Expressing Faith in Public School
About the Guest
Former history teacher Stephen Williams knows what it's like to be persecuted for his faith in the classroom. Williams shares how he started using court documents of famous statesmen to teach U.S. History. After parents complained, Williams wound up in court. Williams encourages parents to know what their rights are in the classroom and to stand firm as ambassadors of Christ in the public schools.
Stephen WilliamsStephen Williams graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in economics. He founded Prepare the Way Ministries in 2006, following his involvement in a federal court case concerning the censorship of historical documents with Christian references. Having been on the front lines in the church/state battle, Stephen offers a unique perspective on the ways our culture can erode a Biblical worldview. Stephen speaks nationally on worldview, apologetics, and cultural issues....more
Former history teacher Stephen Williams knows what it’s like to be persecuted for his faith in the classroom. Williams encourages parents to know what their children’s rights are in the classroom.
Expressing Faith in Public School
Bob: As your kids head back to school this fall, there may be occasions where something a teacher says is at odds with what your kids are hearing from you at home. What do you do when that happens? Here’s advice from Stephen Williams.
Stephen: If your teacher says, “Well we all know that Darwinian naturalistic evolution is proven fact and if you don’t believe in that, you’re stupid.” If a teacher says something along those lines, that actually is viewpoint discrimination and that teacher has said something that is illegal to say in the classroom. How do you deal with that? You don’t go try to get that teacher fired. You would meet with the teacher and try to work that situation out and go through the appropriate channels.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. There may be times when you’re called upon to speak the truth in love to your child’s teacher. We’ll talk today about how to do that. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Most of our listeners probably aren’t aware you spent—was it one day or more than a day that you spent as a public-school teacher?
Dennis: It was one day. Are you trashing me as a public-school teacher?
Bob: I am not trashing you at all. You stepped in—
Dennis: I didn’t get fired. Don’t try to cause our audience to think—
Bob: I’m not trying to insinuate anything. You stepped in the middle of a school strike and volunteered to fill a classroom.
Dennis: A number of us parents opened schools—not a school but a number of schools in the county. It was a real education. I made some great relationships in that one school I went and taught English in—which was a great illustration. Let me introduce our guest then I’ll tell him and he can respond to this. We have an author of a book that I think our listeners are going to be very interested in called Navigating Public Schools.
Stephen and Sarah Williams have written this. We’ve only got 50% of that deal here. Stephen joins us on the broadcast. Welcome back.
Stephen: Thank you Dennis and Bob. Great to be here.
Dennis: He and his wife, Sarah, give leadership to a ministry called Prepare the Way Ministries since 2006. He was a public-school teacher for a number of years before starting this ministry.
Bob: You lasted longer than a day as a teacher.
Stephen: Yes. [Laughter]
Bob: Glad to hear that.
Dennis: Well the strike quit, so my job was over at that point. But I taught 8th grade English. I had them answer some questions. One of the questions was all about who was the most influential person in your life—and I was unprepared for their answers. I basically said, “Who’s your hero?” One group was predictable—parents, grandparents, etc. It was an inner-city school that we taught in—about a third said that.
Another third was sports stars, musicians, etc. Michael Jordan, maybe—was famous back then. But I was unprepared, Stephen, for the third group that was listed when I asked, “Who your hero was?” They said “me.” Not me as a teacher but, “Me, myself, and I.”
Bob: I’m my own hero.
Dennis: Now think about it. When you were 13 or 14, how prepared were you to be your own hero? And you have to believe it’s only because they didn’t have anybody else that they trusted and looked up to.
Bob: Hearing you tell that story and thinking about the environment in which teachers are teaching today, I mean it’s easy for us as Christian parents to look at the public schools and think, “Boy we may have some problems with the teachers.” I have to tell you, it’s hard to be a teacher in a lot of public schools today.
When I say hard, I mean you may be cussed out by your kids with no recourse. You may face threats of violence. There are all kind of issues that school teachers are facing day in and day out. You can understand why they either quit the profession or they just say, “I’m here to get a paycheck and as soon as I can retire, I retire.”
Stephen: Right. During the court case—when I was teaching—loved teaching early U.S. History using primary sourced documents—Sam Adams, William Penn—tons of them really. Whenever we were talking about say—studying up Pennsylvania—founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, wrote a document called The Frame of Government. In this document he quotes Romans 13. He does a little exegesis on it. So, I’m teaching history using these documents and all of a sudden, the school—in 2002-2003 school year—starts censoring them saying they violate the separation of church and state. I said, “Wait a second, this isn’t my opinion. This is the founders. These are the actual documents.”
This led to ultimately the federal court case that I’ve mentioned before. We prayed on our knees and I literally cried out to the Lord. The next day I go into school and this room mom—she vowed never to be room mom. She had four kids. The oldest was in my sixth-grade class room at the time. She always one in hand and a couple in tow and she was like “I’m never going to be room mom again.” But the Lord called her to be room mom my year. Now I know why.
