Is Everybody Saved?

Religious performances at public schools draw some criticism from parents

The Franklin Graham festival, in all its fundamentalist hugeness, has come and gone with little controversy. Sure, Graham said things about abortion and homosexuality that didn’t rub everybody the right way. But we’re guessing that most of the 45,000 people (including Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale) who went to the revival were prepared to hear them.

So after it was all said and done, what’s left some Knox County parents upset isn’t what happened at the voluntarily attended and privately funded festival itself, but a series of promotional events at Knox County Schools that led up to it. All last week, two acts that appeared at the festival previewed their performances at school assemblies—many of which were mandatory—throughout the county.

The two acts in question are Chaos on Wheels, a Missouri-based Christian BMX stunt group, and Inhabited, a Texas-based Christian pop group. They performed as part of Franklin Graham’s XTreme Kidz Live event on Saturday morning. XTreme Kidz Live is sort of a hipper approach to ministry (hence the unorthodox spelling, maybe), imprinting the message of salvation onto youth-culture staples like rock music and extreme sports.

“We travel all around the country doing bicycle stunt demonstrations to teach a message,” says Chaos on Wheels founder Jeremiah Anderson. “We also do a lot of ministry work, sharing our faith with people through our bike riding.” And that’s a problem for some local parents.

The assemblies started to draw some public attention when Cathy McCaughan wrote about it in her blog, Domestic Psychology, on Friday. McCaughan says she was disturbed when her children came home from Bearden Middle School and Rocky Hill Elementary last week with flyers advertising the revival.

“There should be zero religious or advertising events during school hours,” writes McCaughan in the blog. “The only schools that should advertise this during classes are the PRIVATE, church-based schools.”

McCaughan writes that the decision to have these types of groups perform during school hours, in place of class time, indicates “cloudy judgement” on the part of the school system. Though officials confirmed that Chaos on Wheels performed at Bearden Middle School, Carter Elementary School, Rocky Hill Elementary School, and Carter High School in Strawberry Plains, there is no indication just how many assembly appearances the two groups made. KCS spokesman Russ Oaks says that arrangements were made between school principals and Knoxville-based Franklin Graham Festival associate Steve Peterson. Peterson did not return repeated calls for comment.

“It doesn’t matter about what kind of assembly we have, what the topic was, or who appeared, one person would complain, I’m sure,” says Carter High principal Cheryl Hickman. “I think the way our kids understood it was it was an advertisement to come see them perform. That’s all there was to it.”

Oaks says that the appearances were secular “character-building” presentations.

“There was no proselytizing,” Oaks says. “The groups were to present a non-religious show that is related to character education that helps the students understand the process of making wise life decisions. We have a mandate in the curriculum to provide character education.”

McCaughan says she sees an agenda beyond character education, though.

“They have that [diversity and tolerance-training] Character Counts program that’s void of any religious connotation whatsoever there,” she says. “And what do bike tricks have to do with character education anyway?”

She also adds that there have been few, if any, similar presentations from other religions at her children’s schools.

“We’ve never had any Jewish events, any Muslim events. We’ve never even had any Catholic events,” she says.

And Rocky Hill parent Jennifer Lackey says she’s noticed a similar pattern.

“That’s something that a lot of us talk about, that there’s more Christian stuff than anything else at the school,” says Lackey. “That makes me a bit uncomfortable.”

Critics of the schools’ religious policies made a similar argument in January when Powell High School held an assembly featuring evangelical motivational speaker Ken Freeman, who was advertising a four-day event at Grace Baptist Church.

Oaks says he isn’t aware of any such pattern.

“The assemblies themselves are to be non-religious in nature,” he says. “If someone has a concern about that, we’ll certainly be interested in following up on it.”

For her part, McCaughan says she has lodged a complaint with the Knox County Board of Education, but she says she doesn’t expect a lot from it.

“They’ll say, you know, character program, every principal has the right to do what they want,” she says, adding that this sort of performance should require district-wide scrutiny. “I don’t think Nashville should be telling us what to do, but I think Knox County Schools should have an official policy that when an outside group comes in, they have to approve it.”

© 2008 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 13

TrailGnome writes:

The "faith" or "religion" that you are taking issues with, is a faith that promotes and walks out daily the very "character" model that the public schools use as part of their curriculum. They are one in the same. Be Trustworthy. Remain Respectful. Be Responsible. Act in Fairness. Care for Others. Be a Good Citizen. Some schools include Self-Control, Perseverance, Integrity.

There are many places you may send your child to school (i.e. other countries far from here) who will gladly teach your child to hate, kill, steal, and disrespect others....essentially have no character whatsoever. But you've chosen to live here and our public schools choose to maintain GOOD CHARACTER which are not only found in workbooks, color sheets and video's but also in live performances that travel across our nation. Live performers who themselves are Born Again, Christ following Believers who know that their LIFE is the example of Good Character and not the preaching of such.

