Heritage Academy, an Evangelical institution located in Hagerstown, Maryland finds itself the center of attention due to its punishment of a high school senior who had sex outside of marriage and got pregnant. CJ Lovelace, a writer for The Herald-Mail, reports:
As children played outside just before noon Tuesday, two police vehicles were parked in front of Heritage Academy.
Inside, officers took reports from school officials about harassing emails and phone calls coming in to the small Christian school west of Hagerstown.
“Some of them are calling me names, but when somebody is in a leadership position like I am in, it’s going to happen,” Heritage Principal Dave Hobbs said. “The other issue that we’re having is we’re getting a lot of encouragement. We’ve gotten lots of emails, thanking us for taking a stand in regards to what is right and what is wrong.”
The independent, nondenominational school has been the target of criticism since news broke that one of its students, 18-year-old Maddi Runkles, had been barred from “walking” in her upcoming graduation because she is pregnant.
But, according to Hobbs, the punishment had little to do with Runkles’ pregnancy and everything to do with her conduct that violated school code.
“Certainly, we are a pro-life institution, and certainly we are pleased that Maddi has chosen to keep her baby,” Hobbs told Herald-Mail Media. “Her choice broke that standard of abstinence. It is a clear standard in the Bible. It is a clear standard in our handbook.”
Hobbs first learned of Runkles’ pregnancy in early February when her father, the former president of the school’s board of directors, Scott Runkles, came to him with the news. An emergency meeting followed and administrators began formulating disciplinary action, which was finalized Feb. 20 in a binding decision after appeals made by the Runkles family, Hobbs said.
“We have to look at every individual situation on a case-by-case basis,” Hobbs said.
When the pregnancy first came to light, Runkles, a 4.0 student who will still receive her diploma, was suspended from school for a couple days and removed from her position on the student council while the board decided what to do.
Since then, she’s been permitted to continue attending classes and school functions at the institution of about 175 students — including 15 in this year’s senior class. Scott Runkles, who resigned from his position on the school’s board in a result of the punishment, has said that he agrees his daughter deserved to be disciplined, but not by banning her from graduation.
“Maddi is a great kid,” her father said Monday. “She just happened to have a lapse in judgment.” ….
Heritage Academy has removed everything from their website (typical of Fundamentalist schools and churches who find themselves in the public spotlight) except for a statement by Principal Dave Hobbs. Hobbs wrote:
Dearest Heritage Family:
As I begin, please understand that my wife and I have fallen in love with the people of Heritage Academy. Therefore, it is for Heritage’s protection that I write this.
The main reason I have been silent to this point is because in disciplinary situations, each Heritage family deserves confidentiality. The conduct of your children is not everyone’s business. This perspective would have been the best way to deal with Maddi Runkles’ disciplinary situation. However, her family has chosen to make her behavior a public matter. Before sending this letter, I contacted Scott Runkles who gave me permission to discuss this publicly. In my thinking, these were the two to protect: first Maddi, then Heritage, in that order. Unfortunately, both are now being hurt by those who do not know or understand the situation. For this sole reason, I am now willing to comment publicly.
Let me clarify some facts. Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral. The Student Pledge which every student from 5th grade through 12th grade signs states that this application of Philippians 4:8 “extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs”. Heritage is also pleased that she has chosen to not abort her son. However, her immorality is the original choice she made that began this situation. Secondly, she will receive her diploma that she has earned.
Much has been said about grace. I believe that there are two kinds of grace: saving grace and living grace. One is concerning spiritual birth “once and for all” (Hebrews 9:12, 10:10) which demanded no effort on my part, because my Savior Jesus, finished this on His cross and from His empty tomb. The other kind of grace is spiritual growth that does demand my effort (2 Peter 3:18). It also includes discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11). A wise man told me that discipline is not the absence of love, but the application of love. We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.
As I conclude, I have two concerns. First, I am concerned that my Heritage family feels that the Board and I are harsh, cruel, hard-hearted men. Nothing can be further from the truth. We have spent countless hours in prayer and discussion. The Board has listened to three appeals from the Runkles family and compromised all three times. Secondly, I am concerned about our graduation ceremony on the evening of June 2nd . That night, I want God to be glorified in a dignified manner. Please enable us to do this.
With deepest sincerity,
David R. Hobbs, Administrator
You can view a Wayback Machine cached version of Heritage’s website here. You can view the school’s 2016-17 student handbook here.
When stories such as this one make the national news, non-Evangelicals are often outraged over such Puritanical, backward thinking and behavior, thinking that schools such as Heritage Academy are few and far between. However, there are scores of Heritage Academies scattered across the United States, each with harsh rules and discipline meant to keep students from drinking, cussing, smoking, fornicating, and listening to rock music. These schools not only regulate what students can and can’t due while at school, they also regulate what they can and can’t do at home and with their friends. One Fundamentalist school I am very familiar with expelled several high school students because they were caught drinking alcohol at a private party. These types of schools tend to legislate behavior both on and off campus, and that is certainly the case with Maddi Runkles.
There’s no greater sin for a Christian school girl to commit than to get pregnant. Boys can whore around and schools are none the wiser. But, when a girl has unprotected sex (and my money is on the school’s sex education class being abstinence only) and finds herself pregnant, well her S-I-N is exposed for all to see. This, of course, is a public embarrassment for Evangelical schools, leading to jokes and gossip about their morality codes and the inability of students to keep them.
Heritage Academy, choosing to not do as Jesus did with the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11, decided to publicly punish and humiliate Maddi Runkles. Perhaps someone needs to do as Jesus did in John 8 and do some writing in the sand detailing the sins of Principal Hobbs, the school board, teachers, and everyone else associated with the school. Believe me, everyone has behaviors they wouldn’t want anyone to know about it. In Runkles’ case, her “sin” grew inside of her, exposing for all to see her “immoral” behavior. I am sure more than a few other high school students at Heritage were glad that their secret sexual “sins” were not exposed. Does anyone doubt for a moment that there are other fornicating students — doing what is healthy and normal for sexually aware teenagers and young adults to do?
Maddi Runkles is eighteen years old. She is most certainly old enough to decide whether to have sexual intercourse. That she had unprotected sex is unfortunate, but there is nothing in this story that merits anything more from the school than, Maddi, what can we do to help?
Other Heritage students and parents are paying attention to how Principal Hobbs and the school board dealt with Runkles’ pregnancy. Perhaps in the future, an unintended consequence of the school’s actions in this case might lead another pregnant girl to get an abortion instead of making known her pregnancy. School officials said they prayed long and hard over this matter, but since there is no God to hear their prayers, what we are left with is the moral beliefs of the nine men (no women) who decided Maddi Runkles’ fate. I wonder if all of these men were virgins when they walked the aisle on their wedding day. If not, and I highly doubt all of them were, perhaps they should heed Jesus’ words — he that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.
What follows is an excerpt from a 11,000 word sermon preached in 1971 at First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, by its pastor Jack Hyles. Titled Satan’s Bid for Your Child, Hyles makes it clear that the public schools are out to destroy America’s children. Sadly, forty years later, many Evangelicals still believe as Hyles did: that public schools are used by Satan to destroy the minds of our children. Hyles’ solution, of course, was for parents to pull their children out of public schools, and enroll them in Christian schools.
I would not preach like I am going to preach tonight if I did not love you. I know a lot of folks tonight will not agree with me, but you never heard a more honest sermon. Now I know our church has dozens of public school teachers. If we asked for a show of hands tonight, I am sure that we would have 35 to 40 people in this room tonight who teach in the public school. I would not hurt you purposely for the world, but tonight I am going to do one thing–I am going to tear what is going on in our schools apart, let me forewarn you. I am going to try to help you save your kids.
The truth is, parents do not know what is going on. I am going to be very frank tonight. No punches barred tonight. If I have superintendents of schools and principals and teachers calling me by the thousands tomorrow, it does not matter. I am going to try to save your kids if it makes the whole town mad. Tonight I am going to spend myself to save your kids. I am going to risk your devotion, your love, your fellowship, maybe your friendship, but I am going to do it because, with all my heart I want to save your kids.
A lady said to me yesterday, “I went over here to a middle school to work in the lunchroom at the lunch hour. Pastor, it never dawned on me the condition of that place. I never realized before what is happening in our schools.”
Parents, you really do not know what is going on. No, you do not. I have in my hand a teenage questionnaire. By the say, one of the reasons I am starting off slow tonight, I do not know what time it is and could not care less. You just forget your clock and your hopes of getting to bed at all tonight, because this is one night when I am going to stand before you and plead for your children.
