Parental Sticky Wicket

I just looooove being that parent. <insert eye-roll here> You know, the one that annoyingly calls bull on an organization’s mission, values, identity, and whether these do or do not translate into its practices. Okay, short summary: my kid goes to a faith-based (read Christian) private school that intentionally tries to have an inclusive mentality and remain free of specific denominational affiliation. Where the rubber meets the road, though, certain theological assumptions can be made, and that’s where as a parent, I start to get twitchy. I’m no expert, but I do have some experience with graduate level theological study/thought and professional work. The goal here is to help an institution be who it says it wants to be.

The following is what I typed up for consideration of the topics of requiring employees to sign on to a statement of faith (currently identified by the school as your choice of the Apostles’ or the Nicene creeds but there was a much scarier version in the past) and the wording in other documents that implies the school requires families to agree. It’s a big, convoluted, highly-charged conversation that includes way more than just this one tidbit, but I generally find big, convoluted, highly-charged conversations to be the ones that need exploration and examination. So in that spirit, I thought I’d share:

 

What’s wrong with a statement of faith for an inclusive community?

From CRAZY TALK: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms, Augsburg Books (2008):

Creed \kreed\ n.

Not to be confused with the boxer who pummeled Rocky Balboa, a personal statement of belief, written by someone else, for use in pummeling heretics.

Related to the Latin word credo, which means “I believe,” a creed can refer either to one’s personal beliefs or to an official summary of Christian beliefs, often available in pseudopoetic form. The Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian creeds were hammered out in the early ecumenical councils of the church. While they do give voice to official teachings of the faith, the church is not at its best when it persecutes people who believe things counter to the creeds.

The (first) Council of Nicaea met in 325 when Constantine I wanted to solve the issue of Arianism, a theological line of thought from the Eastern church that declared Jesus to be a created being instead of a divine one. The council named it heresy and added the homoousios to the creed (“of one being with the Father”). Arius, for whom the heresy was named, was exiled by the emperor. (https://www.britannica.com/event/Council-of-Nicaea-Christianity-325) Also worth noting, that was only one of seven generally recognized councils of the early Christian church that determined rulings on doctrine, heresy, and church governance. The church has been meeting, ruling, and splitting ever since.

From their beginnings, creeds (AKA statements of faith) were written to draw lines in the sand, to address theological controversies and carefully determine who was “in” and who was “out.” While they might be unifying for those who can sign on to them, creeds do not welcome and love all.

Logistically, it makes no sense to have these complicated statements of faith as a requirement for faculty and staff of an intentionally denominational-affiliation-free institution. These faith statements are not being taught in the classroom (at least, not directly and theoretically, not indirectly either), and even if they were, they certainly should only be taught by an instructor with an in-depth theological and historical education (and likely, a theological degree) as well as a professional detachment in presentation of the material.

An organization must consider carefully why it requires a statement of faith and perhaps even more importantly, what the implications of that requirement might be.

***

But what could be done instead? Let’s reflect the how we do instead of what we do. Agreeing to a way to operate isn’t the same as requiring employees and/or families to agree and comply to a dogmatic statement of what faith is or should be. Even if the phrasing used comes from Christian scripture, wouldn’t it be valuable to an inclusive community to unify around a lifestyle to which just about everybody could think “I can get behind that”? How about having a statement one could have faith in instead of stating one’s faith?

Matthew 22.37-40 (NRSV)
He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The beauty of this set of verses is that almost every culture and faith have their own version of this idea, and yet, as a direct teaching of Jesus about the “greatest commandment,” you can’t get much more Christ-centered.

There’s a fabulous children’s book by Ilene Cooper and illustrated by Gabi Swiatowska titled The Golden Rule. It’s a lovely narrative about a boy and his grandfather exploring how the rule is understood by different peoples. For simplicity’s sake, here are the references (as they appear in the Author’s Note) that are paraphrased in the story text to illustrate “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”:

CHRISTIANITY (KING JAMES BIBLE):
Matthew 19:19: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Luke 6:31: And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

JUDAISM:
Leviticus 19:18: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Talmud, Sabbat 31a (attributed to the rabbi Hillel the Elder): What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.

BUDDHISM:
Udana-Varga 5:18: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

ISLAM:
Muhammad, the Farewell Sermon: Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.
Sunnah: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.

HINDUISM:
Mahabharata 5:15:17: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.
(The Hindu belief in karma also has a deep connection to the Golden Rule.)

SHAWNEE NATIVE AMERICANS:
Preserved by Thomas Wildcat Alford: Do not kill or injure your neighbor, for it is not him that you injure; you injure yourself. But do good to him; therefore, add to his days of happiness as you add to your own.

Forms of the Golden Rule are also found among the ancient Egyptians and Romans; in Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Sufism, and humanism; and in the Baha’i faith.

 

Ultimately, what is Christ-centered: drawing lines and determining who is “in” and who is “out” or following the commandment to love our neighbors? Can we say we’re loving our neighbors if we exclude them from employment based on their faith and if we insist that they and their children be taught ours?

Here’s a statement I have faith in: I believe we can be “about” something without requiring it to be litmus test for ourselves or others.

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