Recently I came across a Facebook post by a mom blogger who was outraged that her son was being taught the Qu’ran and Islamic prayers in school. She had gone straight to the principal and even the principal admitted being uncomfortable with the whole idea. While the comment section was mostly supportive of this mother, I personally was on the fence. If we are to raise our children with the mindset that they do not belong to us but to God, how is creating an us vs. them mentality truly teaching them how to love their neighbor? I turned to Romans 2 for answers.
While some may argue that Romans 2 has nothing to do with education and focuses mostly on behavior, it is precisely this behavior that I would like to address within the context of what we teach our children. We have already seen from previous readings that our children are not ours—we are to create the optimal environment and trust God to do the rest. But is crying out against Islam being taught in schools creating that environment? Paul says that we “have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things” (Romans 2:1). I particularly like that Paul is using “man” as a reference here…man refers to human beings in general. We are no different from one another and he emphasizes that here. The whole opening part of chapter two is just dripping with snark—you gotta love Paul for that.
“We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?” (2:2-3). What is it about Islam that has people so afraid? Because they are killing Christians? Check your history books—Christians have killed Muslims too. Christians have been killed for centuries, this is not new. This is a cycle of violence that is never ending—it will take something totally radical to make it stop. What if Christians took those steps by not being outraged that Islam is being taught to our children in schools? What if instead of protesting, we said, hey, okay—maybe they’ll learn something and we can have these discussions at home so that we can both understand our neighbor a little bit better? Then maybe, just maybe, this would be a step forward into incorporating learning about other religions in schools. Stop being afraid that your children will convert to Islam if they learn about it in school. This culture of fear and anxiety that we have as contemporary Christians needs to go away. Jen Hatmaker said something in her book “For the Love” that I really like: “Everything is so precious these days.” (With a snarky voice please). We’re not being persecuted when Islam is being taught in schools. That is not persecution. Persecution is being executed in the streets or ejected from your homes or country. This is not what is happening here. We create situations of persecution because we are a wealthy nation with nothing better to do. Instead of being grateful for the luxury we have, we invent scenarios where we imagine that we are being persecuted and can fight back. This is wrong. Early Christians overcame persecution by submitting to it. Consider the story of St. Sophia and her three daughters, Faith, Hope, and Love. Sophia was forced to watch her daughters be tortured and executed but never once did she fight back. Rather she encouraged her daughters to remain strong in their faith and to suffer for Christ. THIS is how we are to present ourselves…by submitting. But we modern folk know nothing about submission…it is seen as weakness rather than strength.
“Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (2:4). God’s kindness is not meant to set you apart as Christians. He’s not kind to you because you are a precious little snowflake and better than everyone. He is kind to you because he wants you to repent. Teaching our children that they are super special because we are Christians is not correct. “But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury” (2:5-8). So while you’re busy judging everyone else and trying to set yourself apart, you’re storing up wrath. And then people wonder why cliques are created in schools—children mimic their parents! If a child is learning at home us vs. them, they are going to go to school and act on it. Let them learn something about Islam so that they understand the other children they are going to school with and stop worrying about whether or not they are going to be recruited to radical groups in the end.
“There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (2:9-11). God will not differentiate between us—in fact, as Christians we are held even more responsible because we have the advantage of God’s instruction. Yet there is no special court for us…separate from everyone else. We will be judged alongside the rest of the world. If we are singled out in anyway, it’s because we will be judged more harshly—not because we’re unique. If God won’t single us out as special, why are we trying to separate ourselves from everyone else? Everyone complains about how entitled our youth are—this is not spontaneous behavior. This is behavior learned at home and carried out into the world. We are entitled and so we complain about Islam being taught in schools because we think that we are special. We are terrified when someone else gets the preferential treatment because our status is “threatened”.
On a personal note, I learned absolutely nothing about Islam until I was in my mid-twenties. I served in the military and fought against a faceless enemy that I knew nothing about. I love the film “Ender’s Game” because he talks about the importance of knowing his enemy. Why not have your children learn this while they are young and you can guide them? When they’re in college, they’re not going to listen to you because they are busy establishing themselves as their own people. But if you treat them as people while they are young and respect them enough to have the conversations and trust God to help them navigate, they just might learn to love their neighbors. But people wonder why the youth are leaving the church in droves—who wants to be a part of a religion that is so governed by fear and anxiety? Trust God.
“All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (2: 12-16). Those of us who have sinned under the law will be judged by it. Even though the “others” have sinned without the law, if they do what the law requires, they have shown that the law is “written on their hearts” and they may be excused on the day of judgment. But that is God’s decision, not ours. It doesn’t say that we will be helping God decide who and how to judge. We will be standing right there with the “others” receiving judgment ourselves. If God does not differentiate between us in judgment, who are we to differentiate here on earth? Why are we teaching our children to show partiality when God does not? If we truly want to teach our children to be like God, we will teach them not to place themselves on pedestals as though they are better than other people.
“But if you call yourself a Jew and rely upon the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (2:17-24). If you as a Christian are so perfect and you understand the law so well, are you behaving perfectly? Teach yourself what you have learned! “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” If Muslims are killing Christians, it might be because we are bearing witness to the love of the cross, but more likely it is because of our failure to love.
“Circumcision is indeed of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision” (2:25). It’s all good to behave well, but the minute you mess up, you’re the same as everybody else. God shows no partiality.
“So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have written code and circumcision but break the law” (2:26-27). If someone who is Muslim keeps the law by behaving peacefully, he will be excused. If someone who is Christian breaks the law, he will be condemned. There is no special treatment…you follow the rules and it will be well for you—it doesn’t matter if you are Muslim or a Christian or a Buddhist.
“For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God” (2:28-29). Being a Christian is not something that is external—it’s not something you can see. Sure, there is behavior and you can definitely make an educated guess about the state of someone’s heart from their behavior, but we don’t get to see their lives within the context of eternity. Only God can judge our behavior and the true state of the heart. So what does it matter if Islam is being taught in schools? This can only improve the state of our children’s hearts because they are being taught to see a friend instead of an enemy. Point out the differences between faiths at home.
I don’t pretend that I am a perfect person. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to submission—especially when everything in our culture points to fighting back. But the more I study the Bible, the more irritated I have become with the fear and anxiety of contemporary Christians. I never realized how deeply rooted it is in everything that we do. These things that I have written about are hard but they are also freeing. It is a relief to see an exit from the cycle of terror that we have invented for ourselves. There is such freedom in realizing that you are at the bottom because there is nothing to lose. And there’s nowhere to go but up.