There are people in this room tonight who care more about your dog than you do your kids. You care more about driving a Cadillac car, or new car. A lot of you ought to sell your car and ride a bicycle if you have to, to get your kids in a decent school. I plead with you tonight for your kids. I hold before me a copy of a survey that our high school students took this morning. Two hundred thirty of our students took this survey, and here are the questions:
1. Have you ever heard one of your school teachers use vulgar language in class?
2. Have you ever heard a school teacher take the name of the Lord in vain in class?
3. Do you ever hear students cursing aloud in class?
4. Have you ever been approached by someone who wanted to sell or give you marijuana or any other narcotic?
5. Have any of your school friends used narcotics?
6. Have you ever used drugs?
7. Have you ever given away or sold drugs yourself?
8. Do you know of any teacher who uses drugs?
9. Have you ever been taught evolution?
10. Do any of your teachers wear mini-skirts?
11. Do any of your teachers wear pant dresses?
12. Do any of your school friends drink?
13. Have you ever taken a drink or any alcoholic beverage, such as beer, wine, etc.?
14. Has there ever been in your school any disturbances, such as revolts, riots, student disorders, boycotts, etc.?
15. Have you ever heard the American way of life, the establishment, and capitalism criticized by a teacher?
16. Have you ever worn slacks to school?
17. Have you ever worn shorts to school?
18. Have you ever been taught that premarital sex is all right?
19. Have you been asked to read such books as, Of Mice and Men, Soul On Ice, The Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, or any other book that includes cursing?
20. Have you read any of these books?
Now this questionnaire was handed to each of our high school students this morning. Before you leave tonight, I am going to give you what your kids said this morning, plus a lot of other things along with it. I will give you through the message tonight, the result of this survey.
The average parent in this room does not have any idea what is going on when your child goes to school. How many of you, if you saw your child’s teacher walking down the street, would recognize him or her? Raise your hand, please. You see, you are living under the illusion that it is like us when you were a kid. Brother, it is not near like it was when you were a kid. Not near like it was. Now, you do not care enough to even know. How many of you have ever read at least one book that was required reading for your child at school? Would you lift your hand, please? You just do not much care, do you?
You see, you do not know what is going on, and like the ostrich, you do not want to know what is going on because you do not want to get in a fight, or spend some of your money to save your child. You want to keep on riding high, living it up, enjoying life without facing the fact that we have got a battle on our hands, and that battle is not just to save the country, it is to save your children.
If we so not rise up and do something, everything decent that we know about our way of life is about to crumble. I am sick and tired of a bunch of sex, demonized, demented people standing behind the school, behind the cloak of scholarship, and destroying those whom we call our own children. I am tired of it! I have ceased, a long time ago, to keep my mouth shut about it. Not only that, but since you will not check yourself on what is going on tonight, I am going to open the door to the public schools for you and invite you in.
I challenge anybody to disprove what I say tonight. There is not one way any person can disprove what I am going to give you in this sermon tonight. You say, “Preacher, you are a rabble-rouser.” You better know I am, but I am not near as big a rabble-rouser as these people trying to destroy the minds of our children, destroy the patriotism, decency, honor, character and chastity of our boys and girls. I am going to do some rabble-rousing, but that is not all I am going to do. I am going to do some school-building, too, and I am going to give our kids a choice in so doing.
Satan is after your child like he has never been after anybody’s child in the history of this world. Satan has pointed every gun in his arsenal at the soul and body and life of your child, and he is doing it, basically, through the schoolroom.
You see, people do not like to hear what I am going to say tonight, because we have some things that we have deified. We have some institutions that we do not like to see anybody attack. We have deified the schoolroom and the public school until we think they can say no evil, speak no evil, and while we have built a canopy of protection over them they are destroying and stealing our boys and girls. Now the truth is, ant this is the sad thing, you ought to be pleading with me for your children instead of me pleading with you. Isn’t that something? I stand up here and take a chance on making you mad, pleading with you to save your child. The truth is, you ought to be on your knees, saying, “Brother Hyles, please do something for us so we can save our children.”
I could have parents stand up all over this house tonight as living testimony to what I am going to say. I could have parents parade across this platform by the dozens, they are here now, to stand up here in bodies and lives and dreams that are broken and say, “My boy or my girl was ruined by a university or a high school or a teacher.”
Your kids may go to the Devil and your kids may not go to a Christian school and they may not turn out right, but I will tell you one thing, it is not going to be because Brother Hyles did not warn you and do the best he could to help you. If anybody gets mad at me tonight, it is because you just do not understand. I love you and I love your children, and I love you so much I am going to do my best to beat some sense in your head.
I am weary of this kind of talk, “Well, everything will be out in the world when they get older. Why shelter and protect them now?” If that is the case, when your kid is born, why don’t you kick him out in the street and say, “Ride a bicycle.”
I am going to give you tonight several things the Devil is doing to attack your child:
1. Revolution. The first part of the hippie program is to kill your parents. I mean that quite seriously, because until you are prepared to kill your parents, you are not really prepared to change the country. “Our parents are our first oppressors.” Who said that? Jerry Rubin, one of the notorious Chicago Seven. Where did he say it? On the campus of Kent State University. It was said on the Kent State University campus, “You must be prepared to kill your parents because they are your first oppressors.” This was said only one week before the rioting which resulted in the deaths of four students.
Our socialist-minded professors and teachers, with their leftist-slanted textbooks, have dedicated themselves to changing the American way of life through the indoctrinating of the minds of students.
What else is being launched at your child?
2. Books. Here are some samples of profanity. Now I am sorry, I am not going to use these words, but I am going to spell some bad words. I may as well just come out and tell you what your kids are reading. You have not checked on it, you have no idea, so I am going to have to tell you. I have got to invite you. I am going to open a few of the books. New Worlds Ahead is used for the seventh grade. The seventh grade uses this: “The Stray Kitten”, by Richard Wright, Page 54. “Kill that d-a-m-n thing.” That is seventh grade. Page 55: “I had my first triumph over my father. I had made him believe that I had taken his words literally; he could not punish me without risking his authority. I was happy because I had at last found a way to throw my criticism of him into his face.” That is a quote from a seventh-grade book.
Another story in the book called “The Blue Serge Suit”, Page 414, says, “D-a-m-n asthma.” Page 416, “That d-a-m-n asthma is getting worse.” “I’ll be d-a-m-n-e-d if I see what you are getting at.” That is seventh grade reading!
A ninth grade book, Voices in Literature (1). “Shoe Shine”, by Jerome Weidman, Page 21: “My God!” Page 23:”D-A-M-N it.” Page 23 again: “D-a-m-n it! My God!” The Long Night”, by Lowell Blanton, Page 84: “Well, d-a-m-n it, man.” Page 209: “D-a-m-n-e-d-e-s-t thing.” Page 235 questions parental authority. “The Sissy from Anaconda”, Page 352: The d-a-m-n-e-d-e-s-t rattle snake.” “Hell.” That is ninth-grade reading. Not only is that not good English, that is not even cultural. That is not even refined. That is not even scholarly–that is heathen-like.
You parents who won’t send your sons and daughters to our school, you say “I am afraid that the Hammond Baptist High School will not be properly accredited.” We are a little above this kind of accreditation. We are too scholarly for this kind of garbage. We are too cultural for this kind of talk. Not only has it pricked our religious and spiritual convictions, it pricks our cultures.
We are just getting started. Say you will not read this. I have got to read it to you and for you. It is called Themes in Literature, the tenth grade. “The Colt” by Willis Stegner, Page 127: “G-o-d-d-a-m-n you. G-o-d-d-a-m-n your wild hearts.”
Tenth grade: In “The Mateo Falcon”, by Merimee, the father kills his own son. In Western Literature: Themes and writers, “The Out Station”, by W. Somerset Maugham, page 83: “Go to Hell, you d-a-m-n fool. You D-a-m-n-e-d snob, by God.” And 15 counts of profanity in this one story on Page 83, and also a murder.
Voices in literature III, an article “On the Sidewalk Bleeding”, by Evan Hunter, page 105-111, a gang member is stabbed. The whole story tells how he lays on the sidewalk and bleeds to death.
In the book Of Mice and Men, that has been required reading in numbers of schools in this area, by John Steinbeck, page 24: “He is sure a Hell of a good worker. He is a G-o-d-d-a-m-n good worker.” My Bible says you are not to take the name of our Lord God in vain. And I will tell you another thing, too. I got fed up with my boy and girl having to sit in a classroom and listen to a bunch of dirty-minded people stand up and use God’s name in vain. Not one time in the life of my children anymore are they going to sit and hear anybody curse my God! You do not have to let your children do that either. Of Mice and Men, by the way, Steinbeck is a Nobel Prize winner. The Devil is proud of him. Page 48, “Them G-o-d-d-a-m-n turnips, give it to me.” Page 56, If that crazy b-a-s-t-a-r-d is foolin’ around too much, just kick him out, Slim.” Page 83: “In many times.” Page 94: “This here G-o-d-d-a-m-n son of a ______(female dog) wasn’t nothin’ to George.”
Soul On Ice, By Elridge Cleaver, here is another book that is suggested reading, page 159: “I’d jump over ten nigger________(female dogs) just to get one white woman.”
