#65 ≠ Rabbis, Baccalaureates, and Churches
The April 20, 2001 issue of The Atlanta Constitution reported in a front page story where the minister of the Mount Betel United Methodist Church will not allow Rabbi Lebow of an Atlanta area Jewish temple to give the spoken message in the baccalaureate ceremony to held in his church sponsored by the PTSA. This decision of the church leader raises several concerns. Should a rabbi be allowed to speak in a Christian church? Is a baccalaureate a non-denominational, multi-religion event? How does this relate to the United States Constitution?
This baccalaureate ceremony was planned for all graduates of Walton High School. The leaders of the ceremony chose the church because it is large enough to hold the crowd. As a community event, if they wanted no endorsement toward a religion, then a church is not an ideal location. However the baccalaureate ceremony is a religious ceremony held in conjunction with graduation.
Rabbi Lebow was told he could not speak because he is not a Christian is therefore not welcome to give the sermon. This is the churchís right and choice. However, I have some reservations with a Christian church turning away a Jewish rabbi. The Jews and Christians both worship the same God. The Christian faith grew out of Judaism. To follow the logic of this minister, Jesus would not be allowed to give the sermon as Jesus was a Jew in his life, died a Jew on the cross, and spoke at the temple. The original Christians did not see themselves as separate from the Jews, but having found the promised Savior. A major fight in the New Testament was rather you could be Christian and not a Jew. The minister may be surprised to discover that the rabbi is closer to his regular congregation on Sunday than he realizes. If this church is reaching out like it should, then many are there searching for the savior just as the Jews still are.
Baccalaureate is an event to bring Godís blessing and religion, into this major life event, graduation, in these young peopleís lives. As such it is designed around certain religions, but not totally inclusive. You would think the Jews, Christians and Moslems could organize this event together as all worship the same God. However wherever it is held should not have to cover their beliefs, i.e. crosses, star of Davids, etc. I would expect though that other religions and groups would not be welcome including Wicca, Buddhism, etc. However even within the Christian religion, various denominations battle others as wrong. Review the beliefs of people on Mormons, Catholics, footwashers, tongue speaking, etc. The Presbyterian church I grew up in had a Jewish group that met at it each week for years. It gave us both an opportunity to better understand each other. We should feel welcome in other churches whether me as a United Methodist in a Southern Baptist church or a an Episcopal church or a non- denominational church, or the two Mormon missionaries at the United Methodist church Sunday. If your beliefs are secure and true, the others will not threaten them.
This event brings forth the concerns of many who want to keep the church and state fully separate. How do we decide what prayer if a prayer is offered at school? If a Catholic gives it, will it offend a Southern Baptist? If a Jew gives it, will it offend a United Methodist? The rabbi in this case planned to speak on values, family and faith ion God. What United Methodist minister could disagree with this? Apparently at least one does. Episodes like this one promotes the concerns of the separationists. Until we find ways around this, then it is probably best that schools tread carefully on the religion issue. This does not mean no religion thoughts, but present the various sides. You can cover the history of religions, but not just one. (How else can you learn history without understanding religion?) To teach evolution, but not introduce creationism is to promote religions like Wicca. In this case if the baccalaureate is more than Unite Methodist, and if the United Methodist minister only wants United Methodist presented, then the PTSA needs to find a community, non- religious facility, such as a civic center to hold it. Personally I think this is a mistake on the United Methodist ministerís part, as it is a chance to get these young people and their families to church. Who knows what they may learn in that hour looking at the Christian symbols, United Methodist Hymnals, and the Bibles in the pews? We have claimed that our government is based on Judeo-Christian principles, but after this situation is it Judeo, or is it Christian, or its it neither, or is it really both?
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