be defined as using my actions (especially rule-keeping) to gain favor with the Higher Power, and it’s linked to self-righteousness. It operates on both the personal level and the group or institutional level.  Do progressives fall prey to self-righteous legalism? Oh, hell yes. I’ll take that up below.
  2. Scalzi owns the pragmatism of his rules. For example, he’d avoid being on con panels with particular authors because he thinks they’re jerks or annoying or whatever, not because they’re morally evil people.  Fundamentalism had no categories for something in the grey area, a simple preference. It’s “rock music is evil because Satan invented it and also a bunch of racist ideas about African beats!” rather than being honest about not enjoying a particular genre of music or the subculture around it.  Again, liberalism is in danger here…..
  3. Scalzi increases distance in proportion with the nature of the offense. I never understand why Christians can’t make strategic alliances to accomplish a greater purpose. How many discussions did I have at BJU about whether it was wrong to, say, cooperate with Catholics to run a crisis pregnancy center?  Even at the time, I had to shake my head at some people’s inability to weigh some issues as more critical than others.  Life is all about strategic compromises. To pretend that you can live as someone separate from all the bad and dirty stuff is just arrogant.  On the other hand, boundaries are healthy and helpful. Everybody needs them. Just avoid turning your personal boundaries into a statement of what everyone else needs to do.

Takeaways for these turbulent times

My colleague (and former headmaster) Dennis used to talk about wisdom a lot, about how Wisdom gives us  a framework for making well-informed decisions in the grey spaces in between moral laws. Wisdom enters into the questions where we aren’t sure what we’re supposed to do to ensure that a “judgment call” is based on something sound.

I’ve had a thousand discussions with my friend Jack about how there’s an intellectual fundamentalism on the Left that’s corroding people’s ability to enter into discourse with anyone who isn’t already allied with liberal ideals.  Problem is, you’ll never win anyone over to your way of thinking if you can’t even find a way to talk to them, or if you start screaming at them as soon as you realize your views differ.

Are men wrong to not enjoy every argument a feminist throws at them on Twitter? Is every man “mansplaining”? What does justice and redemption look like in the wake of the #metoo movement?  Do we burn bridges or extend a hand?  Does the Democratic party have room for socialists just like the GOP made room for Tea Party libertarians? Will the result be just as caustic?

See also:  America in 2018

I think we can learn from Scalzi (and many others like him — I’m using him as an example because of his post this morning) and avoid the errors of American Fundamentalism.

But that leaves us with some really difficult judgment calls, like….

  •  It’s all well and good to say “punch Nazis in the face,” but there’s a relativism in that approach which breaks down quickly as soon as the mob decides some other group is equally deserving of face-punching. Progressives lose pubic arguments (about immigration, for example) because they don’t “fight dirty,” because “when they go low, we go high.”    We can learn from Scalzi that it’s ok to implement different standards for different fights (if you will), and to raise the stakes if the situation demands it.  But we also need to acknowledge that we’re on dangerous ground here — just like when Lincoln suspended habeas corpus or FDR took America into a total wartime economy.  The Constitution doesn’t protect us from evil men who might refuse to hand power back to the people once the crisis is over. And mobs never give power back.
  • How do you engage in civil discourse when the other person’s presuppositions disgust you, repel you?  Scalzi notes the critical error of the New Yorker journalist: this event would have handed an alt-right POS a microphone and a mantle of respectability.  Idiotic.  The Press has been doing this for Trump’s ideas for a few years now. It’s frustrating, and it deserves a whole separate conversation. But if we get to the point that we cannot find ANY space for discourse — a smaller, more private one-on-one conversation where there’s less shouting and piling-on and “performance” for the sake of one’s tribe — then I don’t think democracy will survive.
    As more and more issues explode (like sexual harassment, or the sex abuse scandals in churches, or deciding what America’s health care system should look like), we’re going to be left with a lot of ad hoc line-drawing if we aren’t smart enough to realize what’s going on.
  • Universities must find a middle ground to allow conservative faculty and students a place in the tent, and not a begrudging one.  But that doesn’t mean letting just anyone and anything into the tent of Intellectual Discussion. Someone is drawing boundaries, practicing separation. The problem is, universities aren’t honest about who holds that power or where the lines are.
  • Intellectual authoritarianism and stifling questions are close cousins to healthy boundaries and “taking a stand.”  Only wisdom and experience teach us the difference.  Therefore, we need to be charitable toward those in our camp who draw those lines differently, and reject the Fundamentalist habit of writing off someone because they “soiled their testimony” in our tribe by allowing or rejecting something we want to see as good or sacred.   On the other hand, some ideas need to be thrown out of any public sphere anytime they’re offered as a serious alternative.Educational spaces should run by a different set of rules.  I never support banning or censoring books like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird for using the n-word. Students need to confront those books as the authors wrote them, or not read them at all.  Students need space and time to reason through their views on an issue, even if I find their views ill-formed, just plain wrong, or dangerous.  Depending on the level of danger (or foolishness), I might be more or less direct in how I point out those problems to students. However, people don’t change their minds because we yell at them hard enough to change.  It takes patience, time, careful explanation, and – above all – kindness. 