Now you just sit there and swell up like a toadstool, but brother, I am trying to help your kids, and I am doing it at the risk of a lot of folks getting mad. Listen, if I lose half the deacon board and two-thirds of the members, there is one thing I am going to do: Try to save your kids for Jesus’s sake before I have to take off. I am not mad at anybody, but the Devil, and I am weary of this crowd of left-wingers that are taking over our schools and ruining our kids. I am weary of these sex perverts, these people of loose morals, these Sweden-oriented teachers, and if you are not one of those, I am not talking about you, but there are thousands of them, and it is getting worse and worse all the time. This kind of garbage is what they are requiring and asking our kids to read. Now I have not even started yet, really. I wish I had time to do the whole thing. Let us go further.
Soul On Ice, Page 160: “I will not be free until the day I can have a white woman in my bed, and a white man minds his own business.” Page 170, I cannot even read this, “During _______, and at the moment of her_______, the black woman in the first throes of her_________.” I cannot even read it! It tells about a black woman and a white man, the entire story.
Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, published by Viking Press, Page 27, and this book is considered suggested reading. Page 27: “You ain’t too d-a-m-n holy to take a drink, are you?” “And I hear she’s a s-o-n of a ______(female dog).” That is the Grapes of Wrath. You thought that was a good book, didn’t you? You are not checking, are you? Well now you know. You ought to say, “My child is not going to be subjected to stuff like this anymore.”
4. Sex. Coming into our schools are books, slides and filmstrips are not how babies are made. Now this is for our little children, little children in school. “How Babies Are Made” shows chickens and dogs in the act. It shows Mom and Dad in bed. It is climaxed with a few pictures of a nude mother giving birth to a baby who was conceived several pages earlier. That is being taught in our schools to little children. A coloring book of animals “in the act” is also available for the kiddies, as is a teacher’s guide which explains how babies are made. It “hopes to create an atmosphere of honesty and freedom of discussion concerning matters of reproduction, and to promote understanding and correct usage of the names of body parts.” This is for little children.
The teacher’s guide lists the following questions which are typical of those asked during a presentation of the story, “How Babies Are Made.” “When people lie down and face each other, does the woman become pregnant?” I cannot even read the rest of it, and I can’t believe they print this for little children.
LISTEN TO ME! If every deacon in this church walks out on me, and if every member of this church gets mad and quits, or this church rises up tonight and says “Don’t you preach what you are preaching or we will fire you,” you can have your church and I will be on my way. I am going to fight this dastardly attempt by the Devil and his crowd to wreck our children and destroy our boys and girls. Brother, don’t you think this is a one-time-only sermon; you will be getting it right along.
Now what can you do?
1. Get in a good church. You say, “I will pray about it.” You do not have to pray about that; just get in a good church. You say, “I will do what the Lord leads.” He is leading you out of that liberal church now. Get in a good church. You say, “Where is a good one?” Well, see me after the service and I will recommend one to you.
2. Get your child in all the activities of the church. All of them! When the doors open, get him here. Get Junior in the choir. “But he is thirteen; his voice is changing.” Okay, let him get up and sing sourly. That is how I sing all the time. Get him in the choir. You say, “He cannot sing.” Then let him hum. If he cannot hum, just let him move his mouth and pray nothing will come out. But you say, “Brother Hyles, Junior will not go.” Oh, brother. What in the world kind of parent are you? I dare my boy not to go when I say go. He is seventeen years old now and thinks he might be able to whip his dad, but I have some holds he does not know about. I will wring his neck if he does not obey me.
3. Get your child in the Christian school. I mean it folks. Do I have to get on my knees and talk to you? Do I have to beg you? I know, I sit in my office. I know what happens.
I am going to say this if it harelips every dog in this county. I am going to make somebody mad, but I am going to say it. I am going to take a chance on making all of you mad tonight to save your kids. When our kids come home from college, they do not have to tell me which ones are coming home from state universities. I can spot them. Now if that be treason, make the most of it. I am trying to help you. I have tried the best I could to keep your kids from going to those state colleges. I have preached and preached and screamed and pleaded and begged and hollered and cried and made folks mad and chased folks off, trying to keep your kids from going there. I am doing it again tonight.
Get your kids in the Christian school. We have here, on this platform, a man who has to take second place to no principal when it comes to scholarship and education. None at all. We have a faculty at our school that does not have to bow to anybody’s faculty.
Ladies and gentlemen, your children do not have to go to the Devil anymore. Furthermore, we are opening a college in September of 1972. That means not that a child can start at our schools when he is four years of age and stay there for 16 years. They do not have to go to the Devil.
4. Give. It is going to take a lot of money for us to do what we are going to do. I mean some of you ought to give some property. You say, “Brother Hyles, what would you do with it?” We may start a school on it. Or we may trade it for some property where we can start a school. Somebody who owns fifty acres ought to just give ten acres to the church, just give it. You say, “Brother Hyles, it is a long way off.” You ought to just give it anyway. Give it to the church. How we will use it, I do not know, but we will use it. Just give it to the church. Somebody ought to give enough land for a school in some neighborhood, and when the time comes, we will develop it and have a school there. Give.
Somebody ought to give a thousand or ten thousand dollars. Listen, it is the best money you have ever spent, investing in this kind of money for our children. Also, you ought to put First Baptist Church in your Will. I do not mean nest month, I mean this week. I mean now. Go down to your lawyer and say, “Put First Baptist Church in my Will so when I die, I will still be helping to carry on the program of First Baptist Church and what it is trying to do.
The thing that every person ought to do is tithe. I am calling on every member of this church to give ten percent of his income from now on. Everyone–every child, every man, every woman, every boy, every girl, every couple–everybody! We cannot rise up and build and do what God wants us to do, unless we give. We have to do it! It is time we called a national emergency on the Devil. Let us save our children.
Of course, many of you have closed minds. You do not want to be confused with the facts; your mind is made up. You are too scholarly. Your mind is closed. If you could have interviewed the kids in our school before they went to school here, and if you knew them now, you would be a believer.
They are your kids! I have tried for years, and I’ll keep on trying to help them. I am not against anything or anyone except wrong, but I am against wrong wherever it is! I know what I’m called. I hear what gangs of boys say when they drive by the church and see me getting into my car. I know what is said on the radio, the newscasts, and the call-in programs. I am a fanatic. They said that I am a bigot (Do you know what the word “bigot” is? Bigot is a word used by bigots to describe decent people.) Yes, I know! I was walking in a shopping center the other day, and three boys spit at me. I get the phone calls. I get the letters. I’m a fool, but I’m glad to be one if I can help save your kids! We have dedicated ourselves to try to do it! Won’t you let us?
Most Americans are quite ignorant about the nature of Evangelical churches and their pastors (I use the word “pastor” as a general term that encompasses pastors, elders, missionaries, evangelists, et al.). Here are 21 things you might not know:
Churches, by default, are tax exempt. Churches do not have to apply for 501(c)(3) status in order to be exempt.
In many states, churches are exempt from paying sales and real estate taxes.
Most American children do not choose which, if any, religion they want to follow. (please see Why Most Americans are Christian.) Children, almost without exception, adopt the religion of their parents and family. Often, religious worship is part of the ebb and flow of family and community life, so it should come as no surprise that children embrace that religion. And therein lies the problem. Most Americans believe that worshiping God is very important, and many of them take it a step further in believing that it is essential that their children worship a specific God, namely the Christian God.
In most Christian sects, children are encouraged to make a conscious choice to worship Jesus. In the Catholic church,children, often as young as 7 years old, go through the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. In the Lutheran church, children, usually around the age of 12, go through the rite of confirmation. In the Evangelical church, children are encouraged to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is not uncommon to hear adult Evangelicals say that Jesus saved them when they were 5 or 6 years old. In the Baptist church, it is not uncommon to hear testimonies of youthful conversion and a re-dedication to that conversion during teenage years.
Regardless of the Christian sect and its initiation practice, young children are encouraged, and often expected, to embrace the family God. Many secularists, including myself, think that children should not make the choice of a particular religion until they are old enough to do so, say, teenage years or older. If, as most Christians say, believing in, and worshiping Jesus is vitally important, then shouldn’t children wait to embrace Christianity until their reasoning skills are such that they can intellectually understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a member of a particular church?
Many Christian sects either baptize or dedicate infants, resulting in that particular sect putting its mark upon the infant. They are saying, in effect, this baby is ours. From that point forward,children are indoctrinated in their parents religion. While many Christian sects hide their motivations for indoctrinating young children, Evangelical groups such as Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), are quite clear about why they go after young children. Thirty years ago, David Shibley, a proponent of CEF methodology, wrote about the importance of evangelizing children:
I want my two young sons to have bland testimonies – no sensational stories about rescue from drugs, perversion and rebellion.
I want it to be natural for them to trust the Lord Jesus early for salvation and then to trust Him for everything thereafter. I believe in the validity of child evangelism.