She comes in and says, “Stephen, my mom gets Scripture for people and last night she got all these Scriptures for you.” I’m on my knees crying out to the Lord saying, “Lord, what am I going to do with this court case?” She wrote down all these Scriptures. I just felt led to read them right away—I start reading—it was all out of Isaiah 41 and some other places in the Old Testament. Here’s what I start reading.
It says this, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you. Do not look around in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I am the Lord who will strengthen you and harden you to difficulties. Yes, I will help you and hold you up and retain you with my victorious right hand of rightness and justice.”
I literally started to weep right there because I thought, “Well, I’m out of this case.” The fear—and at that moment, fear just completely left me and I just knew the Lord had my back. I mean how could this woman—totally not knowing what we were doing that night—get these exact Scriptures. So—man! I came back and just felt back on fire for the Lord. The last sentence was “I am the Lord who says to you, ‘Fear not, I am with you.’” I think that’s a huge issue for teachers—for parents—for anyone going into the public-school system—Dennis—that you were talking about.
Fear can grip us and when we’re led by the Lord we don’t have anything to fear—because He’s got our back.
Dennis: And the reality is—you can paralyze a parent with fear.
Dennis: A lot of parents know what I’m talking about, especially when they start thinking about tackling the Goliath of the public-school system and feeling like they’re walking off into a valley—into a battle that they don’t really understand what the rules of the battle are all about. When you were a part of that court case, did you realize all of what was at stake as you began it?
Dennis: But you started it by faith; right?
Stephen: Exactly. I felt the Lord leading to do it.
Dennis: What were the takeaways you got as a result of stepping out in faith—being obedient? What did you take away from that—because you won the case; right?
Stephen: Yes. Be equipped. Know what your rights are and know—in a Biblical worldview how to—as we’ve talked about before—be ambassadors for Christ—to know the truth but yet represent Christ in a gracious, winsome, and loving way.
Bob: There are some school administrators who have been intimidated by letters or phone calls by people who say, “If you do this, we’re going to sue you.” Just the threat of a lawsuit is enough to cause some administrators to go, “I don’t want to waste the time, the effort, the energy—so, we will just not do that—“
Dennis: Now, Bob, you’re speaking of those who are perhaps atheists—
Dennis: You’re not talking about Christians threatening a lawsuit.
Bob: No. I’m talking about the group that would say, “If you keep using William Penn’s document in the history classroom—the one that’s got Romans 13 referenced in it—we’re going to sue you for violation of church and state.” You can see where an administrator would just say, “Let’s take the easy way out here.”
Stephen: The ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, The Freedom from Religion Foundation—they know that their losing rate is high—around 80% of cases that they lose—but they know that the mere threat of a lawsuit towards the school administrator is all they really need.
Now ADF and the ACLJ and Liberty Counsel and the Pacific Justice Institute—there’s great Christian legal firms we reference them in the book, when you get empowered they’re the ones winning 80 to 90% of their cases because they’re on the side of the law in reality. I think getting those administrators—those Christian administrators out there—don’t be afraid. Call up these Christian legal funds—they’ll represent you for free.
Dennis: There are a lot of parents listening to us right now. They’re going, “My problem isn’t a lawsuit in the school system. My problem is there’s a grocery list of agenda items that are being taught in public schools as though it’s the truth.” Where do you see the greatest offense occurring that parents—who are parents of faith—ought to be aware of?
Stephen: I think we talked about it before, but some of those—History, Science, Literature, Sex Ed, Anti-Bullying, Safe Schools—things like that.
But there’s not a formula. It could crop up anywhere in the public-school system. That’s one of the things we say is just, “Be aware. Be proactive. Be involved.” Then know how to address that—how to—with grace and love.
We walk Christians through towards the end of the book—“How do you deal with conflict? How do you deal with it in a gracious, winsome, and loving way?” If your teacher says, “Well we all know that Darwinian naturalistic evolution is proven fact and if you don’t believe in that, you’re stupid.” If a teacher says something along those lines, that actually is viewpoint discrimination. That teacher has said something that’s illegal to say in the classroom.
How do you deal with that? You don’t go to the superintendent and try to get that teacher fired. You would meet with the teacher and bring along some of the documents that we reference in the book or other places—get equipped. How do you chat with that teacher and try to work that situation out and go through the appropriate channels?
Bob: I can understand how you may need to—as a parent—sit down with your child who comes home and says, “We learned today that the world began with a big bang.” You would say, “That’s one of many views. Let me read you what the Bible has to say.”
You could present a Biblical alternative to what the child is learning at school.