I want to dig into that final point a bit.  This is the crux of the problem for Democrats, progressives, etc right now in 2018.  It’s what Hillbilly Elegy was trying to communicate to us.  It’s why I’m worn out by all the NYT think-pieces about Trump voters (which probably need to stop) but also feel committed to remaining friends with people in my life who hold very different political views than mine.

If America is going to own up to its racist, ugly history and find restoration and healing, we must find ways to talk about it honestly.

If American democracy is going to survive past 2020, we need to unite around core ideals that are larger than the tribalism that’s torn us apart.

If you’re going to convince your cousin to see immigration in a better light, you can’t throw facts at her. You’ve got to locate her anger and fear, figure out what’s feeding those emotions, and defuse them before your arguments will stand a chance.

And if you decide that you need to draw the boundary and walk away, don’t cloak your separation in self-righteousness. Acknowledge it for what it is: a personal boundary that exists for your emotional and intellectual health.

NYT Opinion: A Christian Case against the Pence Rule

When the NYT writer understands that we can’t make a rule big enough to solve the problem of sexual harassment, I have to stand up and cheer… and repost.

The answer is not to ask women to leave the room. It’s to hold all men in the room accountable, and kick out those who long ago lost their right to be there.

via A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule – The New York Times

And this too…

{R}easonable people know the difference between a business meeting over breakfast and drinks at a hotel bar at night. And what the Pence rule fails to grapple with is that the Weinstein story wasn’t, at its root, about attraction but abuse of power. The producer’s behavior wasn’t fundamentally about lust gone wild. It flowed from male consolidation of power in Hollywood, and the lack of opportunity and influence that women have there and in many other industries. Mr. Weinstein could prey on women because of his undue influence over actresses’ careers. He knew they would have little recourse if they spoke out. Those women wouldn’t have been helped by greater isolation from men. They needed a stronger voice in the industry and greater agency over their careers.

The Pence rule arises from a broken view of the sexes: Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away. Offering the Pence rule as a solution to male predation is like saying, “I can’t meet with you one on one, otherwise I might eventually assault you.” If that’s the case, we have far deeper problems around men and power than any personal conduct rule can solve.

Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means – Q Ideas

An outstanding post on Modesty – I couldn’t have said it better myself. Brava, Rachel Held Evans.

What I’ve only just begun to realize is that these two extremes represent different sides of the same coin. While popular culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to get men to look at them, the modesty culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to keep men from looking at them. In both cases, the impetus is placed on the woman to accommodate her clothing or her body to the (varied and culturally relative) expectations of men. In both cases, it becomes the woman’s job to manage the sexual desires of men, and thus it is seen as her fault if a man ignores her on the one hand or objectifies her on the other. Often, these two cultures combine to send out a pulse of confusing messages: “Look cute … but not too cute! Be modest … but not frumpy! Make yourself attractive … but not too attractive!” Women are left feeling ashamed of their bodies as they try desperately to contort around a bunch of vague, ever-changing ideals. It’s exhausting, really, dressing for other people.

But all of this takes the notion of modesty far beyond its biblical context.

via Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means – Q Ideas.

Schools and Rules: Wrapup

Wrapping up my series of posts on Grace-based discipline in a school setting. While most of my posts are wrapped in a lot of Bible language, I want to point out that everything I’m saying is fully applicable to any setting, public or private, religious or secular. Treating kids with respect and giving them a voice in the conversation is a matter of human respect, and that’s always applicable (regardless of one’s religious persuasion).

 

Returning to the case that kicked off this whole discussion, I wish the Vermont school administrators had dealt graciously with the troublesome kid who refused to stop asking questions about school rules.

I get it — I quickly tired of kids whining about the dress code.  BUT we always should be willing to engage in discussion about WHY the rules are what they are, and schools need to be willing to change outmoded rules or ones that aren’t working. Some battles aren’t worth fighting. NCS slowly tweaked its dress code over about 5 years’ time, and I’ve heard fewer and fewer complaints.

