Never before had I known true believers, possesors of Truth, who are convinced beyond my imagination of the certainty of God, heaven, hell, Jesus Christ, and salvation, and of the unqualified authenticity of the Bible as God’s word.
I was the outsider; by my own choice, I would remain one in this setting where all students could rattle off the warning, “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers,” and all heard every day how they should behave in order to be an acceptable Christian human being. Notwithstanding their fullest cooperation, Bethanyites could never fully accept me because I lacked the credentials they recognized for acceptability.
To them, I am wanting as I am. By denying Christ as my savior, I remain always wanting, a part of the world of darkness Christians are forever urged to reject.
Obedience is extraordinarily important. The teachers readily find support for it: “Obey them that have the rule of you, and submit yourselves” (Hebrews 13:17); “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1); “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Alternately, disobedience is a sin. Questioning often is construed as rebellion, and rebellion is anathema, for it “is as the sin of witchcraft” (1 Samuel 13:23). And God punishes sinners: “Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment…he shall be put to death” (Joshua 1:18); “An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger chall be sent against him” (Proverbs 17:11)…As much as teachers exalt obedience–“the whole Christian life centers around obedience”–many feel obliged to give questioning its due, hoping to avoid, as they said, the impression of “brainwashing” or of Christians as “dumb sheep.” Questioning is acceptable if done in the right spirit, recalling 2 Timothy 2:15, that the Christian must test doctrine in order to “shew thyself approved unto God.” Students can question if they do not rebel.
Few schools are as explicit and forceful as the Christian school in directing students’ vocational decisions. Students are urged to listen carefully for the possibility that the Holy Spirit is calling them into full-time Christian service, and of course, to be obedient if called. Teachers do not denigrate other work; they pay it no attention. In contrast, they give the Lord’s service constant encouragement…such service is the pride and joy of all teachers; when a student dedicates his life to the Lord it is a cause for celebration of a sort no other occupational decision recieves; and it is the one career area most fully endorsed by the entire Bethany experience, from physical education to English.
Whereas a diversity of religious and nonreligious views characterize teachers in even the most homogeneous public school, Christian educators are of one mind on the central elements of belief. As true believers, they colelctively endeavor to make true believers of their students–that is, persons who percieve the Bible as absolute truth and who believe and mean to live by these truths absolutely. True believers do not concieve of competing, alternative truths. Truth is singular; it is to be possessed, not sought after. To reject the true believer’s way is to err and suffer the appropriate consequences. In mundane matters, truth may be pursued; in the critical matters of this life and of the hereafter, Truth is known, revealed by God in his scriptures, and must be aquired. To search for that which is already known, is to give credence to a vain intellectualism which vitiates the integrity of an inerrant Bible. Bethany’s Christians reject Lessing’s view that
if God were to hold out enclosed in His right hand all Truth, and in His left
hand just the active search for Truth…and should say to me: Choose! I
should humbly take the left hand and say: Father! Give me this one;
absolute truth belongs To thee along. (Wolfenbuttfer Fragmente)
Ordinary people might find the Bethany teachers’ weekly round of mostly obligatory activities intolerably confining and excessively intrusive into their personal prerogatives on the use of time, In fact, Bethany teachers estimate that they give 65 percent of their waking time to the school and 15 percent to the church. The remaining 20 percent is spent with family or friends, although very few of the teachers acknowledge any social life outside the Bethany church community. Those who do are local people who grew up in Hartney and have friends and relatives nearby.
If teachers need counsel about how to handle any sort of problem, McGraw asks them where to go: “To your college textbooks or to the Word of God?”…Teachers learn that the world’s answers are not acceptable.
On one occasion, a number of boys, including the son of a local pastor, voluntarily withdrew from school. Anticipating the interest their decision was likely to arouse, McGraw told his teachers:
I recieved a letter from Pastor Cripps whose son is leaving school tomorrow.
You know people will ask you about this. If you haven’t been in the discus-
sions, just say that you don’t know the details. Or else tell them to see me
and say “Whatever the school does, I’m behind it.” There’s an important prin-
ciple of loyalty involved here on your part.
Teachers often hear about humanism, a catch-all term that Bethanyites use to characterize what the world believes. McGraw presents the “five basic tenets of humanism” as: (1) atheism; (2) immorality; (3) evolution; (4) the belief that man can do anything he wants to do; and (5) ecumenism.
BBA’s structure of control is designed to insure that students experience only desirable behavior, belief and knowledge. It is God’s plan that Christian parents and educators instruct and that students obey. Students do not have to like or to understand what they are instructed to do, but to receive God’s blessings, they must obey.
If, for whatever reason, a teacher’ behavior is unsatisfactory, McGraw will try to improve it; Pastor Muller may join the effort. On failing to improve the teacher may be dismissed. Thsi is a relatively simple matter because Christian school teachers do not have tenure. Due process is acknowledged, but since it is not stated in their contract, teachers have no recourse within the system other than reason.