When it comes to issues of gender and sexuality in our day, I wonder how any parent navigates that—I wonder how teachers navigate that. If a third-grade little girl wants to be called a boy and the teacher says, “Well from now on we’re going to call Susie a boy and use the name that she prefers and all of the kids have to get in line—and if you don’t you’re bullying Susie.” I just think about that environment and think, “How confusing is that for a nine-year-old?” and “How does a parent handle that one at home?”
Stephen: Yes. Whole chapter in the book we write, “Watch out for worldview pirates.”
That’s a huge one—that you’ve got some worldview pirates coming in here with the safe schools or gender identity issues—where they’re attacking Christians and really using that as an anti-Christian mandate—that’s illegal. That’s illegal to do. Knowing how to speak the truth in love in those scenarios—knowing how to meet with not just the teacher but the principal—the superintendent of curriculum, the—you get involved like Dennis, you did—and got involved in that school situation a while back to have a positive influence and to protect the Christian’s worldview is legal.
Dennis: Give us an illustration of what’s happening around the bullying and anti-discrimination because these are really subtle ways these pirates sneak into schools and really put our kids on the spot in the classroom.
Bob: By the way, I don’t know anybody who is pro-bullying; right?
Bob: We’re not talking about the fact that we should be nice and respectful to other people. We’re talking about what’s coming in under the agenda of bullying—and it’s more than just being nice to one another.
Stephen: That’s exactly right. There are great curriculums that are anti-bullying curriculums and safe school curriculums and we had one at Cupertino—it’s actually really interesting. The curriculum was “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” It was completely Biblically based.
Bob: We know where that idea comes from.
Stephen: Yes. Now they didn’t mention it, they didn’t talk about Jesus—but it was absolutely a rock-solid curriculum. That’s a great example, but if you don’t agree with—for example, gender identity issues, homosexuality—if you don’t agree with them, they start targeting people and saying, “Well that’s bigoted and hateful” if you don’t openly embrace it. Christians in a proper Biblical worldview—there is no discrimination and we love every person—human being—that God created in His image.
Bob: All people created with dignity because they’re created in the image of God; right?
Stephen: Right. In Christianity there should be no discrimination but yet a lot of these curriculums—at times—are becoming anti-Christian—where they’re pro-homosexual indoctrination.
Bob: So, if I’m a parent and I come into the school and I say, “At our house, we’ve taught our kids that God made two kinds of people—He made men and women. We’ve also taught our kids that God made it so that boys should marry girls and girls should marry boys. Now we know the law of the land is different than what we’re teaching at home, but we’d sure like to have our viewpoint at least respected and represented even if it’s an alternate view to what is legal.” Are schools just going to dismiss me as a crackpot or are they going to go, “Okay we’re here to try and help you with that?”
Stephen: If you get the right equipping—get involved—contact a Christian legal firm say, “Hey this issue is going on. Can you help me walk this?” They will. They’ll represent you for free and help you out. That’s their ministry. Nine times out of ten you will be able to resolve that issue.
Now, if you can’t—if there’s a whole school or a whole district that is just kind off the deep end in this area—we talk about “what do you do in those scenarios?” If you’ve got a child K-5 in elementary, they’re in that classroom 1400 hours per year. That teacher is probably with your child more than you are.
Let me give an example. I walk into—I’m doing a teacher training down at Cupertino—I walk into this other teacher’s room at a different school. The teacher wasn’t even there and yet I sit down and I look upon the walls and I notice there is no American flag. Then I see a flag of mother earth and by the flag of mother earth I see a pledge of allegiance to mother earth. You just look around the room and your thinking blatant worldview pirate right in elementary school. We say—look—you should not have your kids in that teacher’s classroom.
Parents should go to the principal and request, “I am not comfortable with this teacher.” Again, nine times out of ten, principals in elementary school will honor a parent’s request, “I don’t want my child in this person’s classroom. I would like them over here.” Now middle school and high school—if that’s the case—you can’t do that because they’re in different classes at different times. That’s just a practical example of how you would deal with a worldview pirate like that.
Dennis: You’re a father of four daughters, ages four to 12. How are you preparing them as young ladies around their identity—not only as a follower of Christ but also being a young lady—a woman and not the opposite sex—not gender fluidity—but how are you preparing them for these issues because they will face them by the time they graduate from high school?
Stephen: I think if you look at studies—David Kinnaman wrote a book called You Lost Me. Kara Powell and Chap Clark wrote a book called Sticky Faith.
If you got to boil down the research—there’s no formula—but to raise up Christian kids to successfully launch into adulthood with an on fire Christian faith—I think it takes two things. One, it’s Biblical worldview equipping—it’s knowledge, it’s doctrine, it’s apologetics, it’s theology, it’s taking— One thing I was reading Deuteronomy 6 and I just said—about six or seven years ago—I said, “Honey, we need to do a family devotional every day and this needs to be our top priority.”
