Chatting with the “evil” NEA

A couple of years ago I was invited to participate on a team to plan an “Educator/Clergy Conference.” Our team is comprised of a diverse group of clergy and various personnel from the OEA. The aim of the conference was to see how churches and schools could partner for great schools. I wrote about the event  here and here. Recently we held our second conference in South Oklahoma City. Our topic – curbing the drop out rate.

I received a calll from Cynthia who writes for the NEA’s national publication asking for an interview. We met this morning in Oklahoma City. The conversation went very well and I look forward to reading the story as Cynthia will interview a wide range of particpants.

Some did and do find this conversation odd, if not unsettling. After all, I hail from a denomination that repeatedly calls for its constituency to consider leaving public schools; often demonizing them and the fine Christian teachers and administrators who serve children in those settings. This is a point I find difficult to grasp. Certainly I have read the extremes. But we who serve churches do not want to be characterized by our extremes. At least I don’t.

Too many have a hard time finding common ground. Ideaological idols keep intended partners at bay – and this on both edges of the spectrum in our churches. So it should not surprise anyone this is the case in our culture at large and exhibited in public education. Abandonment does not seem like a persevering quality.

Gladly I sat with Cynthia in a small coffee shop. We talked about perceptions, obstacles and possibilities. As with many issues, perception obscures the vision of the real. The OEA and the NEA are not “godless.” Clergy are not fundamentalist wackos. Could some who particpatein the OEA and NEA not folloow the same understanding of the way the world works Christians do? Sure. Are some clergy fundamentalis (on either side of divide) wackos. I know some. However, in the larger scheme many really want what is best for the education of children and we religious types fear indocrintation, yet we indoctrinate more often than we education in our churces.

Following on the influence of the Enlightenment we in our churches tout our rationality, our reason. Yet, when someone has reasonable questions and offers credible critics of us and our faith commitment we summarily dismiss them as without faith and yet our faith generally has been defined by our rationality not our risk to believe the unbelievable. So we play by another’s game, another’s rules. Carl Raschke has a great section on the undue influence of commonsense realism on our (lack of) understanding faith (seeking understanding.)

What does separation of church and state mean? The lack of clarity on this subject creates the chief obstacle. The First Amendment Center offered a couple of fabulous speakers for our two conferences. Warping our understanding comes from the left and the right.

Today Cynthia will visit with the principal of Taft Middle School. My middle school “alma mater.” Things have changed there. It is not the same place I walked to as an adolescent. Yet in a partnership called 222 children in need of partners who know how to find common ground expereince the benefit of “churches and schools,” “ceducators and clergy,” working together for our children.

One day we will invest in people for the sake of people and not our idealogical victories. Maybe then for both churches and educators we will get to the common ground of our differing callings. An “evil” NEA? Not so much. A “walled off church.” Not so much. Partners? I hope one day.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

3 comments on “Chatting with the “evil” NEA

  1. Lyndel Littleton says:

    I don’t think the NEA or OEA or where I am the TEA are “evil” at all. I see them caught up in the battle between forces like the ACLU who seem to want to take any reference to anything godly and the extreme right Christians who want us to teach their church doctrine in a Bible class.
    There are many wonderful Christian teachers and administrators that feel like they are under attack from many places trying to make them leave their faith at home. There are hundreds of examples of text books that have rewritten history to make us look like a godless nation. This is an insult to people of faith and a dishonest portrayal of our history. Even those of us who are not “right wing extremists” feel very betrayed by our education system who – on their defense – is trying to avoid lawsuits from the ACLU or others.
    What’s the answer? Maybe you and the OEA can come up with one. I wish you the best.

  2. Lyndel,
    During my interview this morning I noted that the perception of the NEA is less than ideal. My interviewer quickly acknowledged the epithet they have been referred to as “godless.” In other parts of the country there is great fear of just what to do with this awkward relationship. Vying for the narrative to describe our nation’s history leaves us with extremes. The far right wants to suggest the faith of Thomas Jefferson is sufficient to ground our Country in the Judeo-Christian context but would decry the very substance of his faith. Makes us come off as a bit odd. The far left wants to narrate religion completely out of the “promise land” experience of someone like William Ames. Cannot be done with intellectual integrity. While this may be a battle to please the ACLU, I suspect the players are way beyond that.

    Sometimes we treat our “people of faith” as privileged. It really has not moved us very far in terms of influence in our country because we tend to talk about more our faith than live it. The jig is up and the consequence falls on we who have talked much about Jesus but not lived out his ethic. There is little doubt we are wrestling with what it means to see our influence fade. We want to point the finger somewhere but it seems the Scripture places the relational malady squarely on us. That is one of my many reasons to participate. On its face we really need to do better.

    Answers? Well, I am not sure. Strategies to get partners working together for our children, hopefully.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Frank Gantz says:

    Todd, earlier in my life I taught in both private (Christian) and public schools. I was even PTA president at one point. Obviously, I encountered individuals on both extreme ends (of which you spoke). My goal in either setting was to be salt and light in those venues.

    I found that when I treated people with respect without compromising my faith values, I gained much more than had I retreated altogether or been abusive to those not sharing my beliefs.

    I particularly remember an agnostic high school teacher inviting me as a guest lecturer on literature because we treated each other with dignity and respect.

    Now I still had those that did not think much of my role, but the rewards greatly outweighed the criticisms. I trust that you will stand tall as a believer and earn the respect of those that may not believe.

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