All BBA students are subject to strong scriptural motivation to Christian behavior, ranging form accepting the role of their brother’s keeper to maintaining their testimony so they can reach non-Christians…friends intervene in teh lives of friends; classmates warn and shush wrongdoers; and anyone witnessing erious student misdeeds (cheating, for example) may report them to the authorities. What public school students call tattling, Christian school studens are taught to construe otherwise…Moreover, the Christian has a duty to “restore other believers who have fallen.” It follows directly from these beliefs that if students know of students misdeeds, they should advise the wrongdoers to report themselves; if the offenders fail to do so, they should then expect to be reported by other students. Behavior scorned at other schools is upheld as the norm at BBA
And you say, “What if my teacher is wrong?” Look at the verse, “And submit yourself as one who must give account.” God is saying that it’s your job to obey and submit. Get down on your knees and pray, “Lord, help me do what I’m supposed to do, and help my teacher.” That’s a Christian. A bad attitude is pagan.
[Headmaster] McGraw makes judgements within the framework of an extensive structure designed to control students’ time, thought, movement, and social relations. He and his fellow educators hope students will develop self-discipline that is securely rooted in teh Word, so that their love of Christ, not a signed pledge or a demerit system, will contstrain their ehavior. Structures of control, however, do not seem to wither away.
At Bethany, it is more than the modest dress of the girls and the short hair of the boys, and more than order in the corridors and the absence of graffitti on bathroom walls, that sets it apart from public schools and non-Christian private schools. It is the words. They roll about, pouring forth anywhere at any time, shalts and shalt nots piling up, a scriptural pearl never more than a breath away. No public school ever has been so charged with such an explicit, accepted mission, or packaged a set of means to calculated to fulfill its mission. THe educators exhort, plead, and warn their young Christians; they edify, cajole and threaten them and warn them to be immersed in the Word, and to obey and to promulgate what they have heard.
For students there is no escaping the words: feigned interst is soon detected; disregard invited gloved and ungloved rebuke; repeated scorn is the road to dismissal.
In history Frank Fortner often asks students to ponder the propriety of some historical decision from a Christian perspective. For example, was it proper for the American colonists to rebel against their king? Did the king’s policies violate scriptural principles, and if not, should he not have been honored for his Caesarian prerogatives? The Reformation is particularly important period in world history to Protestants of any designation, and Fortner gives this period due emphasis.
A Christian’s destiny is in the Lord’s plan. There is no turning away from it with impunity, as evangelist Ron Comfort informs BBA students.
I’m afraid to get out of the will of the Lord because I’m agraid he’ll put his
hand on my two daughters or on my wife. Of course, do things because you
love God, but you know God punishes those who get out of his will.
He tells about Clarence Loner, whose refusal to heed God’s call the the mission field led to his young wife’s death, his girlfriend’s rape, and his own brains being blown out.
It is insufficient to go to church; you must want to go, or you must doubt your Christiannes. The doubting, already saved Christian may feel compelled to riase his hand during the invitation part of a sermon and ask to be prayed for; he may even come forward to renew his commitment in a symbolic act that communicates to himself and to others that he intends to reaffirm his acceptance of Jesus as his personal savior and to accept the consequences of this comitment.
At every turn, Bethany students are reminded of their testimony–the bright face of goodness they can beam forth to the world, of the burdened countenance, heavy with sin, that places a stumbling block before others.
Limited though student chances are to meet non-Christians, they hear few scriptural verses more often than 2 Corinthians 6:14, which directs them to “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers.” This means that dating non-Christians is taboo.
[Pastor Muller quoted]
What sort of person ought a Christian young person marry according to that Scripture [2 Corinthians 6:14]? Right, a Christian. You may think it’s OK to date anybody, but if you’re not going to marry them, why date them? I’m not trying to say that once you start dating that that’s the person you’re going to marry. But according to the Word of God you ought not to date someone you couldn’t marry. If you date somebody who is a bum, with no spiritual convictions, thinking you’ll reform them, forget it. It’s just like with apples–the rotten one spoils the bood ones; the good ones don’t make the bad apple good.
[Summer Youth Trip]
From a sheet titled “Laws to Live By” tripgoers learn that tobacco, liquor, and questionable literature are forbidden. They are expected to be smiling, cheerful and willing; “rebellious spirits” are not allowed. Finally, romantic expression is controlled as much as it is in school: girls sit in the front and boys in the back of the bus; no physical contact is allowed; and no couples can go off by themselves.
[Mormons] are on the soul-winning class’s list of cults, which includes astrology, Jesus Peple, “Moonies”, Hare Krishna, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’i, Christiand Scientists, and Seventh Day Adventists. Pastor Burt defines a cult as a “system of religious worthip…that doesn’t look to God as its final authority.” He suggests different sources the students can use for their research, one of them a book on Jehovah’s Witnesses, which he marked “Caution: heresy,” in case anyone picks it off his shelf to read. As far as he is concerned, he informs his class, “This is a bunch of hogwash”…”Hogwash,” “heresy,” “false doctrine,” “weird practices”–these strongly disparaging terms are deisgined to put right and wrong groups in perspective for the students with the clarity of an old-fashioned Saturday afternoon movie about cowboys and Indians.
