January 16, 2021

No Room for a Pastor

No Room for a Pastor in a School Lunchroom

Saw this story about a church I’m very familiar with in the town where I pastored for four years. Seems the local school board has banned ministers from eating lunch with students in the school cafeteria, and the protests are on. Rutherford Institute is on the case, and I just have to wonder what’s going to happen. Little Flock Baptist Church was the big church where all us minor leaguers sent our disgruntled members :-). The pastor, Ron Shaver, was one of the good guys, best I could tell, and I think it’s great he had a consistent commitment to spend time on campus. The local high schools are pretty rough, and I can imagine there were a lot of helpful conversations. I am also sure Shaver wouldn’t have ever abused the privilege. Of course, just being there said about all that needed to be said. The young people would really appreciate it.

But the law is not on his side. The schools are perfectly within their rights to say purely religious visitation is not appropriate. What puzzles me is why now? The article says there are complaints from teachers, but what are the complaints based on? As one of the BHT fellows said, the public schools now do everything to avoid lawsuits, and this smells like that kind of situation. Some teacher is being the heavy, and the school is playing the game.

If there were some sort of terrible accident or tragedy, the school would probably issue a call for local clergy to come to the school and counsel. That was common during the “school shootings” era in the late 90’s. Schools have plenty of trauma going on all the time among students, aAs any nurse can tell you, some are an asset and some are a pain. Perhaps the complaints from teachers have merit, but I tend to think it is probably just putting the screws to Christian ministers in a time when that’s becoming easier and easier.

At some point we are going to approach a critical juncture on the issue of religion in the public square. The kind of total separation some imagine may be possible in the big coastal cities, but out here in the heartland, where school personnel and church folks are all part of the same community and ususally the same churches, these sorts of problems can be worked out in a more reasonable way.

I’m trained to volunteer in the Federal prison in our county. I had to go for a day of training, and I know a lot of things that I shouldn’t do. The training was helpful. The same goes for a lot of ministers in hospitals. Couldn’t ministers do something similar, and then agree to behave themselves? Frankly, schools lose credibility when they do this sort of thing in a small town. Everybody knows everybody, and it gets personal. I’d prefer to see some give and take, some listen and learn, and then some compromise where the interests of the school are protected, and the freedom of religion can go at least as far as a cafeteria.

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