For one thing, statistics are on its side. 19 out of 20 Christians receive Christ before the age of 25. After that, the odds against conversion become astronomical.
Early conversion saves not only a soul, but potentially points an entire life toward service to God and man. In 15 years of ministry I’ve met no one who is sorry he came to Christ early in life. I’ve encountered many who are sorry they didn’t….
Shortly before his second-century martyrdom at age 95, Polycarp said, “86 years have I served the Lord.” 18th Bible expositor Matthew Henry was converted at the age of six, hymnwriter Isaac Watts at nine.
W.A. Criswell, pastor of the large First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, was saved when he was eight. Evangelist Stephen Olford came to Christ on his 7th birthday.
65% of those enrolled in America’s largest seminary Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were converted before their teens.
Children are reached more easily than adults. Jay Kesler, president of Youth for Christ International, has well said, “Any evangelism after high school isn’t evangelism. It’s really salvage.”
Young children are notably tender. Their sincerity is never in doubt. Their heart attitudes contribute to genuine conversion. And Jesus told adults that they must become as children to experience the new birth (Matt. 18:3).
True, children who make an early profession of faith sometimes struggle with assurance and make a second public commitment later. They often say, “I didn’t know what I was doing the first time.” More likely, however, the personal worker attending the child didn’t know what he was doing.
We need not fully understand the Gospel to be saved; we need only believe and receive it. What adult fully comprehends the rationale or the magnitude of redemption?
Some argue that children are unable to stay true to their commitment. Yet the late English preacher Charles Spurgeon noted, “Out of a church of 2,700 members, I have never had to exclude a single one who was received while yet a child. Teachers and superintendents should not merely believe in the possibility of early conversion, but in the ferquency (sic) of it.”
Child evangelism assists in the formation of character. The Bible clearly teaches that man’s only capability for good lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ. We do not expect unconverted adults to act like Christians. The same should be true for children.
Christians seem to be the only ones who believe they should wait to influence children’s minds. Advertisers don’t wait. Child abusers don’t wait. Neither do humanist educators, false religions and cults, or Satan.
The church that reaches its children has a better chance of reaching its adults. Often newly-converted children win their parents and grandparents to the Lord. Those children grow up to be adults who can nurture their own families to faith in Jesus Christ.
Lest we forget, Christianity is always just one generation from extinction. We must reach the coming generation with the Gospel.
The late G. Campell (sic) Morgan, for many years pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel, said that the church that always seeks the child is the church that is “seeking the Kingdom … A vision of the desire for the Kingdom of God is the master passion in all work for children.”
To many of us, this is a ridiculous question. For in fact, we were saved as children. Statistics are on our side as well, revealing that 85% of Christians made the decision to trust Christ somewhere between the ages of four and fourteen. Further, those of us who have been actively learning and practicing the discipline of soul-winning have probably led a child to Christ, perhaps even one of our own….
Though some have tried to alter or add to the meaning of the word believe (mentioned as the sole condition for salvation over 150 times in the New Testament), its definition remains as God intended it. “What faith really is, in biblical language, is receiving the testimony of God. It is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the Gospel is true. Faith is… taking God at His word. It is nothing less than this. But it is also nothing more.”
This is a message that is all inclusive–no strings attached. Even, and especially, a child can grasp this message and place his faith in Christ for eternal life, and many do.
R. A. Torrey said, “It is almost the easiest thing in the world to lead a child from five to ten years of age to a definite acceptance of Christ. . . . The younger the children are when you seek to lead them to make an actual acceptance of Christ, the easier the work will be, and the more satisfactory” (from Frank G. Coleman’s, The Romance of Winning Children [Cleveland, OH: Union Gospel Press, 1973], p. 14). Thank God for the faithful witnesses who led me–and perhaps you–to Christ at an early age!
Sam Doherty, a man who has dedicated his entire life to evangelizing children, wrote a handbook for Child Evangelism Fellowship titled U Can Lead Children to Christ: A Step by Step Guide for Counsellors of Children. (link no longer active) Doherty lists four reasons why it is imperative that Christians evangelize children:
Children can be saved
Children need to be saved
Children are open to the gospel
A Child Saved is a Life Saved
According to Doherty:
They (children) are spiritually dead
They have a sinful nature which shows itself in sinful acts
They are outside God’s Kingdom
If they have reached the age of accountability they are under God’s condemnation
Doherty believes that once children reach the age of accountability, the age when children know the difference between right and wrong, they are in danger of going to hell if they don’t accept Jesus as their Savior. Who wants his child to go to hell, right? So then, it should come as no surprise that many Evangelicals press their children to profess faith in Jesus at a very young age.
Let me give you an example of how this works in the Evangelical church. Ron Adkins is pastor of the Methodist church a few blocks from my home. This church was the last church my wife and I attended before we deconverted in 2008. According to Ron’s bio on the Ney/Farmer United Methodist Church website, he was saved at the age of seven and his wife asked Jesus into her heart at age eight. Should it come as any surprise, then, that all four of the Adkins’ children were saved at age five?
In the type of Baptist churches in which my wife and I grew up, children are sent to Sunday school and children’s church so they can be exposed to the church’s teachings on heaven, hell, Jesus, salvation, death, and God’s judgment. Children are often emotionally and mentally coerced into asking Jesus into their hearts. Children’s church teachers will often ask their young pupils: do you want to go to hell when you die? or how many of you want to go to heaven when you die? What young, immature and impressionable child doesn’t want to avoid the flames of hell or enjoy the wonders of heaven?
In many ways, Evangelicals who evangelize children are like door-to-door salesmen selling their customers on the importance of owning their product and the danger of putting off a buying decision to another day. Years ago, I sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners. I would praise the virtues of the grossly overpriced vacuums, trying to get prospective customers to see how much better their lives would be if their households owned a Kirby. If the positive approach failed to work, I’d resort to the methods meant to show them how poorly their current vacuüm was working. I’d even go so far as to use my demo Kirby vacuüm to sweep the prospective customer’s bed, showing them all the dead skin and “mites” the mighty Kirby removed from their bed. The goal was always to get the customer to make an impulsive decision. And this is exactly what happens in many Evangelical churches. Uninformed children are wowed with the wonders of heaven and threatened with the horrors of sin and hell. Most children who are exposed to these kind of sales techniques will make “choose” to get saved.
Once children are saved, their parents and churches continue to indoctrinate them in their sects particular teachings. Remember, these children do not have the rational capacity to make this choice, nor have the been exposed to alternative religions. Are confirmed, initiated, or saved children really making an informed decision to believe the central tenets of Christianity? Of course not. They lack the requisite intellectual skills necessary to make such a decision. Wouldn’t it be better to expose children to a variety of religions, along with humanism and atheism, and allow them to make a reasoned choice of which to follow when they are old enough to do so?
Unfortunately, what is best for children often collides with the objectives of organized religion: increasing membership and income. To put it bluntly, the goal is asses in the seats and money in the offering plate. Without a steady stream of people who were indoctrinated as children and teenagers, churches would suffer declines in attendance and offerings. While Christian sects, churches, and parents argue that they are most interested in making sure children believe in Jesus, the truth is that they know without young, impressionable, and easily-manipulated children being assimilated into the church, Christianity would die. If they wait until children are in their teens to indoctrinate them in the ways of Jesus, they know they run a huge risk of children leaving the church when they reach adulthood.
In fact, things are so bad for American Christian churches, that adults, despite being immersed in the teachings of Christianity, are leaving the church anyway. The percentage of “nones—those with no religious identification—and the increase in the indifference of young adults towards religion, has resulted in much hand-wringing in the Christian community. What should we do, pastor after pastor asks. Our churches are getting increasingly older and young adults are leaving and never coming back. These pastors know that if they don’t do something to stem to tide of young adult membership loss, their churches will close and they will be forced to get real jobs.
What prompted me to write this post is an article on ESPN about whether children should be permitted to play high-impact sports. Dr. Bennet Omalu,”the first to publish findings linking head injuries, particularly concussions, to the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in football players,” thinks children should not be permitted to play high-impact sports “until they reach the legal age of consent, usual 18.” In a New York Times article on the subject, Dr. Omalu states:
Our children are minors who have not reached the age of consent. It is our moral duty as a society to protect the most vulnerable of us. The human brain becomes fully developed at about 18 to 25 years old. We should at least wait for our children to grow up, be provided with the information and education on the risk of play, and let them make their own decisions. No adult, not a parent or a coach, should be allowed to make this potentially life-altering decision for a child.
We have a legal age for drinking alcohol; for joining the military; for voting; for smoking; for driving; and for consenting to have sex. We must have the same when it comes to protecting the organ that defines who we are as human beings.
If children are not old enough to understand the risks of playing football, and, as Dr. Omalu says,if they should be prohibited from playing it until age 18, shouldn’t the same hold true for indoctrinating children in the teachings and practices of a particular religion? Shouldn’t they be of age and have all the relevant facts before they make a decision to embrace a God, or no deity at all?