Steeped in absolutist convictions, Bethany’s educators and pastoral leaders have no tradition, nor do they feel any need, to give sympathetic attention to the beliefs and opinions of any group outside the fundamentalist fold.
If the application of such [scriptural] principles does not have reasonably close bearing on teh issue in question, then and only then will they take a qualified position. Unsurprisingly, the fundamentalist Christian is a self-styled conservative…In this way a political position is established–if liberals support abortion and conservatives oppose it, and if the case for opposition ins drawn from Scripture, then Christians are conservative. In fact, opposition toe the Equal Rights Amendment and to equal rights for homosexuals joins abortion as a trio fo issues that form the core of current conservativism and the basis for selecting political candidates…Teachers do not dispute the justice of equal pay for both sexes, but they see the ERA as contrary to the biblical view of sex roles and therefore as undermining God’s turth.
[excerpts from economics class]
Don’t be a servant to man. How does this happen? Monetarily is one way. If I’ve got debts and God calls me to the mision field, I won’t be able to go.
Embedded in these “truths” is the hard-work aspect of the Protestant work ethic, not so designated, but nonetheless clearly articulated. With specific scriptural verses provided, these actions are encouraged: goal setting for work that is to be performed with commitment, honesty, ehtusiams, and faithfulness, in the knowledge that God rewards faithful work.
More than most schools, Bethany emphasizes doing and being, rather than knowing about…While teachers value and seldom ignore this aspect of their work, it is perhaps the least of what they do, not in terms of time but of commitment: most of what they do is directed towards becoming and being Christian. THey operate in the active mode, leaving no doubt that the proof of their Christian pudding is in teh action of living always as a Christian. Informed that there is but one standard, one outlook, one code of conduct, students are expected to see all of life as one, with no warrant for situational adjustments: riath behavior does not vary with time and place.
Choice, doubt, suspended judgment, evidence–these are excluded form its pedagogical arsenal. On principle, they are strangers to the Christian classroom, alien presences where Truth reigns.
[teacher’s advice for a hypothetical new student]
“The problem with some students is they want to do everything themselves. THey want to think for themselves. I know that’s the way I was when I was a kid.”
At Bethany, Students learn that the proper compass of their concern is all Christians; they also see peer models who have internalized this ideal. In short, peer involvement in the socialization of their peer sofr spiritual ends is BBA’s norm, albeit not one that all student uniformly accept or even that its adherents invariably practice. The picture I mean to convey is one in which student intrude quite natrually in the lives of their classmates. They do so not as vigilantes or as agents of adult authority, but, rather, in the name of standards that by high school years are an ingrained dimension of their lives. That Bethany students strive to influence their peers to get right with the Lord is one ofthe school’s most distinctive qualities.
Students are taught to conform to the academy’s code of conduct. THe more conforming students are uneasy being close to the less conforming ones; differential standards if soeecg , conduct, and social contacts generate tnesionin a setting wherein all are taught that the less spiritual, like rotten apples, always spoil their more spiritual companions.
At every turn, BBA studentsa re taught that they are their borther’s keeper and, moreover, that they live in a hostile, humanist world. Byt virtue of the faithfullness at church activities, students and adults have frequent contacts that facilitatte knowing a great deal bout ther affiliated others. This process is enhanced by the occasional act of giving one’s testimonry, a public statement that usually contains confessions of sins nd reneweds piritual commitments; and also by the common practice of public prayer of the type that preceeds each BBA class and is partof the Wednesday church service and the Saturday men’s prayer group. Thus, by means of both testimony and prayer, Bethany’s young and old acquire a great deal of personal knowledge about each other.
When you’re away from Bethany, say in a mall, do you ever feel like you’re different form the other people you see?
Yeah, like in a way I feel sorry for them because they’re missing out on what a person should really be.
After school do you visit with anybody?
No, I don’t really hang around with people I used to go to school with. I’ve lost all contact ’cause they’re all totally different. THe girls have reputations and I don’t want to get my reputation the same as theirs.
Neither male nor female students contest the subordinate role of women. The believe it is God-ordained.
What’s the best way that a girl can fulfill her calling in life?
Just being a good wife, a preacher’s wife, or something. Raising a family. A career’s OK as long as it doesn’t take up so much of their time that they don’t have time for the kids or anything [senior boy].
More so than at most American schools of any type, the Christian school is notable for its special language, concepts, terms and values. Students are steeped in this language and values from the moment they enter BBA. Since they always learn that they are nothing without God, that they can do nothing of any consequence without his help, to believe that they can act alone is to err in favor of the rejected individualist’s perspective.
Bethany foster no Jeffersonian marketplace of contending ideas; none is intended. One ht contrary, church and school consciously, unapologetically work to restrict their students’ cognitive associateion ” in order to avoid contact with people, books and ideas, and social, religious, and political events that would threaten the valdity of one’s belief system” (Rokeach 1960:48)