No "Silent Night" At The School Concert?

I understand that quite a few Christian parents were upset that the Moscow schools’ Winter Concerts didn’t feature religious songs — a protest that I’m sure rang across the country in the days before Christmas vacation.

Reliable sources say that at one Moscow elementary school’s concert, about half of the songs were about Christmas — the Santa version thereof, not the one reflecting Christ. The other half were general songs about winter, or songs reflecting non-religious winter traditions from other cultures. From the grumbling after the show, however, it seems that the Christ-following parents of these elementary school children were decidedly unhappy that specifically religious Christmas songs weren’t on the program.

Why would they be? Moscow’s public schools — and this is one of the best things about them — are full of kids from many different religions, cultures, and countries. I’ll grant that most people celebrate December 25 as Jesus’ birthday, in a vaguely Christian-ish way that manages to combine Christ, Santa Claus, and Wal-Mart in a triumverate of Americana. And I know that in years past, schools’ winter concerts reflected Christian traditions — even when it seemed at odds with both the Constitution and the religious practices of other, non-Christian students.

But public schools aren’t the place to establish a fully Christian — and by that I mean “devoted to worship of Jesus as Messiah” — celebration of the holiday, any more than they’re places to conduct baptisms. That’s not what we ought to ask of public schools, and we shouldn’t want to. Because if the public schools bend to my religious faith’s traditions, they’ll bend to another’s when its adherents are in the majority. I don’t want children singing worship songs to a God they don’t worship, and I imagine that’s how non-Christian parents feel when their kids are performing in overtly Christian programs at the public schools they support with their tax dollars.

The fact that Christianity is the “majority faith” in this country isn’t a reflection on the piety or faithfulness of those who claim it, and it hasn’t kept the culture from descending into a decidedly un-Christian morass of greed, filth, violence and oppression. There is a world of difference between American Christiandom, which is tepid in its discipleship and fervent in its embrace of the world, and true Christianity, which is infinitely less common and eternally more profound. The difference is between the Bread of Life and the pabulum of the Christian-ish, represented by a narrow gate on the one hand and Doorbuster Specials of show and pageantry on the other.

My concern about schools isn’t whether or not they reflect my religious beliefs. Frankly, there’s enough evidence that churches don’t really engage in worship, and I wonder if the feigned outrage over “secularized” holiday programs in school isn’t a cover for a sense that we’re asking schools to reflect what our churches have not. I can’t help but believe that if the Church celebrated the birth of its Savior by giving itself over to love above all, humble service, simple and profound worship, acts of kindness, and a de-emphasis on THINGS, we would be so moved — and so busy — that we wouldn’t be at all worried about a Kwanzaa song at a public school concert. In fact, we might even find something valuable in its message.

I have fond memories of school programs and concerts, and I preferred the ones about Lewis and Clark, bees, and the weather to the predictable and dull “holiday” songfests. But let the schools have their pageants, and let’s support them — and our kids — as they do. Let’s not, though, expect our kids’ schools to train them up in the way they should go or teach them to sing the praises of the Most High. Public schools are public schools, churches are churches, and woe be it to us if the latter is so impotent that the former must do its work for it.

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