While it is naïve to expect Christian parents to keep their children away from their tribe’s religion, society should require them to not unduly indoctrinate their children. That we don’t reflects the fact that we give Christianity a pass on almost everything when it comes to children. We allow Christian parents to pull their children out of public schools so they can be indoctrinated by evangelists, posing as teachers of knowledge, for their particular sects beliefs. We also allow Christian parents to homeschool their children. Millions of American children are homeschooled or attend Christian private (and parochial) schools. These children are taught reason-defying myths such as the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and wine and crackers miraculously turning into Jesus’ blood and flesh once they are prayed over. They are regularly reminded that they are sinful, broken humans in need of forgiveness and salvation, and that heaven awaits them if they believe, and hell awaits if they don’t. These type of teachings do incalculable emotional harm to children, often resulting in low self-esteem or psychological problems.
Worse yet, these children are taught lies about the natural world they are very much a part of. Many Evangelical homeschool parents and private schools teach children that the earth is 6,020 years old, evolution is a lie, and the teaching of the Bible accurately reflects the one and only way to understand the world. While parents and teachers will most likely teach their wards science, they often teach a Christianized version that repudiates biological evolution. They also, thanks to a literalistic reading of the Bible, reject most of what cosmology, archaeology, and geology tell us about the age of the earth and the universe. As a result, children who have embraced this kind of indoctrination are crippled intellectually. Ask any secular college or university professor how difficult it is to reason with children who have been indoctrinated with fundamentalist Christian beliefs. The intransigence of these students is heartbreaking. Stunted intellectually, they often go through life ignoring vast swaths of human knowledge because it does not fit the narrow confines of what they were taught as a child. Of course, this is EXACTLY what Christian churches and their leaders desire: intellectually-neutered people who continue to look to them for answers.
Religious child soldiers carrying AK-47s. Bullying anti-gay Jesus kids. Infant genital mutilation. Teenage suicide bombers. Child Hindu brides. No matter where you look, if adults are participating in dogmatic religions, then they are also pushing those same ideologies onto their kids….
A child’s mind is terribly susceptible to what it hears and sees from parents, family, and social surroundings. When the human being is born, its brain remains in a delicate developmental phase until far later in life.
“Kids are impressionable,” said Dr. Eunice Pearson-Hefty, director of the Teaching Environmental Science program of Texas’ Natural Resource Conservation Commission. “Anything you tell them when they’re real small can have a lasting impression.”
It’s only later, when kids hit their teens that they begin to think for themselves and see the bigger picture. It’s only then they begin to ask whether their parent’s teachings make sense and are correct. However, depending on the power of the indoctrination in their childhood, people’s ability to successfully question anything is likely stifled their entire lives…
…”Religion should remain a private endeavor for adults,” says Giovanni Santostasi, PhD, who is a neuroscientist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and runs the 10,000 person strong Facebook group Scientific Transhumanism. “An appropriate analogy of religion is that’s it’s kind of like porn–which means it’s not something one would expose a child to.”
Unfortunately, even though atheists, nonreligious people, and transhumanists number almost a billion people, it’s too problematic and unreasonable to imagine taking “God” and “religion” out of the world entirely. But we do owe it to the children of the planet to let them grow up free from the ambush of belief systems that have a history of leading to great violence, obsessively neurotic guilt, and the oppression of virtually every social group that exists.
Like some other atheists and transhumanists, I join in calling for regulation that restricts religious indoctrination of children until they reach, let’s say, 16 years of age. Once a kid hits their mid-teens, let them have at it–if religion is something that interests them. 16-year-olds are enthusiastic, curious, and able to rationally start exploring their world, with or without the guidance of parents. But before that, they are too impressionable to repeatedly be subjected to ideas that are faith-based, unproven, and historically wrought with danger. Forcing religion onto minors is essentially a form of child abuse, which scars their ability to reason and also limits their ability to consider the world in an unbiased manner. A reasonable society should not have to indoctrinate its children; its children should discover and choose religious paths for themselves when they become adults, if they are to choose one at all.
While I think we are several generations away from neutering the effect religion has on American children, we do owe it to them make sure they are taught to think critically. I’ve long been a proponent of junior high children and older being required to take classes in World Religions, logic, and philosophy. This would expose their evolving minds to methodologies and thought processes that will enable them to make informed choices about religion. Doing so will certainly swell the ranks of the non-religious, and it is for this reason the religionists will fight tooth and nail any attempt to remove them as the sole arbiter of religious belief.
The fight is on and I’m convinced that skepticism and reason will win the day.
Both my wife and I first made professions of faith at age five. As is the custom in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, both of us made rededication decisions as teenagers.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
Manna Baptist Academy was a ministry of Manna Baptist Church, one of the IFB churches we associated with. The Pastor and Principal was Mr. Watson, whom I had originally met at Wildwood Christian Academy. Pastor and Mrs. Watson had three children who attended the school during the time I was there. The oldest one, during my first year, was in her senior year and she acted as a Monitor They also used their other two children as monitors during my second year. There was a lot of favoritism shown to their children. Any time their children had problems with other children, their parents jumped right in and took care of the problem. There was no teasing them or pulling pranks, unless you wanted to be talked to by the Principal. This would be followed by a call to your parents. Not a good system.
My first day there, I instantly knew things would be different and better for me. The Supervisors and Monitors were more relaxed. The whole atmosphere was more relaxed. Most of the kids who attended the school went to church either at Manna or the one I attended. It felt a lot more like a large family than a school. The Watsons would give longer breaks and allowed a little more freedom than in the other schools I attended. For example, sometimes they would make an announcement that everyone would be free to score their work as needed until the next break. In my second year, myself and two other boys were allowed to take the dividers out of our offices. Supposedly it was to help the boy who transferred in during the middle of the year. We helped the new kid and had a good time whispering and goofing off, we just never got too loud. This never happened in my other ACE schools
Since I had matured a bit, I took my schooling more serious and actually tried to succeed. I didn’t have homework very often; and, when I did, it was usually just a page or two. In my second year, I kept E level privileges most of the time. I actually found that I enjoyed school and used the system to my advantage. Because I was doing so well, the Supervisors left me alone. I was also the second oldest person in the school, so I was an older kid, which gave me a little bit of status, too.
It was here that I saw one of the huge shortfalls in the ACE system. One of the kids who was my age was taking college prep studies in 9th grade. He was doing Algebra 1 and 2, as well as taking French. No one at the school was able to help him with the Algebra PACEs. What they did was give him the score keys and let him figure out he answers, almost like reverse engineering. Fortunately, he was an honest kid who really wants to study for college, so he stuck with it and learned Algebra. For French, he listened to cassette tapes and copied phrases into his PACE. There was no way of truly checking to see if he was actually learning the language or just memorizing phrases. This is a bad way to learn a language.
When I was in 9th grade, I showed a lot of initiative, so I was given some responsibility every now and again. I was allowed to be a monitor several times and I got to help the kids in the Lower Learning Center. Because I kept the E level privileges, I was free to do what I wanted most of the time. There were a couple of other kids who did the same, so we would do our school work together or play basketball when it was nice outside.
My parents didn’t want me to graduate early, so I was only allow allowed to complete one year’s worth of work each school year. This kept me from getting E level a couple of times. In the two years there, I got a total of three detentions. No scoring violations or incomplete goals this time, though. I was older and smarter. I knew how to do things and not get caught. I didn’t do too much cheating, though. Mostly it was in Math. Any ACE student can relate to the dread of completing pages and pages of division and multiplication. Some days you would want to cry. Five pages of it can seem like an eternity. (As an adult, I discovered I have dyslexia, which didn’t help with my math. We had one of our children diagnosed, and I had almost all the same symptoms. Large groups of numbers are my kryptonite, just like my child.)
Two of the detentions were for talking at the scoring station and goofing around. The last detention I got was because I didn’t get a homework slip at the end of the day. I completed my last page of work just as school ended, but I didn’t score the work. The next day, when goals were checked, Mrs. Watson gave me a detention for incomplete goals. She said it was because I should have gotten a homework slip, even though all that needed to be done was to score. What a crock of crap. I was scared to death to bring that detention slip home; I had visions of the spankings I got while I was at Grace Baptist Academy. Fortunately, my parents realized what a B.S. move that was, so I wasn’t in any trouble.
Sometime during the second year, my parents started butting heads with the Watsons. I’m not quite sure what started it, but the friction was very obvious. The above mentioned detention was one manifestation of the feud. Mr. Watson began to, not so subtly, try to undermine my parents beliefs. Part of the problem was that my dad had begun to truly follow Jesus. This meant forsaking the world and all of its trappings. No TV, no secular magazines, no sports, no frivolities, and things like that. Maybe my parents brought up things that angered the Watsons, I don’t know. All I know is that I started to be picked at, ever so slightly. They even began using their son to spy on me.
