Y’all are not going to believe this. Well, some of you may.
A dear friend of mine, Alan Stewart, is a longtime pastor in the Mayberry-esque East Tennessee town of Soddy-Daisy. His church has become known in recent years for its crazy-effective Vacation Bible School programs, which Alan wrote and based on the public domain characters from those incredible children’s tales written by Christians – Beauty and the Beast, Wizard of Oz, The Little Mermaid, and Peter Pan – after realizing several years of other VBS programs had been entertaining, but not effective.
Alan and the church are a go-to resource when the town needs, well, anything. Food, shelter, counsel, money, a listening ear, an answer to a troubling situation. They are what the church is supposed to be, at least in so much as I’ve known them the past few years.
Alan was asked by Sale Creek Middle and High School, a local school, to speak at their 9/11 Tribute last month. He diligently prepared a speech and delivered it on September 11. You can read it by clicking Address for Sale Creek Middle and High School.
A couple of weeks later, one of the Department of Education’s attorneys received a letter from the National Freedom From Religion Foundation. I could describe it, but it’s so much better to let them speak for themselves – see the letter by clicking FFRF Letter.
Alan – and I’ve gotta say this is one of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy working with him – read the letter carefully and spent some time praying and thinking about it before memorializing a reaction. He then crafted a response. Again, it’s WAY better to let a letter speak for itself. Click Rechoboth Response to read it.(You really should read it…if only to smile. Widely.)
Now we get to the part that has me grinning and shaking my head…and entertaining hope for our country.
The two letters have become the talk of the school, and the town. (Small towns are both comforting and frustrating that way.) The students are asking questions, wondering if Alan did, indeed, trample all over some constitutional right and if they should be offended or if the NFFR folks are trampling on Alan’s rights…and they should be offended.
The principal – and I am serious that we have to send this principal about forty-thousand “atta-boys” for even thinking of this, much less doing it – assigned the students the task of researching the issue and writing a paper espousing who is right and who is wrong (constitutionally speaking).
This PUBLIC SCHOOL PRINCIPAL basically said to the students, “You’re going to research, learn, think about what you’ve learned, and form an educated opinion. I will not tell you what to think.”
To Principal Tobin Davidson: I have endured quite a bit of chiding and snide looks since putting my son in a public school. I’m told he’ll be indoctrinated by Common Core and robbed of his ability to think for himself. Stripped of his right to pray. Treated harshly for being a Christian. That may well be in some schools (which is a whole ‘nother blog post).
You, however, have given me hope today.
You have renewed my faith that education can be applied at the local level, in creative ways, in public schools, to produce independently-thinking citizens grounded in Constitutional knowledge.
I’ve read the speech. I’ve read the letters. I’ve read the Constitution. I’m excited and hopeful I’ll get to read the students’ papers. THIS, friends, is why we have public education – to produce a citizenry educated in the formation and guiding principles of this country, to think about those principles, and apply them.
Bravo, Alan Stewart, for shepherding a church that is a true resource and voice of sound wisdom to the hard questions. And bravo, Principal Davidson. Thank you for the hope, sir.