So in case you missed it, the makers of the 2014 train wreck of a movie “God’s Not Dead” are so jacked about its success (it cost $2 million to make and grossed $60 million, which clearly indicates that there is a market for that sort of thing) that they have decided to give us a sequel. Creatively titled “God’s Not Dead 2: He’s Surely Alive” and slated for release around Easter 2016, the film depicts a public school teacher in the fictitious town of Hope Springs, Arkansas, who faces an epic courtroom showdown with school administrators backed by a powerful civil liberties group, with her professional future hanging in the balance, over her admission of Christian faith. It strains the limits of credulity to believe that such a thing could happen, especially in the heart of the Bible Belt, yet stories like this resonate in the evangelical subculture because they reaffirm the persecution complex which many evangelicals feel whenever they experience a minor loss of privilege. (It also helps that there is no love lost between evangelicals and public schools; this story plays heavily to evangelical anxieties about life in the public school system.)
Yet this story did happen in real life, in the Bible Belt. It just happened in reverse. Neil Carter tells the story on his blog Godless in Dixie.
Here is what happened: Carter was a public school history teacher in Mississippi. He was a very competent teacher, and well-liked by his students. Most of them, at any rate. Except for this one kid with WAY too much spare time on her hands (there is more that I would like to say about her but I will leave it at that), who went poking around on his Facebook profile and found a post about his being an atheist. She badgered him about it during class. She got the parents and the school administration involved. The administration (which was very strongly Christian–this is the Bible Belt) gave him strict directives as to what he could and couldn’t discuss in class, then reassigned him midyear to teach math at a lower grade level, then declined to renew his contract at the end of the school year. He took a job teaching math at an inner-city school in that district (it was the only school that would take him), but resigned after a couple of years because the situation there was not any better.
Read Carter’s story and judge for yourselves, people: In what alternate universe is this acceptable?
This is precisely why question 27 of Kevin DeYoung’s “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags” is, for me at least, simply laughable. DeYoung asks “Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?”, yet the track record of evangelicalism is that many parts of it are just not safe for gays, atheists, feminists, or anyone else who is ideologically at variance with us. Carter’s story is a prime example of this. Now here we are, asking our ideological opponents for a consideration which we ourselves are unwilling to give. This does not look good, people.
Here is the big issue: As evangelicals we believe that if we were in charge of things, the world would be a better place and God’s favor would be on us. Yet in one small part of the world where evangelicals actually are in charge (or at least allowed to act like they are in charge while those who really are in charge look the other way), they failed miserably when presented with an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ to an ideological opponent.
I think an excellent way to think about issues like this is to ask yourself the question “What does love require of me?” And I think it takes a tremendous amount of creative thinking to defend the position that what love requires of us is to shit on our ideological opponents when given the opportunity, as the school administration and community in Mississippi did to Carter.
Perhaps the scenario depicted in the “God’s Not Dead” sequel will play out in real life someday. If it does, then we will have brought it upon ourselves and we will have deserved exactly what we got.