I’d like to wrap up with a shotgun list of applications and one recommended reading:

From Compliant Kids to Ethical Thinkers (John T. Spencer)

What an incredible blog. I don’t know this guy but I think we’re cut from the same cloth. Read his post — it’s short. Good fodder for today’s discussion, and a great example from a public school classroom.

 

And my applications for school administrators, teachers, and even parents

  • Differentiate between disobedience and rebellion. They are not the same thing, and they should not be handled the same way when disciplining.
  • Most disobedience is unintentional and needs to be corrected, not punished. Punishment is punitive; it’s damage in return for damage. Correction is helpful and empowers a student to make better choices next time.
  • Rebellion is actually pretty rare in a functional community. It’s probably a red flag too — there’s more going on in that student than a sudden desire to impale the rulebook. Dig deeper and you’ll start finding upheaval, brokenness, abuse, fear, or anger which you must then handle or report.
  • Don’t confuse human authority with God’s Law. Don’t punish infractions of human rules as if they were breaking God’s laws. That is a dangerous conflation and you will pay for it dearly as soon as a kid learns to think for herself.
  • Natural consequencesof one’s actions will always teach more powerful lessons than anything we can construct as a “punishment.”  Stop sheltering kids from the natural consequences of their actions. It’s God’s built-in correctional facility for this planet and it works pretty darn well when we let it. That doesn’t mean you throw a kid to the wolves or let him hurt himself, but it does mean that we all need to experience the reality that we create because of our choices. And that’s a far more powerful tool for sanctification than demerit slips, long lectures, or detention.

 

It’s a lot easier to slap rules and punishments on a situation, but Grace-based discipline (like I’ve been describing) actually pays off with far better relationships among teachers and students in the end.

Schools and Rules III: Handling Rebellion

First, a recap:

Schools and Rules — Intro — a case in Vermont of a Christian school kid who was suspended partly for questioning his school’s dress code rules and other policies got me thinking about how Grace-in-Education might force some differences in the way we educators think about school rules

Schools and Rules (1)  — Here, we discussed the idea that obedience to a human authority should not be equated with obedience to God’s Law. If we teach kids that their consciences are bound by human legislation as if God Himself were speaking, we’re inviting serious trouble once those kids learn to think for themselves about God’s ethics and ours.

Schools and Rules (2) — Disagreement isn’t just “part of life”; it’s healthy. When we refuse to discuss what students want to know — even if they’re being jerks about it — we telegraph several really negative messages, including “adults don’t have answers, they just talk” or “faith is too fragile for tough questions.”