As a boy, I had an interest in regular boy things. One thing I liked was secular music. Some of the other kid’s parents had no problem with the kinds of music they listened to, so I would talk about popular music with them. One day, we were in the weight room and we talked about music for over an hour, all of us older boys, including the Watson’s son. Just three days later, my mom and I got called into the office for a meeting. The subject was how I spent an hour talking about rock and roll music. This was a big no-no, both at school and at home. They told us that Mrs. Watson overheard us talking from the other side of the wall, I know that their boy told on me. He pretty much admitted it. Interestingly enough, none of the other boys’ parents were brought in for this. This was only one example of the stuff that began to go on.
For some reason, their daughter (who was the same age as me) had access to the test scores. She helped score the final tests of even her peers. Many times she would come to us the next day and talk about how easy the tests were and how she would have gotten a better grade. One time, she told me that her parents couldn’t believe what a dummy I was for flunking a certain test. Nepotism was alive and well in that school.
It was here that I remember learning about the great defenders of the Christian faith. Men like Dr. Lee Robertson, Dr. John R. Rice and Lester Roloff. We were taught about the great things these men had done and how Lester Roloff was being persecuted for Jesus. There were actually sections in the PACEs about these, and other, great men of the faith.
It was also during my time here that I realized that the IFB movement and ACE were linked together. Since I was a little older, I started paying attention to the things being said. I also saw that many of the authors we were required to read for literature were the leaders of the IFB movement, and/or their children. It is almost like an inbred family. No new ideas or thoughts could come in because all that we needed to know had already been written by The IFB leadership. Even the dictionaries we used were purchased from ACE, so they were heavily expurgated and edited.
In my first year, we had two girls that had attended the Rebekah Home for Girls, the “school” Lester Roloff started. They were sent back to their parents when the school was closed down. I became good friends with both and was labeled a rebel because of it. When one of these girls ran away from home towards the end of the year, I was grilled about it three different times. I told them I didn’t know anything, but they didn’t believe me.
By the end of my second year, my parents decided that they were going to homeschool my brother and I. My brother has dyslexia and did best with one on one teaching. Additionally, my parents were trying to keep even more separate from the world, as they began to develop different beliefs, especially when my dad began to have Calvinistic beliefs. The IFB churches with their outer holiness and inner worldliness, their pastor worship, and other shenanigans finally began to burn my dad out. He started trying to find a better place.
So, this was my third ACE school experience. It was my best experience. A lot of it had to do with my attitude. I also believe much of it had to do with the way the school was run. The atmosphere was more pleasant and not as rigid. In fact, the regional ACE inspector came with his son one day to observe the school. Myself and another boy were done with our goals for the day, so we went outside to play basketball, at 11:30. We invited the inspector’s son to play, but his dad wouldn’t let him. I heard that he wasn’t too impressed with how the children were allowed to work at their own speed and do what they wanted. I think the Watsons had the right idea about teaching and had some non traditional ideas towards learning, they could only do so much in that system.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
I attended Grace Baptist Academy from 1980-1983, 3rd through most of 5th grade. This was a school that was about 40 minutes away, but my aunt was going there, so I was able to ride with her. Grace Baptist Academy was a ministry of Grace Baptist Church. My first year was their third year of school. It had started out with only six or seven children and had upwards of 60 by the time I started. The church was pastored by Pastor Colas and the principal was Mr. Wainscott. Mr. Wainscott was a tall, thin man who drank coffee all day long. I still remember the smell of his breath when he would come to my office and answer questions.
Being a veteran of one ACE school, I remember thinking I was going to have an easy time at this school. After orientation the first day, imagine my horror when I found out several fundamental things were different. First, the letters for achieving extra privileges were GBA rather than ACE. Ok, I was able to deal with that. Next, I found out the order for PACEs was different- Math, Social Studies, English, Science, Word Building. Believe it or not, I struggled with that the entire time I attended that school. It seemed wrong because of the way I was originally taught.
This was the year that erasable ink pens became popular. Before the school caught on to them being used on goal cards, the older students were using them and changing their goals to suit their needs. I did this myself a few times.
I began doing something that all ACE student do. Due to the way the PACEs are set up in the lower grades, answering questions was just a matter of reading the question, finding the exact same sentence in the text and copying the answer verbatim. This is one of the worst habits a student can acquire. We never studied and learned, we just used short-term memory to fill in a blank. Even in the final tests, the questions were the same ones as in the PACE. In the higher grades, you actually had to look for answers, but the bad habit had been learned and enforced by then. The only subject in which this wasn’t possible was Math.
My first year there, I started a bad habit of just daydreaming and not getting any work done until the end of the day. Then it was a race to get as much finished before needing to ask for a Homework Slip. After a while, I was getting homework every day. My parents told me I needed to get my work done at school, so I began just crossing my goals off and not asking for a Homework Slip. Since the school was so large, the Supervisors couldn’t check everyone’s goals every day. I often got away with not doing my work, since the next day I would rush and get both day’s work done. A few days later, I would be back to daydreaming and not get anything done, again. When I did get caught, it was an automatic detention. After bringing home Detention Slips for the same thing a few times, and the spankings that went along with it, I starting forging my parent’s signature.
At Grace, one of the things they did was to allow you to serve detention at lunch time. This allowed working parents to keep their same schedule, yet take away free time from the bad kids. By forging my parent’s signature and serving detention at lunch, I missed quite a few spankings.
After a while, my behavior was bad enough that I began to get swats at school. We were given 5 swats if we got more than 6 demerits, which I seemed to do regularly. The swats would cancel out the demerits and you started over with a clean slate. Since school swats were nowhere near as bad as a spanking from either of my parents, I preferred to have swats at school. Even though they hurt, the worst part of them was the embarrassment. Mr. Martin was the one who gave out the swats, so everyone knew that when he took you to the back room, you were gonna cry. I can honestly say I was being a shithead at this time. I remember Mr. Martin being a nice guy and I honestly think he hated to give me swats.
I remember a time when he told me a story about a boy who was always getting into trouble and then getting a spanking. After a while, the teacher said he didn’t know what to do any more. So, when it was time to spank the boy again, he gave the boy the paddle and told the boy to spank him. That way the boy would know how much he despised giving spankings. The boy started crying and couldn’t do it. The teacher didn’t spank the boy and the boy didn’t have any more problems. Hearing this story, I thought maybe I was going to avoid swats. Alas, Mr. Martin dashed my hopes. He told me that he would have done that if he thought it would do any good. I got my swats after all.
Another thing I started doing was cheating heavily on my scoring. In addition to memorizing answers, I developed a code to write down answers, using the scoring pen. I began tapping dots onto all of my pages, as though I was bored. In reality, I used those dots to copy answers, then complete the answer when I got back to my seat.
The study and scoring method that was used encouraged children to cheat. We were expected to work mostly on our own, with very limited help from the Supervisors and Monitors when we didn’t understand something, usually math. Then, we were expected to score the work we didn’t understand and figure out how to do the problem correctly. If this isn’t a recipe for failure, I don’t know what one is. As an adult, I have been taught several methods for teaching people. Our Supervisors and monitors had no idea how to teach us, so they were unable to help us in the way we needed. I’m sure they wanted to help, they just didn’t know how.
I became a good sneak, due to the punishments I was receiving. I did everything I could to get away with doing as little school as possible. I learned that if you wrote with erasable ink lightly, when you erased it, there was no indent to show you had changed anything. I learned how to distract adults to take their attention away from what I was doing, so I wouldn’t get caught. I also practiced memorizing large amounts of answers for short term retention. This way, I could mark all of my answers correct and fix them when I returned to my desk.
After being frustrated for by this system for a couple of years, I just started not scoring my work correctly. I would just mark the page as all correct, without checking the answers. This would only work for a while, though. When a PACE was turned in, the Supervisors would check over the work to make sure we scored correctly. I started getting multiple demerits for scoring violations. These would lead to Detention Slips, which would lead to a spanking at home.
The punishment I received at school and home for my scoring violations and incomplete work was way above any pleasure I derived from cheating. I honestly don’t know why I did what I did. Several Supervisors took the time to try and counsel me. I was suspended three times. There were several parent/teacher meetings. Finally, I was expelled from Grace in the middle of my 5th grade year. They had put up with me for over two years and they had finally had enough. I finished out that year in a public school and didn’t go to a private school again until 8th grade.
I remember Mr. Wainscott taking me aside one day and talking to me about the problems I was having. He kept asking why I was behaving the way I was. I gave all kinds of answers, but he wasn’t buying any of it. Finally, I blurted out that I was cheating and disobeying because my parents smoked. (This was in a pretty conservative time and in a conservative group. Smoking and drinking were not acceptable behaviors.) I remember thinking that he would suddenly understand and all would be forgiven. I shouldn’t have wasted my breath. Smoking parents didn’t change anything in the least.