Schools do not walk the line so that they can have people with too much time on their hands file complaints and law suits. Schools, principals and our school board walk the line because SOMEBODY has to show the kids in today's generation that there is a right and a wrong way to move about in our society.

My best guess is that they learned more about Good Character from Chaos on Wheels then they ever did from the dido paper that the complaintant in the article would prefer they had.

span writes:

I can appreciate the negative comments it is like the child you do not want to marry a certain person and yet they do so anyway. Tell a teenager what they cannot do and they obey, right? Rome had similiar ideas - seemed to work, right.

Mom2nTN writes:

Thank you so much for this article! My son attends Bearden Middle School and saw this "show". He is high level autistic and did not grasp what this program was really about. He came home with the flyer handed out during the program and could not comprehend why we didn't want to go to the Franklin Graham Festival.

After many hours of tears and talks, he understood, somewhat, that this was not just a bunch of kids riding BMX bikes, that it was the way to lure kids in to be "saved".

As a lapsed Catholic who grew up around Southern Baptists that were always trying to "save" me, I REALLY resent this being foisted upon my son, at school. I did not appreciate having to spend a day dealing with the fall out from what he was exposed to. If I want him to get religion, that's my choice, not the public school.

MattEubanks11 writes:

As a Christian, I see the trend of MORE "christian" activity in schools in comparison to anyother religion. If we are going to teach students about one thing you MUSt teach and elaborate on the other ideas. For the students who may be muslim, and or other religion they do not value the Christian religion. Why should they? They are Muslim. It is as simple as take out the "Chrsitian attractions" OR Allow there to be "Muslim attractions". The problem is if we allow Muslim attractionsthere seems to be more complaints, and since we live in a democracy it seems to overide everything. The statement "There is power in numbers" is proven by this unfair society.

junipero writes:

I'm a former public school teacher and find this story appalling, and maybe not for the obvious reason that the lines between church and state were blurred somewhat. No, what I'm horrified by is the fact that principals would allow classtime to be interrupted in favor of plunking kids down in front of what is essentially a lengthy advertisement. There isn't enough time in the school day as it is and to interrupt it so someone can make a profit? Stunning. The Knox County School Board so often waxes poetic about how important our children are and that we need to ensure that they get the best education possible, and then they allow this. What's next, this multiplication test is brought to you by Count Chocula Cereal? This recess period is brought to you by GapKids? Keep advertising (and yeah, religion too) out of our schools.

Quince writes:

Junipero is so right about how our kids' school time is squandered in Knox County.

FYI, though: No one's going to be sponsoring recess. They don't get recess--not at Bearden Middle School, anyway.

That's right: No recess for the more than 1,000 10-15-year-olds spread over just 3 grades.

Just can't fit it in, I guess, what with the demanding roster of baby showers for teachers, pizza evangelism, and sports fundraising.

Does your kids' public school get recess? I'm interested....

TrailGnome writes:

Middle School is past the age of "Recess". They are not provided school sponsored competitive sports, chorus/choir, ensemble, band and a variety of clubs to join.

By this age - there IS NO TIME for recess and rightfully so.

TrailGnome writes:

That should read they are NOW PROVIDED....

Catalystpastor writes:

So here's my question. How many of you actually either attended the Festival or attended the school program? How bout you Mr. Maldonado? So many of you have sat here and complained about what school time is being used for when you are probably the same ones who complain about students having to go back so soon in August. Truth be told, students are probably in school a little longer than they need to be. So YES! There is some extra time here and there that can be used for other things. I don't hear any of you complaining about a high school athlete taking Varsity Sports the last part of their day. Next I have to ask this; how would you like your children to be taught? What would you like their time to be spent doing at school? Do you have a solution? Do you attend PTA meetings? Do you attend School Board gatherings? Or do you just complain to the great agnostic paper here in Knoxville that loves to write articles, any article, to combat the Christian faith?

No one is stopping the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, or Atheists from putting on such a program. When do you hear such a festival or gathering by these groups? And don't say it's because the Christians get favortism. That's junk. Could it be because it's the largest group? It's possible. But that doesn't matter.

If your child went to the program, it was their choice. They were not made to go. Are you gonna stop them from going to church one day if they so choose to? I think before we react and sound off any further, we have questions to answer.

MrForgivenDaily writes:

Last week I sat in a waiting room while my wife had knee surgery and listened to a lady visiting from Chicago brag to her family about how "she had a blog". She never said what it was about, but the tone and body language clearly suggested that the wanted to show off the fact the she had this blog as if it were a really cool thing to do to her family she apparently didn't see or talk to them very much and was telling them all about her life and brought up her blog several times. It stuck me as a silly thing to have a "blog". I personally don't have time to just go on-line to share my 2 cents; let alone create and keep up with a forum to carry on such activity. What's the point? Who has time for such futile undertakings? I can hardly find time to read regularly and keep up with exercise.

