I often hear people say that the reason for our country's moral decline is because we can't read the Bible in the classrooms and because we took prayer out of the schools.
Mike Huckabee retreated to a tired response that ... the cause for much of the moral decay in our country is that "we've systematically removed God from our schools," Helms observes. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Recently, former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee was asked about the shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 28 people dead, including 20 children.
"How could God let this happen?" asked Fox news host Neil Cavuto.
Huckabee retreated to a tired response that has been trumpeted many times by evangelicals who say the cause for much of the moral decay in our country is that "we've systematically removed God from our schools."
Huckabee then asked, "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"
Are we to believe that such an attack happened because God isn't present enough in that school, or schools like Sandy Hook?
Many evangelicals contend that this is the case. The blame lies with our government and courts, which have limited how much "God language" can be spoken by teachers and administrators in the classrooms.
However, this 20-year-old man could have attacked a place of worship and killed children attending Sunday school just as easily as he did Sandy Hook Elementary School. Or this could have been a Christian school.
Wouldn't these be places where Huckabee would say that God is present?
Sandy Hook was not attacked because teachers didn't lead students in morning prayers or read to them from the Holy Bible every day – the kinds of things Huckabee would see as "signs" that God is present in the schools.
Teachers could do these things every day and not be a people of integrity or even good Christians.
Furthermore, how could one simply lead prayers and read Scripture without imparting one's own personal theology in the process? Is that truly the role of a public school teacher?
As I understand the Christian faith, we carry the love of God with us wherever we go. We cannot divorce our faith from our daily lives, and we shouldn't. The Spirit of Christ lives within us and is manifested in and through all aspects of our lives.
Therefore, wherever we are, Christ is there. Wherever we work, Christ works. You can never systematically remove God from schools unless you remove all Christians from schools. Even that would not keep God from showing up.
Our government has protected the minority among us by making religion neutral in the schools, not by removing religion all together.
Students may still pray together and Bibles are not banned, either. Students can witness to friends and religious clubs can still be held on school campuses.
The First Amendment is now more uniformly enforced than in past generations. It keeps the religious group in the majority in any community, town or city from imposing its brand of religion on others, while ensuring their right to practice and teach their religion as they deem appropriate, just not under the umbrella of the government.
Christians should be comfortable with this. It is really an extension of the Golden Rule.
If we were in the minority as a religious group, we would want the government protecting our rights while keeping religious beliefs of the majority from being imposed upon us.
The fact that there isn't government-sponsored prayer or Scripture reading does not mean God is absent from our schools.
God is there in the hearts and lives of many of these teachers who have answered a calling to teach and lead our children. God is evident in how they do their work and how they love these children.
God is evident in how they respond to their needs and the requests of their parents. God is there in the faces and the laughter of the children.
I realize that there is such a loss of hope in the lives of many communities and families, and schools reflect this.
The reason for America's moral decline isn't that the Bible and prayer have been taken out of our schools, but it's that they been taken out of our homes.
The schools are just symptomatic of the deeper problem. That's not the teachers' fault.
It makes the challenges of learning greater in a community that is devoid of love and hope. It's all the more reason why the love of Jesus needs to be embodied by people who truly care for the students.
How could the teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook have cared any more for the students there?
Jesus once said, "This is the best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends" (John 15:12-13).
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Ga. This column first appeared on his blog.