One time, during a parent/principal conference, I was sent out of the room after the meeting was over. After discussing my future for a few minutes, Mr. Wainscott pulled out a hash pipe made from a soda can. He had no idea what it was. He had found it behind some wood used for a construction project. The good, Godly kids attending the school were getting high during breaks.
Not all of my time was bad, though. Twice a week, we went to the YMCA for P.E. We younger kids got to swim for an hour and a half each session, or we could go to the gym and shoot basketballs with the older kids. Our school had a pretty decent basketball team, so they made good use of the court there.
The school also had father/son and mother/daughter nights. One of my best memories, ever, is the night my dad took me to a father/son night. I remember that we watched a Harlem Globetrotter’s film and ate finger foods. My dad was a construction worker, so him being able to come to something like that was special.
Since the school was bringing extra money in, the second year I was attended, the church bought pews. These were nice, with dark wood and good cushions. I was just tall enough that my belt buckle was touching the top of the pew. The wood was something soft and I ended up scraping the top of the pew. I saw that and was sure I would get in trouble, but no one said anything. After a week or so, I sat in the same place and scratched it some more. I think I did this a total of 4 times until it was brought up in morning assembly. Oops.
The school also had a decent music program. Ms. Greenwalt was our music teacher and I think she had professional training from somewhere. It was here that I really began to enjoy music. The two years she was at the school, we put on large musicals. The younger kids (below 7th grade) performed “Down By the Creek Bank” one year. It was a blast practicing and I still remember some of the songs. The older kids performed “I Love America”, which I think was a Bob Jones University musical. Ms. Greenwalt also taught the younger kids how to play a recorder. Most of us just produced horrible screeching sounds.
This was definitely my worst experience in ACE. Fortunately, the third school I attended was a much better place. As I look back on my time there, I can’t help but wonder if the PACE order change is what caused all of my problems.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
I attended my first ACE school in the second grade, way back in 1979-1980. The pastor of our church had sent his children to this school the year before, so my dad thought it was a good idea to send me there. As he later said, “I thought you would come home every day singing psalms and speaking Bible verses”.
Wildwood Christian Academy was a part/ministry of The Church in the Wildwood. The principal was Mr. Barker. Mrs. Barker was the teacher in the Lower Learning Center, which I was in. The Upper Learning Center had mostly male Supervisors with only a few monitors. The Barkers were a very conservative couple. They were death on any music with a beat; there were even hymns that they considered too up beat. I came from a Baptist church that was pretty stiff, so I had no experience with up beat Christian music. They were also very strict on the dress code. One time, they made my mom get back into her car because she wore pants to pick me up.
It was here that I had my first remembered experience of religion mixed with politics. I remember hearing a recording of a person talking about the circumstances surrounding the writing of The Star Spangled Banner. The narrator made this a religious struggle; Americans had the might of right since the country was founded in the Word of God. Patriotism was very high in this school, we learned how to properly fold flags and how to properly stand at attention while reciting.
While here, I made a lifelong friend, Tyson. I also made some acquaintances that I have bumped into or heard about over the years.
I remember getting my first detention. When I was handed the Detention Slip, I was scared and hid it in my boot at home. After a few days, the school called my parents and got it straightened out. This was one of the few times I got detention that I didn’t get a spanking.
I also began to memorize large passages of scripture during this time. Every month, all of us had to learn a portion of scripture, in addition to the scripture verse in each PACE. This was quite a step up from learning a verse a week in Sunday school. The Lower Learning Center was usually given fewer verses to learn, usually 8 or 9 verses, while the Upper Learning Center had to learn around 15 verses. If you didn’t memorize the verses by the end of the month, you were given detention and not allowed to participate in any extra activities. One month, I remember the horror of having to learn all 21 verses of Romans 12. Both Learning Centers had to learn it, with a genuine imitation leather-covered King James Bible going to the first person in each Learning Center to learn it. No, it wasn’t me; I believe I memorized it just before the end of the month. I still remember one of the teachers, Mr. Watson, saying (with a Southern drawl), “…Thou shalt heap coals of fahr upon his head.”
During this year, I learned another ACE peculiarity. When setting goals for the day, we always set Math, English, Social Studies, Science, Word Building, in that order. This way, the Supervisors could easily see what goals we had completed for the day. Every subject was color coded, too: Math-yellow, English-red, Social Studies-green, Science-blue, word Building-purple. These are very strong order and color associations that I have to this day. I’ll write more about this in my next post.
This was also where I learned to cheat when scoring my work. We took our PACEs to a scoring station and scored the work ourselves. Just imagine, getting the same problem wrong several times and the answer is right in front of you. I did what almost any kid would do, I memorized the answer and wrote it down when I got back to my seat. People would put pieces of pencil lead under their fingernails or hide short pencils in their pockets to write down answers at the scoring station. There were all kinds of ingenious ways to copy the answers, one of which I’ll share in the next post. My cheating here was pretty low-level, since the work was easy.
Chapel was held each Wednesday afternoon. After lunch, we would go upstairs into the auditorium and participate in a mini church service. This was always a bad day for me, since I was losing 45 minutes of school time. I worried more about getting my goals completed than hearing about Jesus again; I was going to church that night, anyway. Occasionally a missionary would come and tell cool stories or there would be a Christian film during chapel, those were good days. The day before, the Supervisors would tell us to set less goals in our PACEs, so we would have plenty of time for the missionary or film.
I also remember a few random funny things. One day, someone told us that fluorescent colors were also called day glow. Two or three of us spent hours trying to get a fluorescent colored hard hat to glow. We held it up to a light bulb, turned the light off and were sure it glowed for a second. Another time, we had a fire drill. I had never participated in one before, so the alarm bell scared the crap out of me. Just a day or two earlier, we had been told what to do in case of a fire. We had been told to bust a window and get out that way if the door was blocked. For some reason, the door to our room was locked, so I was sure we were blocked in. I picked up my chair and was swinging it at a window when an adult stopped me. A second later, and I would have crawled out of the window. One boy sang a line to “Victory In Jesus” funny. Instead of saying, “…He plunged me to victory…”, he would say, “…He punched me to victory…”.
Overall, I remember having a pretty good time in this school. Of course, this was over 30 years ago, so some memories fade.
I am writing a several part series on my ACE school experience. I attended three different ACE schools and was associated with a fourth, so I feel I have had a pretty varied experience with them.
This is my story as I remember it. I had good and bad times, as did anyone attending any type of school. Am I a better or worse person for having an ACE education? I don’t know. I truly believe I did as well as I did because my parents were heavily involved in my schooling, both public and private.
As I tell my story, I will write about the bad things I did. This is not to brag, it is to be as honest as possible.
This has been quite he journey down memory lane, going back over 30 years. For people who have shared my experience, this will bring back memories. For those who have never attended an ACE school, it may be quite an eye opener.
Let me explain how an ACE school operates. Students start the day out in an assembly, where we prayed, read scripture, recited pledges of allegiance to the American flag, Christian flag and the Bible. Afterwards, we heard school announcements. Then, children who passed tests the day before were called to the front and given blue “Congratulation Slips”; we would applaud them before they sat back down. After a final prayer, we would go to a Learning Center.
In the Learning Center were rows of desks, divided into “offices” by wooden dividers. In each office, students kept their school work and items needed to complete their daily work. We also had two flags, American and Christian, which we used to signal the Supervisors (American flag) and monitors (Christian flag) we need help. Supervisors were people who had taken a 5 day training course and were conversant in all things ACE. Monitors were usually parents who were volunteering as assistants. Monitors were only allowed to do things like give permission to use the bathroom, score your work, or give spelling tests. Supervisors answered harder questions and could authorize you to do special things. Students in higher grades were sometimes utilized as monitors, something I did quite a bit of in 9th grade.
ACE Modesty Cartoon
Students had a star chart, on which were placed stars showing the work we completed. The work we did was contained in a PACE-Packet of Accelerated Christian Education. Each PACE was roughly 32 pages long and 12 in each subject were completed each year. Typically, we would do Math, English, Social Studies, Science, and Word Building (spelling/vocabulary). As you got into higher grades, there were PACEs in literature, and home economics. For high school aged children, there were elective subjects in Old Testament Survey (studies, I don’t know why they called it survey), New Testament Survey, New Testament Church History, World History, American History, Soul Winning, Life of Christ, Accounting, etc. All of the courses had an overt fundamental Christian message, from the first math PACE, to your final typing test. Even as a Christian, I did not think that was a good thing.
Each PACE was divided into several sections. After a block of instruction and practice problems, there was a quiz called a “Check-up”. At the end of the PACE was a “Self Test”, which was to show you had mastered the information in the PACE. After completing the PACE, it was turned in to a Supervisor and a test was taken the next day.
