Immanuel & The Cost Of Discipleship
In The Benedict Option, I write that faithful small-o orthodox Christians need to prepare to be pushed to the margins of public life over our faith convictions. If we are not prepared for that, then we will be shocked when we get shoved out of the public square, and may even be willing to surrender our beliefs for the sake of being included.
Well, here’s a lesson for you Christian readers who still believe that political power is a sufficient means of protecting Christian institutions. This e-mail went out from the head of the Sheridan School, a private K-8 school in Washington DC. It concerns the school’s response to the news that Immanuel Christian School, a private Evangelical school in the area, expects its employees and students to live lives of “moral purity” which, consistent with its profession of Christian faith, means no sex outside of heterosexual marriage.
Did you think it necessary that a K-8 private school should have a response to the internal policies of another school? Ah, but when you’re dealing with bourgeois professionals, Attention Must Be Paid. The Sheridan School, which describes itself in its mission statement as “progressive,” took to the fainting couch over the fact that its sports teams had to play a bunch of gross Evangelical kids. Here’s the letter that the right-thinking Jessica Donovan, head of school, sent to parents:
At Sheridan School, we pride ourselves in the fact that we are teaching children to be allies and upstandanders [sic] and to speak out when they perceive injustice. It is in the DNA of the work we do, and we know it is serving our children well when we hear from the high schools that our students are leaders and advocates in their schools.
There are times when the need for social action hits close to home, and we are grateful for these teachable moments. Last year, after the school shooting in Florida, our students formed a Young Activist club and worked to register voters and spread awareness. This year, a new issue has arisen that we have been working through with the students.
Along with many of you, we learned last week that Immanuel Christian School, a school in our athletic conference, has a written policy prohibiting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, parents and teachers. Given our school’s fundamental belief in diversity and inclusion as expressed in our diversity statement, this information, and what to do about it, poses obvious challenges. While we have played ICS in the past, we were not aware of its policies, so this new information prompted conversations among the staff and many families. While we were still gathering information, we also heard from our students who were upset about ICS’s exclusionary this policy and wanted to take action.
Last week, Jay Briar (Middle School Head), Calvin Snyder (Varsity Girls coach and Athletic Director), Brent Levin (Varsity Boys coach) and I met with student leaders of the two varsity basketball teams to hear their perspectives. I told them that the ultimate decision about what we do would be mine, but that I cared greatly about their perspective. There was agreement that the students were uncomfortable playing ICS, but not on what we should do. The leaders then spoke with the rest of the junior varsity and varsity basketball players. Some suggested we should not play the school at all and others suggested that we should play and make a peaceful and respectful statement. The majority said they would like to play while making some kind of statement. As the news spread, many of you have reached out to us, and we have been very proud of the thoughtful and action-oriented responses we have received from teachers, parents, coaches and student-athletes.
SInce the majority of students wanted to play, we were initially planning to go to ICS with the student-athletes wearing a statement of support (such as rainbow socks or warm-up jerseys). As we talked more, we understood that some students did not feel safe entering a school that bans LGBTQ parents, students or even families that support LGBTQ rights. Forcing our children to choose between an environment in which they feel unsafe or staying home was not an option. [Emphasis mine — RD] So we decided that we would invite ICS to play all of the games at Sheridan. Since ICS declined our offer to host, we will only play our home games and will not go to ICS to play.
Throughout the conversations with the students, we have had many opportunities for engaging dialogue. We talked about how tough problems take time to resolve and, sometimes, even after they are resolved it doesn’t feel just right. We talked about the idea of a team and what it means when we all stand together. We discussed human rights and why some are more protected than others. We shared that people who believe differently from us do not deserve disrespect, and the best way to engage with others is through respect and dialogue. We were clear to separate the ideals of Christianity with the policies
of this particular school, as we play many Christian schools that support LGBTQ rights.
I wish you could have been in on the conversations with our students. You would burst with pride to see how thoughtful, mature, engaged, and empathetic our students are. We are grateful for all of the parents, teachers, and students for the thoughtful ways they have shared their views, experiences and ideas for how best to respond in a way that still allows us to connect with people and groups with differing views, while also standing up for the people and values that we support.
In the end, we know that all of our students will feel safe playing at Sheridan. They will wear their rainbow socks in support of LGBTQ rights and they will play their hearts out. Some have made banners that respectfully celebrate LGBTQ rights. We will welcome our guests and show good sportsmanship. If you’d like to come out to support our teams, the varsity games will be on Wednesday at Sheridan beginning at 3:30 and the junior varsity games will be February 12 beginning at 3:30.
This is a challenging situation, and we are working through difficult and sometimes hurtful issues, but the Sheridan community’s response — and most especially that of our children — has been inspiring. Thank you for entrusting your children with us. They are making the world better every day.
Head of School
Washington, DC 20008
It’s always “safety,” isn’t it? Liars. These Sheridan School people, especially the unctuously self-congratulatory Madame Donovan, don’t want to get Evangelical cooties on them, but they cannot admit their spite for these Evangelicals, so they invent this ridiculous concern for “safety.” Immanuel has had the policy for years, and Sheridan students and parents have presumably gone to Immanuel for sports contests, and nobody was insulted or assaulted or treated with disrespect. What has changed?
The fact is, those Sheridan students and families are 100 percent safe. This is a lie. It’s a lie they invented to justify the fact that they think Evangelical Christians are disgusting bigots and should be shunned and stigmatized.
I don’t know the rules of the athletic league in question, so I don’t know if Sheridan can get away with this. If they can, there will now be pressure within other schools in the league to shun Immanuel. This is how it will happen, people. They don’t have to pass laws hemming in orthodox Christian schools. They can accomplish a lot simply with social pressure.
The Christians students and parents at Immanuel will now get a lesson on what it means to endure spite for the sake of fidelity. And so will the rest of us watching from the sidelines. Sheridan School has actually done Immanuel a favor, showing them the cost of discipleship. It’s not really about sports, but about learning how to bear social stigma with grace and courage. If your Christian school can’t handle being hated and shunned by a sports league, it won’t be able to stand up to real persecution.
Take a look at Immanuel Christian School’s website. Do you really think this looks like a place where visiting sports teams and parents are unsafe? Meanwhile, consider that the Sheridan School is committed to diversity, until the point where tolerance for difference actually challenges them:
UPDATE: Reader Jonah R. comments:
I don’t believe the kids are actually behind this, but on the off chance they are, the adults are doing them no favors by scaring them into feeling “unsafe” about attending a game at a conservative Christian school where, from what I can tell, everyone is welcome in the stands.
Let’s also be clear about what the Sheridan School is: It’s breeding tomorrow’s ruling class. These kids are going to be the busybodies, scolds, and control freaks of tomorrow.
There’s also a humorous “privilege” issue here. Tuition at Immanuel Christian is $10,000 a year. At Sheridan, tuition is $34,000 to $38,000 a year. This isn’t just about shielding students from Christians and conservatives; it’s about setting upper-crust kids apart from relatively normal middle-class people. This is getting into Brave New World territory: “I’m glad I’m not a Beta!” I guess the next step is to give the Sheridan kids electric shocks every time they see a crucifix.