A Quiet Revival Is Happening in Public Schools
Analysis. A quiet revival is happening in some parts of our nation’s public school system through a law passed in 1952 informally called “released time.” The idea goes as far back as 1905, when educators at a conference in New York City discussed the closing of elementary schools for one day per week so that students could receive religious education off campus. The idea caught on, and by 1947 participation had reached 2 million students across 46 states. Twelve states adopted education laws in favor of such released time religious education. After several legal challenges, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality, and released time has been legal ever since.
Since 1990, a multidenominational organization called School Ministries, Inc., has been assisting local communities in establishing Christian education programs through released time. The organization is active in 12 states, and through its efforts, five of those have adopted legislation permitting students to receive academic credit for attending released time programs.
In 2019, a ministry called LifeWise Academy was launched. According to an article by CBN, LifeWise founder Joel Penton says the failure thus far to utilize this little-known released time law could lead to the greatest missed opportunity of the American Church to reach the next generation.
I believe Penton is right for a couple of reasons. First, school administrators are desperate for help from the community to address the mounting social and behavioral issues they face. I had the privilege of establishing a mental wellness task force in several suburbs north of Atlanta as a collaborative effort between school districts, city governments, and mental-health services providers. School principals would frequently lament that parenting was increasingly left to the schools and that dealing with dysfunction was getting in the way of education. Teachers are educators, not parents, those educators asserted, so they cannot be expected to “parent” nearly 30 kids in a classroom. When asked what would help most, they replied that volunteers from the churches who could come and sit with the kids during break times or in the hallways to listen to them and exert a positive influence would go a long way. The public schools are desperate for help; they know it, and they want it. Thus, there is greater openness now to a Christian presence, even on campus, than ever before.
The second reason is that released time is not limited to Christian education. The Mormons make use of it too. In the western U.S. especially, it is not uncommon to find a religious education center called “seminary” right next to a public school so that Latter-day Saints children, and any others they might bring along, can attend classes.
And recently, a more troubling group announced that it will use released time laws to launch a program. The Satanic Temple is introducing its own initiative, called HAIL (Hellion Academy of Independent Learning). The group’s press release calls it “a program for students that allows them to learn about values such as empathy, compassion, and justice in a fun environment without religious pressure or coercion.” The satanists rail against Christian groups like LifeWise as allegedly being pushy, coercive, and exclusivist. One location where this program is being launched is at an elementary school in Knoxville, Tennessee. Though the current locations are few and far between, the group is openly targeting public schools to wage war on the minds of children as young as elementary-school age.
The third reason is that the Bible itself is under attack in public schools. Some parents have begun complaining about Bible content, complaints that have received publicity and gotten a receptive ear from some school boards. For instance, the Davis School District, north of Salt Lake City, has banned the Bible from elementary and middle school libraries “due to vulgarity and violence” inappropriate for younger school children.
And we haven’t even talked about the drag queen story hours and other LGBTQ initiatives that are being pushed.
The minds of school-age children are impressionable, and Satan knows it. Yet, at the same time, there is ever-greater openness to Christian education and its values and message. According to actor-turned-evangelist Kirk Cameron, millions of Americans are done with “wokeness.” The madness of overt support of all manner of perversion and lawlessness, especially that which targets children, is causing growing backlash and a hunger for healthy family and societal values. This openness provides a unique opportunity for the Church to step in and provide the guidance, instruction, and wisdom that comes from following Jesus Christ.
LifeWise, for instance, has seen explosive growth. Starting with just two schools in 2019, the organization is now approved for a presence in over 260 schools across 10 states. And according to this article in IFA’s Informer, Texas lawmakers have passed Senate Bill 763, which allows religious chaplains to work in pubic schools in a counseling role. According to Dr. Ed Stetzer of The Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, this legislation is needed because emerging generations are under unprecedented stress from the political and societal division and instability in our nation; COVID; and questions about where all of this is headed. I would add to all this the ever-increasing fatal school shootings. What is an elementary school child to think when active-shooter drills are now part of everyday campus life?
So, we must pray for released time Christian programs to proliferate and increase in participation. They are voluntary, and parental consent is needed, which gives us some direction in our prayers.
Let me encourage you with another personal experience. One in a string of “tentmaking jobs” I’ve held was that of a school crossing guard for one year. I was responsible to guide students walking across a busy highway leading to an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school — all situated next to each other. On one of my first days, I asked the Lord why the only job that had opened up for me was that of a crossing guard. He spoke to me clearly: “You are here not only as a crossing guard, but also as a school guard to pray over these three schools.” So, every day I would pray a blessing over the children and their parents as they crossed the highway, and as I waited for the next group to arrive, I would stand and pray Holy Spirit–directed prayers over the three schools. Eventually, doors of opportunity opened for nearby churches to come on campus as mentors, and I was invited to speak before a Fellowship of Christian Athletes group. I asked moms to come pray with me during the afternoon. Heaven only knows the full impact of one year’s worth of daily prayer over three public schools.
I am certain that God cares deeply about our children and that He is angered over the Enemy’s attempts to capture their minds. And I believe that a revival has quietly begun through released time programs, and that we must pray for the advance of that revival, lest the Church miss this unique opportunity to tip the scales in the battle for our children’s minds.
Almighty Father, we unite in prayer for the growth of released time programs in every state. Raise up churches and ministries that will rise to the occasion, and use this law to bring Christian education to public schools. Ignite desire in the hearts of parents and children to sign up and to embrace the Gospel, recapturing their true identity in Christ and Your design for life and love. Bring to naught every attempt by the Enemy to use this law to lead our nation’s children down a path to hell. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Find out more at ReleasedTime.org.
How are you praying for children across America? Share this article and encourage others to pray.
Remco Brommet is a pastor, spiritual-growth teacher, and prayer leader with over 40 years of experience in Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the U.S. He was born and raised in the Netherlands and pastored his first church in Amsterdam. He moved to the U.S. in 1986. He and his wife, Jennifer, live north of Atlanta. When not writing books, he blogs at www.deeperlifeblog.com and assists his wife as a content developer and prayer coordinator for True Identity Ministries. Jennifer and Remco are passionate about bringing people into a deeper relationship with Christ. Photo Credit: Ben White on Unsplash.
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