Church in the Public (School) Square
During the 1980’s, there were a number of court battles over whether Christian student groups could have a presence on campus like other voluntary special interest groups like the chess club or Key Club, with the ultimate decision being in favor of ‘equal access.’ Similar arguments were used for churches to rent school cafeterias on Sunday mornings or other non-school times, just like any other civic group.
It turns out that the latter policy is falling out of judicial favor. “In a June 2 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled 2-1 that the New York City Department of Education can bar churches from renting school facilities for worship services. The decision overturned a 2002 lower court ruling that allowed the congregation, in addition to nearly 60 other churches, to conduct worship services in school buildings.”
The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court as expected. What wasn’t expected was that they would refuse to hear the case, thus letting the 2nd Circuit decision stand.
The story doesn’t end there, but has a refreshing twist as the last link describes. The pastor of the soon-to-be evicted church reasserts his congregation’s fundamental right to continue to represent Jesus to the community, the school, and the NYC DoE. Amen! They intend to utilize their right to return good for evil and to continue to love the community they have gotten to know around the school.
In a similar vein, a leader in the house church movement urges similar attitudes globally, wherever there is persecution of any kind, and how such persecution can be a blessing in disguise, allowing the church to flourish in smaller groups. Smaller groups attract less official attention, and free members up to live their faith a little more easily even in restrictive environments.
As believing faculty in institutions that implicitly and sometimes explicitly frown upon us, viewing us as a black sheep to be tolerated only as shortly and as little as possible, this is good advice. No one is advocating hiding our light under a bushel, but being wise and strategic so as to have the maximum beneficial impact on our campus. Our university presidents need not be academic Emperor Constantines for God to work through Christian faculty. He needs us to be faithful to Him and the assignments He’s given us, public or private in scope.
Regardless, though, we do need each other. We faculty have a romantic fascination with a scholarly form of rugged individualism that is completely counter to the concept of the ekklesia, or Church Body, and it means we are more easily culled from the flock and our impact neutralized.
Whether we are actively involved in an off-campus traditional congregation or not, we are a type of ekklesia on campus, and should act as such (Hebrews 10:24-25). Obeying this Scriptural command helps us to be Christ even in the midst of adversity, large or small, so that we can truly love our students, colleagues and even administrators, regardless of whether they make life easier or harder. And that loving is no less a command than the gathering together. So let’s do what makes obedience to our Lord easier.