If you’re new here, I recommend reading those posts above or we run the risk of misunderstanding each other. And in the words of the inestimable Dr Michael P V Barrett, “I hate to be misunderstood.”

~~~~

Any discussion of rule-keeping must raise the question, What about legitimate rebellion? Isn’t that a sin? Or how about disobedience?

It’s a hallmark theme in Scripture that we need to obey God’s law (go search biblegateway.org for uses of the word “obedience” or “obey” …. go ahead, I’ll wait …. huge list! Especially in Deuteronomy and then the historical books of the OT). And lest you think this is just an Old Testament thing (you don’t really disparage the OT, do you? please don’t do that), the NT has its big share of commands and exhortations to obey.

Disobedience (Scripturally) carries heavy penalties. For the nation Israel when they were in the Land, disobedience cost them everything. Failure to heed divine Law leads us into despair, ruin, and deep sin. Thankfully the Gospel is bigger than our abject failure — more on that in a minute. But you can soak on verses like Nehemiah 9:17 for a while.

Rebellion is an even deeper sin, scripturally speaking. The province of men like King Saul or Pharaoh or Israel in the wilderness, rebellion is marked by stubbornness, an unwillingness to change, challenging God’s authority with a stiff neck and upraised arm. It’s a straight shot of disobedience with an arrogance chaser. (The biblical data for both of these words is abundant and easy to find — run a biblegateway.org search on the terms and read up).

I want to draw a couple distinctions, limiting our discussion to the realm of school (parenting advice is above my pay grade), and suggest some Gracious ways for responding to disobedience and rebellion in the classroom.

DISOBEDIENCE

Rebellion is purposefulmeasuredintentional. You might accidentally disobey a rule but you can’t rebel against it without some forethought.

On the other hand, a student may disobey out of forgetfulness, inattention, laziness, or ignorance. Punishing students harshly for disobedience probably isn’t a good idea until you’ve gotten some idea of what the situation is. God offers multiple examples of responding in mercy to our faltering attempts to walk in His ways. He didn’t get out the big guns until Israel was in full rebellion.

And remember that natural consequences are a powerful teacher…. I don’t need to bash my students for not doing their homework. The 13% they got on the reading quiz, along with the ire of their parents, will be corrective enough.

Disobedience when defined as “ignoring or contradicting a rule” isn’t even wrong in all circumstances. Let’s say there’s a rule that says pedestrians should not be crossing an interstate highway. Fair enough. Good law. I hate having to dodge those crrrrazy pedestrians when I’m motoring up I-85. Now let’s say I pull over because there’s been a horrible accident in the median, and I need to cross 6 lanes of traffic to get to someone who’s injured.  If the person bleeds out before I get there, I doubt “well, I didn’t want to cross the road; I knew the State Highway Patrol enforces that law really tightly, Officer, so I wasn’t able to get over to help that guy” will hold up as a legitimate defense.

Coart likes to say “Every good rule will at some point become stupid.” Why? Because rules are for stupid, foolish, sinful people. That’s why we have them. Rules tend to be written for the lowest common denominator of stupidity.  Therefore, you will always find times when rules need to bend or break in order to achieve honest justice in a particular situation. If I don’t cross the highway, I’m endangering a life. The rule needs to lose. 

(By the way — the fact that rules tend to be written for LCD of stupidity suggests that maybe we shouldn’t make so many new rules and policies based on a particular incident. Exceptional failure to exercise good judgment — on the part of one student — doesn’t mean the rules are inadequate. It just means that kid was exceptionally foolish and probably needs to be treated as an exception.)

Most of the time, classroom disobedience demands a timely yet gracious response from the teacher.   Not anger, allegations of the child’s sinfulness, or condemnation.

And we must always differentiate between “my rules” and God’s Law.  If a student punches another student in the face, it’s God’s Law that undergirds the trip to the principal’s office. Sure, schools have rules about physical interaction but the point is that punching your classmate in the face seriously violates the injunction to love one another. Unless the punchee was an attacker headed into the classroom to harm the students — then the puncher is a hero. See? All rules must exist within a deeper biblical framework of ethics and we have to know the particular situation before we can decide whether “disobedience” has occurred.

More realistically:  I generally don’t appreciate students talking while I’m teaching. So if someone is Chatty Cathy on the back wall, I will usually insist on silence for the sake of the other students. But what if I’m teaching Latin and the talker is actually trying to help her classmate understand how this new grammar about the genitive connects to the previous lesson on the accusative case endings? Yes, there’s an issue of “time and place” to discuss — and younger students especially don’t have a good natural sense of what’s appropriate and when. But for me topunish the student who’s trying to be helpful to a fellow classmate and assist them in learning? Totally inappropriate.

In fact, in most cases, disobedience works itself out especially in older students once calm correction is applied to the situation. If I have to pull a kid into the hallway for a brief talk, that usually ends the problem.  My investment in the life of the student carries significant weight, and their role in my classroom community matters as well. We both have a lot of stake in the classroom, so we both (usually) want peace. It can get hairy, yes, but patience and consistency and calmness (rather than labeling a kid as “disobedient”) will bear good fruit over the course of the year.

Oh wait — you wanted a quick and easy route to the harvest of obedience? Sorry.

REBELLION

But what about Rebellion? (It just needs a capital R.)

Rebellion is disobedience that’s proud of itself, that’s grounded in stubbornness and a refusal to be instructed, without a willingness to repent or change.

Good teachers and administrators intervene quickly when they sense rebellion, rather than disobedience, at the heart of a matter. And you can smell it…. really. The intentionality of rebellion, the arrogance — hard to hide. And it’s dangerous to the student himself and to the community of learners (who can catch his disease).