Now we still do it about five times a week. There’s stuff that just comes up—but boy we’re really trying to say, “We need to do this every single day.” Every one of our kids starting—even Mary Catherine, our four-year-old, somebody reads to her a little kids Bible story and all six of us share “What did you learn about Jesus today?” It could be done in five minutes. It’s not something that needs to take half hour or an hour. That’s one thing—Biblical worldview equipping.
The second thing is so important. It’s having loving adult Christian role models in the kid’s lives.
I’ve seen people in the homeschool community say, “Well, if you just homeschool,” that’s it. Well, I see homeschoolers walking away from their faith at times. It’s not the silver bullet. The silver bullet, I believe, is those two things together. It’s Biblical worldview equipping and loving adult Christian role models.
Dennis: What you’re talking about can be found in the bestselling book of all time and I’m sorry to say, Stephen, it’s not your book. [Laughter]
Dennis: It’s the Bible
Stephen: The Bible.
Dennis: There’s one book in the Bible—if you want to go to, if you want to teach a worldview—it’s the book of Proverbs. Now why do I say that? Because Proverbs is all about wisdom and wisdom is skill to live life the way God designed it. The Book of Proverbs is going to bring your child and you into circumstances where you’re applying the truth about God and the truth of Scripture to situations and circumstances where you’re teaching your kids how to think.
That is the essence of a Biblical worldview.
Our kids would roll their eyes back. We’d be on the way to a football game or another event for the school and one of their friends would be in the backseat. If I knew the kid pretty well, I’d say “So tell me Mack, what’s your worldview?” My kids would go, “Oh Dad, I can’t believe you did it again—ask him what his worldview is.”
Usually that would lead to a discussion about “What is a worldview?” and “What makes one up?”—and we would talk about it. Now my kids didn’t realize this, but I was talking to them more than I was the young man or the young lady in the backseat with my daughters or my sons. I was educating them about how to think about life from the Scripture and to think about how to live life wisely according to God’s perspective.
Stephen: That’s one thing that we love about FamilyLife. My wife and I use Barbara’s the seven words and now I think you mentioned there’s 30 names of Christ for Christmas. (His Christmas Names and Adornaments®)
We’ve gone to the Weekend to Remember—I just so appreciate what you all are doing here. It’s such a resource for the body of Christ. You’ve made it easy. You’ve given tools to equip the body of Christ on how do you raise up children with a Biblical worldview and live out that worldview as Christ in the center of a family.
Bob: We’ll fist bump you right back on that because you’ve given a tool to a lot of moms and dads in the book that you’ve written which is called Navigating Public Schools. I think—Dennis—there are going to be a lot of parents who are going to benefit from getting a copy of this—
Dennis: I agree.
Bob: —talking together about what may be ahead for you as you send your kids into the public schools and how to navigate those waters successfully.
Dennis: Stephen, I just want to thank you for your work. I started thinking today about how our schools have become dangerous places—where there’s shootings—where we’re—
—we don’t just send our kids to school to get educated—we send them to school and we pray for them—for God to protect them. I do think some of this is because we have removed God and the truth of God from the public-school system and if we can—be a part of being salt and light to permeate the darkness—and that’s what you’re doing—you’re helping parents do that. I want you to know I appreciate it. I hope folks will get a copy of Navigating Public Schools.
Bob: We’ve got a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to your website so if folks want to get more information about what you’re doing—if they’d like to have you come speak—there’s information available there. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’d like to order the book Navigating Public Schools, that’s available from us here as well. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. The title of the book is Navigating Public Schools: Charting a Course to Protect Your Child’s Christian Faith and Worldview.
If you’d like to call to order the book from us, our phone number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329. 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
I was thinking—during our conversation today—about the fact that Peter refers to Christians as aliens and strangers in this world. This world is not our home. We should not expect that the culture will share our values. What we have to know how to do is how to be ambassadors for Christ.
In fact, Paul talks about that in Philippians chapter 2 where he says that we are to “shine like stars in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” That’s what we want for ourselves as followers of Christ—that’s what we want for our children as we send them to the public schools. Our goal here at FamilyLife Today is to help provide you with the kind of equipping that all of us need so that we can live as ambassadors for Christ effectively in this culture.
Our mission is to see every home become a godly home and to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We are enabled in this mission by a small group of listeners. It’s actually a very small percentage of those of you who listen who have also stepped forward and said, “This mission matters. I want to help see it expand. I want to see you reach more people.” That would be our Legacy Partners—who contribute each month—and those of you who will from time to time make a donation in support of this ministry.
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With that we hope you have a great weekend. We hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about how one man has come up with a way to help orphans and to help widows at the same time. You’ll meet J.T. Olsen and hear his story Monday. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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