Scoring the work was accomplished by going to a score station and using a red pen to mark your wrong answers. You then had to return to your office and correct the answer and re-score the work. You did this as many times as was necessary to get it right. I’ll bring up pen colors here. Blue or black was allowed for the students to use during the day. Red ink was only for scoring. Green ink was only for Supervisors and monitors. Even today, at over 40 years old, red and green ink pens still hold almost a mystical quality for me.
One of the most important things in our office was our goal card. Every day, we had to place the number of pages we planned to do in a square that was underneath the subject. We were required to do at least 5 pages in each subject each day, unless a supervisor allowed otherwise. After the goal in each subject was completed, we crossed it off. This was all done in pen, so there could be no cheating. Except for erasable ink, which was fairly new in the early 80’s. If your goals were not finished by the end of the day, you had to ask the teacher for a green “Homework Slip”. On this slip was written what needed to be done to complete the day’s goals, or if you needed to study for a test, memorize scripture verses, etc. Parents signed the slip and it was turned in the next day. The Supervisors performed a “goal check” each morning to ensure everyone was actually doing all of their work.
Any infractions of a rule resulted in a demerit being issued. These were kept logged in a binder. At the end of the day, a student with 3 demerits was given a yellow “Detention Slip”. This slip had to be signed by your parents and returned the next morning and detention was served that day. Three demerits was a 20 minute detention, four was 25, five was 30. Six demerits was automatic swats (spanking). Parents had already signed a slip that allowed the school to administer swats. Swats ranged from 3 to 5, depending in the severity of the infraction or number of demerits. In my own experience, Detention Slips ensured a spanking at home, as did swats. My parents didn’t follow the idea of double jeopardy; they felt if I was bad at school, I deserved the punishment at home. My parents backed the school 100% and did everything they could to make sure I obeyed and learned. As a consequence, I had a VERY good reason to behave at school.
Breaks consisted of a 5 minute break in the morning and afternoon and a 20 minute break for lunch. You had a chance to earn longer breaks by applying for one of three “Levels”. These levels were labeled differently in different schools but always corresponded to “A-C-E Levels”. “A” level would give you two 15 minute breaks and a 25 minute lunch. “C” level would give you two 20 minute breaks, a 25 minute lunch and the ability to score your work without asking for permission. “E” level allowed you freedom to do pretty much as you pleased as long as you completed all of your work. Applying for these levels consisted of completing at least 1.5 PACEs a week for A level, completing 2 PACEs a week along with scripture memorization and a monthly book report for C level, or completing 2 PACEs a week, scripture memorization, a book report every month, and a weekly Christian service for E level. These were something we all coveted, since it give us a bit of freedom.
All students wore a uniform to school. These were known as God and Country uniforms. For boys, it consisted of Navy blue slacks, a red dress shirt and a hideous God and Country necktie. For girls, it was a Navy blue jumper or skirt with a red shirt and a little God and Country neck scarf. Girls had to wear tights or flesh colored stockings, boys had to wear black or blue socks. Everyone wore polishable black shoes. The dress code changed over the years; first we could wear white or red shirts, then red, white or blue shirts. Grey slacks/jumpers were finally allowed. The schools also gave us a little leeway. I remember wearing a red turtleneck shirt for a while and another school let us wear blue or grey Docker or Dickie pants.
Cartoon from an Accelerated Christian Education PACE. Most of the violence and abuse in Independent Baptist group homes can be traced back to Lester Roloff
Part of the indoctrination we received was that shorts were evil on either sex and pants on a woman was the greatest abomination you could imagine. Girls had to wear skirts, dresses or jumpers during the school day. These had to be loose fitting and extend below the knee. For outdoor events or gym times, girls wore a glorified pair of pants called coulattes. All of this was done to help boys avoid temptation and help girls not to become sluts and keep them from tempting us poor, helpless boys.
Another feature of ACE, and fundamentalism in general, is the application of the 6 Inch Rule. This is a rule that states, “All boys and girls must maintain a 6 inch distance from each other”. This rule is a variation of Jack Hyles’ Bible distance rule. He said for a boy and girl to keep a Bible between them, that way by the time they made it past Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they would be too ashamed to do anything. I know, a stupid rule, but it was what we had to do.
The King James Version of the Bible was the only Bible we were allowed to use. There was no question or debate in this area, and there was no explanation as to why, either.
I have saved the best part of ACE for last- the cartoons featuring the cast of ACE. Front and center is Ace Virtueson (pronounced Ay-see), the perfect child who is as wise as any adult. Then there is Pudge Meekway, the fat kid. Hapford Humblen, the buck-toothed kid who had a learning disability. Racer, who was almost as good as Ace. Kristi Lovejoy, the female counterpart of Ace. The red headed McMercy sisters. Reginald Upright, another good kid. Then there were the two bad kids, Ronnie Vain and Susie; they were the two non-Christian kids who were always doing bad things. These kids all lived in Highland City and attended an ACE school. The principal was Mr. Friendson.
We can’t forget the subtle racism in ACE. There was another city, called Harmony, where the black kids lived and went to their ACE school. There weren’t too many comics with these kids. Two of these kids were J. Michael Kindhart and Booker. There were a couple of girls, too, but I forget their names. I don’t remember any other races being represented, but I could be wrong.
The kids in these cartoons had all kinds of problems that were solved with the help of wiser, older people or prayer. Some of the stories were blatant rip-offs of Bible stories, some were retellings of Sunday school morality stories. All of these cartoons were designed to fit in with the theme of the PACE you were working on, themes such as honesty, diligence, faithfulness, etc.
There was a code of conduct that had to be followed. Each student had to agree to attend church, have devotions, not go to movies, not listen to rock music, keep their hair appropriately cut (or long, if you were a girl), etc. This was to control our behavior in and out of school. These codes were never a problem for me, since my parents were always more conservative than any school I attended.
Once a year, all the ACE schools held a State Convention in which we would compete for medals and a chance to attend the National Convention. Basketball, track events, singing, art exhibits, preaching, public speaking, spelling bees, choir events, solo singing events, etc. These were all designed to get us ready to preach or enter the mission field. During the times I attended ACE schools, boys had to wear sweat pants and the girls had to wear culottes–for modesty’s sake–for sporting events.
So, this is a brief overview of an ACE school. I hope it will make my next installments a little easier to understand.
As a Baptist pastor, how did I answer science questions? The short answer is…I didn’t.
I was five years old when my parents joined Tim LaHaye’s church, Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, California. I would remain associated with the Evangelical church for the next forty-five years, pastoring churches in Texas, Ohio, and Michigan. Whether as a church member or as a pastor, the world I was a part of was insulated from secular science. I rarely had someone ask me a science question and the reason for this is quite simple. I believed and taught others to believe:
The Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God.
The Bible, in most instances, is meant to be read literally.
Genesis 1-3 accurately, literally records HOW God made the universe and everything in it.
If science conflicts with what the Bible says, science is wrong and the Bible is right.
Questions and doubts are the works of Satan.
Certainty of belief is a sign of faith and maturity.
We had our own science books and scientists. My favorite Evangelical “scientists” were Henry Morris and John Whitcomb. Morris had a degree in engineering, Whitcomb a degree in theology. Even though their books contradicted accepted scientific facts, they had a high view of Scripture and accepted the Bible as the final answer to every question, so their books carried great weight in many Evangelical circles. I have no doubt that if I was still a pastor I would have taken church groups to the Creation Museum so they could see the “proof” of our creationist beliefs.
The children in the churches I pastored were insulated from the world. Many of the children were home schooled or attended private Christian schools. Children were not encouraged to go to college, especially a wicked secular college. The highest calling for a woman was to marry a godly man and bear children and the highest calling for a man was to become a preacher or a missionary. All other vocations were considered inferior.
Rod and Staff Publishers 8th Grade Science Book
From 1983-1994, I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. For five of those years, we operated a tuition-free, church-member-only, Christian school. We used Rod and Staff science textbooks, books that emphasized the young earth creationist point of view. Rod and Staff is a Mennonite/Amish book publisher. My wife and I also home schooled our children. We used Rod and Staff textbooks to teach science to our younger children.
I have very little science training. I took a general science class in 9th grade, biology in 10th grade, and biology in college. My college biology class was an absolute waste of time. No lab. No experimentation. The teacher, a local pastor, read to us from a biology book published by a Christian book publisher. The only thing I remember from my college biology class (the same class my wife took) was the teacher’s lecture on not marrying outside of your class, religion, or race. He was quite bigoted and racist.
The few times I was asked a science question that challenged my creationist beliefs I replied:
The BIBLE says…
This was the answer I gave for almost every challenge to what I taught.
The BIBLE says…
THE BIBLE SAYS really meant:
This is my interpretation of the Bible, my interpretation comes straight from God, my interpretation is final, so shut up and get back to serving Jesus.
There are thousands of churches and pastors who hold similar views. We are one of the most scientifically advanced nations on earth, yet, at the same time, we are quite ignorant about basic scientific fact. We can thank religion for our collective ignorance.