Today I'm doing research on a small activity center I aspire to reopen in my community and that's how I found this article/blog. The activity center is a mini skate-park that will be the very thing that this article and many of the complaints are about. Bringing young people into an environment that fosters a love of Christ, allows them an additional avenue to seek adult council and find friends that are involved in constructive and healthy activities. I wish to do this because I ride and I see are these children running around with out a place to ride and because I believe that they will benefit greatly from this type of environment whether the be "saved" thru it or not.

I'm not a Christian that grew up in a church. I've spent an evenings in my early adulthood arguing fearsomely with a small bible study group a friend invited me to about God, defending that he's not for me and feeling very similar to way some of you probably feel about people trying to "save" you or you children. I'm also good friends with many nonreligious people and people of other faiths such as Muslim and Jewish. This will be the first time I've submitted anything to a blog and do so because I think I've come to understand a little bit about why they are important. They are a little voice. "Your" little voice, good, bad, wrong or right to be heard by whoever what's to read it. That is a great thing in my opinion. Anyone could happen on your thoughts and opinions and be moved positively or negatively by it and that's a freedom and a cornerstone belief that makes the world a better place. It's a privilege that we Americans probably take for granted most of the time. It really seems like they just like to go on them an complain, but we are still fortunate to have the choices to do so. We are fortunate to have a medium where everyday Joe's can have a small voice that has potential to help the world. I pray that all you bloggers out there appreciate it and are blogging with good intentions.

MrForgivenDaily writes:

So, here's my 2 cents….
Why so upset that they had an assembly that featured a Christian group? We live in a nation where Christianity is the most prevalent Religion. Pull out a bill from you wallet; it has "In God We Trust" on it. This county was founding on the very beliefs that Christianity conveys. One of which is the very freedom to choose. It teaches that God gave us the choice to believe or to not or to believe in other faiths. Most of the people in the world do practice religion (about 84%) and most of them have chosen Christianity. About 33% of the world’s population is Christian and surveys show that 79% of Americans believe in God, How could you expect it to never show up? In my mind the better argument would be why are "other beliefs" not more prevalent in organizations that are trying to teach "good character" or "healthy lifestyles"? If you’re not a Christian you are free to believe whatever you want and most Christians who understand the scripture will not condemn you for it. They will of course hope that you become "saved" as they believe in their heart that it is a true salvation. They wish it on you because they wish you to not go to hell because that is how they see it and they wish you to have a better outcome than that. Not even that you are bad. They believe that we are all sinners and the salvation comes from asking for forgiveness. Most are wishing it for you out of goodness, not to corrupt you or get you to by them a car. It is true that some religious people are corrupt or misguided, even misinformed, but unfortunate as that is you should not judge all other religious activity other than your own personal beliefs as an assault on your beliefs and life choices. I think this holds especially true for the one that is most prevalent in your country, the majority of this planet and the one that is most commonly found behind groups of people that are dedicated to promoting kindness, fact based positive behavior and coming to the aid of those in need.

MrForgivenDaily writes:

Furthermore, I do feel for the autistic child and family that had a difficult discussion due to the assembly. I was not there, but can see that being invited to a Christian function at school by an organization brought into the school by school officials could be a reason for frustration in non-Christian families. Having to explaining beliefs to a child may not have been how you needed to spend that particular day or a very pleasant way to have those type of conversations come up with a child. I only ask that before you condemn the school officials or the Christians who invited the children to other event that you consider a few things.

MrForgivenDaily writes:

1) It opened up a conversation between your child and you about religious beliefs they every child will eventually encounter and however unexpected or inconvenient the timing was it's still a chance you may have missed, the child was probably ready for and that a child probably benefited from by having the opportunity to hear the parents beliefs and share their own feelings.
2) The event the children were invited to outside of school was not an event designed to trick them or cheat them in any way. I was an event that a large number of people believe to be a good avenue toward a happier, less lonely and more meaningful way to go about life. It was not an event that is even designed to make money. Most of they people who run such events do it voluntarily out of intent to do good in the lives of those who attend.
3.) Even if a child goes to one of these events they are not forced into anything. They may be asked if they wan to ask Jesus into their life, probably not one on one, definitely not without the choice to decide for themselves what they want and definitely not without YOU the parent knowing they would be in this environment before the question was posed to them.
4) These officials didn't invite the performers to their school with out considering their affiliations and they didn't do it with ill intent for your child. They did it because they thought their student body as a whole would benefit from it.
5) If more non-Christian based groups were out their to promote these character building ideas the performers who the school officials found to promote these positive attitudes and entertain the student body may have been a non-Christian group, maybe even one that shares the exact same views as you. Why knock them for being one of the few out their trying to help promote the basic positive characteristics to young people?
6) Ultimately the flyers the children brought home were not advertising all the Christian beliefs or infecting the children with anything other than possible curiosity. They were invitations with intend to being something good into your child’s life. Invitations which you, the parent, have the choice to allow the children to accept and attend or to not accept and not be party to beliefs you the parent don't totally agree with and don’t feel will benefit the child as the inviters do.

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.