We should always take cues from God in His dealings with His people. God carefully disciplined Israel and her kings toward obedience for their own good. When people insisted, stubbornly, on rebelling against His authority, God brought in the big guns. Grace has a steel backbone.

I’ve observed a few cases of rebellion during my years at NCS and both of our headmasters were patient, godly men who knew how to love a student enough to sit back and take questions (even when the kid was a jerk) in order to push through to find the core reason for the rebellion.  Occasionally, it didn’t work out, and we lost the student.

Some kids are so reckless and disobedient that they’re dangerous to the rest of the school. Those kids gotta go if they refuse to change. (I guess that would be like Israel’s exile?)

But most kids start to calm down once they realize adults are actually LISTENING.  Once the questions get answered, once the alpha male (principal) lets the kid go a few rounds and the kid gets tired of fighting, things calm down.

Thing is, you can’t “control” rebellion any more than you can force a kid to obey. I realize that small children give parents the illusion that the parents can be in control of their kids’ behavior….but it really is an illusion. And that illusion shatters as the children become teenagers.

Behavior is always a heart issue, and the only tool that works on a person’s heart is self-sacrificial love. (But that’s another post.)

Tomorrow: a few concluding thoughts

Schools and Rules II: Challenging Rules

This is another post in a series.  We’re thinking about how authority and rules (and challenges to those rules) should play out in a Grace-based classroom.  Earlier posts are right before this one if you want to catch up.

2. If you refuse to allow criticism or challenge within your classroom/school, you’re painting a huge target that says, “Faith is too fragile for everyday use.” 

One aspect of classical education pedagogy that I really appreciate is an understanding that kids go through different stages in their interaction with facts (and with the people who inform them of that information).  Your sweet, cuddly elementary school kid will go through a horrific transformation around age 12 and become… DUN DUN DUN … a teenager. (*insert terrifying music here*)  The rolled eyes, the sarcasm, the desire never to be seen within 100 feet of one’s parents, the arguing.

The arguing. 

I like middle schoolers because they do like to challenge. And they challenge everything: your sock preferences, the weather, your reason for assigning the rest of a grammar exercise on a Wednesday night because that’s just how it worked out. (“But we never had Wednesday homework LAST YEAR!”)

One of the hallmarks of NCS upper school life has been a consistent practice among the faculty of treating the upper school students with the respect one gives adults, but not expecting them to live up to that standard of maturity. Kids are kids. But they’re becoming adults, and we need to move in that direction rapidly. They have questions, and most of the time at NCS, those questions reflect a legitimate desire to know and understand (rather than to rebel or undermine).

So we explain things a lot.  Nothing is off-limits in my theology, practice, rulebook, subject matter. I don’t assign work without having a specific purpose for the task. While I might not always explain why I assign what I do, I always can (and do when asked). I know what I’m teaching, why I put it in the curriculum, and why it’s beneficial.  The stuff that I couldn’t justify, I changed.

Sometimes that means my classroom rules are inconsistent with the policies of another teacher. That’s a great opportunity to teach “Not all people want the same thing, and you need to find out what’s expected of you by the person in charge” — a wonderful life skill. So I don’t particularly care for “answer in complete sentences” on my tests because I find it annoying to read a bunch of extra words that have nothing to do with the actual answer. I wrote the question; I don’t need you to remind me what I asked. Other teachers want short answers written into complete sentences. Great. Knock yourselves out.  I don’t need to change for their sake, and I certainly don’t expect them to adopt my policy. And every student I’ve ever taught has rapidly picked up on the differences among classes.

So what does this have to do with Faith?

When you aren’t willing to rise to the challenge, many people will assume you are afraid to engage their criticisms or that you do not have a valid reason for your position.  

Think about it.  You stop by the local magistrate to pay your speeding ticket and the lady behind the desk says, “I’m sorry, we don’t accept credit or debit cards. Did you bring cash or a check?” And we adults trudge back to our cars and drive down the road to find an ATM, cursing the local government using colorful adjectives. We assume the government policy makers are idiots. Who doesn’t take a credit/debit card in 2012? The traffic court. Why? I don’t know. South Carolina lawmakers have never impressed me with any sense of intelligence. There’s no reason they CAN’T change their policy…but they don’t.

Why do we expect kids to obey or believe without giving them justifiable cause?

Now, if you’ve put in the hours necessary to build a relationship with that kid; if you know them — really, truly know them — and have acted graciously toward them; if you love them in actions rather than in words alone, then a lot of teens will take your words to heart. You don’t have to offer a geometric or theological or philosophical proof for why you won’t let the kids go walking down to the gas station by themselves.  If he knows you usually have good reasons for what you ask, the boy won’t backtalk you when you yell “GET DOWN!” just before a football slams into his head on the playground.

But you have to build that trust.

The Christian Faith is a reasonable, justifiable, warranted belief. (Thank you, Al Plantinga.) God doesn’t strip us of our inquisitiveness and rational thought (part of the imago Dei IMHO).

Look at the Psalms. David (and the other psalmists) hit God with some rough questions. Why are the bad guys winning? Why am I suffering if I didn’t do anything wrong? Have You forgotten Your promises? Why do bad men abuse weak people? Don’t you feel ashamed for letting me look bad, God, in front of my — I mean, YOUR — enemies? 

Instead of being afraid of challenges, questions, and hard topics, embrace them.

If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Research it. Find an expert. Search the Scriptures. Get answers.

If you can’t justify your rule biblically, if it’s a rule that makes life convenient for adults, or if it’s not serving a clear, obvious purpose in your setting (one that extends from loving God or loving neighbor)– maybe the rule should go?

Up next — what about true rebellion?

Cross-posted to Teaching Redemptively