February 21, 2006

Being a Christian in the World

Dear Mr. Edwards, 

Hi! I was a student at Summit this summer. I’m a senior at a public high school. I’m writing for some advice in the situation I’m in. I’ve been a competing cheerleader for about 15 years, and am now on the school varsity cheerleading squad. We do our pep rally routines to different cuts of songs. Last week was our first pep rally. When I heard the music to our routine I was appalled. I asked who the artist was, and at once knew it was a provocative artist. That night I went home and printed off the lyrics. There were numerous cursing and sexual suggestions to say the least. I asked if I could sit out and not participate, because I didn’t want to be involved with inappropriate music. I also asked this in a quiet, behind the scenes way. Basically my principal told me that he allows that music to be used if the swear words are bleeped out. I asked about the content of the song, and he said that he couldn’t control what was popular in the music industry today and that there are no songs out there that “aren’t like that.” He said what’s inappropriate for one person may not be inappropriate for another. 

I don’t think he understands that content is everything, and almost every student who hears this music knows exactly what the true meaning is. I realize this is just another form of Secular Humanism working in my school district. I don’t know how to respond without his defense of separation of church and state. I was told by my head cheerleader who creates our music and routines that this music will be used at every pep rally. I’m willing and ready to step down from being a cheerleader at my school to do the right thing for Christ. But I want to fight this policy to the limit. There’s no doubt in my mind that God’s calling me to take this stand. 

I don’t know how to approach this issue to the school board or yet again with my school administration. I feel like I’m over my head, because I’m trying to make liberal educators understand black and white in [what they consider to be] a grey area. I really enjoyed your classes this summer and I learned tons of valuable information. I was wondering if you could tell me what you think the appropriate response would be to this situation. 

Thanks again, Amy

Dear Amy,

I commend you for taking a stand on basic moral principles. These moral principles are “written on the hearts” of all people, according to Paul in Romans 2:14. This means that we do not necessarily have to appeal to the Bible’s moral code, but instead can encourage people to consider what they already know to be true morally. In this way you can avoid the “separation of church and state” issue. By the way, the current idea of “separation” is a myth and gross misunderstanding of the facts, since worldview analysis demonstrates that it’s impossible to separate religious ideas from practical application, and, as you were taught while at the Summit, Secular Humanism is just as religious in this sense as Christianity or any other religion.That’s a different topic!

Getting back to your situation, it’s tragic that your principal and cheerleading sponsor cannot see how they are adding fuel to the fire of irresponsible teenage behavior when they endorse the kinds of songs you are referring to.

Here’s my suggestion:

First, obtain a copy of your school district’s policy on student conduct, and specifically regarding the use of inappropriate language and sexual contact between unmarried students.

Second, approach your sponsor with a copy of the policy as well as the lyrics to the song in question and point out how the theme of the song undermines school policies. Also, have an alternative song that has a similar beat but different lyrics that are not offensive. This will show your sponsor that you are not just complaining and being a bother, but are offering positive solutions to remedy the situation.

The reason I recommend that you go first to the sponsor is because we always start with the person who can do something about the situation before we move up the chain to the principal, and finally the school board. In that way, people do not feel that you are going over their heads by giving them a chance to respond first before appealing to a higher authority. This principle is found in Matthew 18:15–20, although Jesus uses it for a different situation related to someone sinning against you. But the idea that you go first to the offending person is valid in other situations, too.

This should be done in an attitude of helpfulness, not accusation. For example, you might say, “Did you realize that this song tears down the educational goals of our school and contradicts school district policy regarding cursing and sexual conduct?”

Third, think through the responses your sponsor (or principal) might give and rehearse how you will respond. Maintain an attitude of inquiry and helpfulness.

For example, if your sponsor says, “But all the students are already listening to this music.” you can reply, “Yes, but isn’t it true that if students do something that is contrary to school policy, it would not be appropriate for teachers or coaches to condone or promote such behavior? I really care for the welfare of my friends in school and want what is best for them. It seems to me that we would all want to present the best, most positive role models for students to encourage them to behave in the right way, don’t you agree?” You might add a specific example or two of how teachers do this in other areas, such as in drug, smoking, or sex education.

Or, if she says, “What’s inappropriate for one person may not be inappropriate for another,” you can respond, “I agree this is true in some areas of life, but according to district policy, the decision has already been made as to what is appropriate and inappropriate in the areas of crude language and immoral sexual conduct, and the lyrics of this song blatantly disregard the stated policy. Besides, don’t you think the majority of parents would applaud you for providing their children with positive messages, instead of lyrics that are degrading to women? This song suggests that women are sex objects, is this really what we want to promote here at (name of school)?”

If she says, “But students don’t listen to the lyrics, they just enjoy the music.” You can say, “Every student I’m aware of knows exactly what the lyrics say, and they even sing along, regardless of whether certain words are bleeped out. Regarding bleeping out words, researchers at Dartmouth College used brain scans and found that the auditory cortex not only processes the music that comes through our ears, but also generates the memories of music that yield songs that get stuck in our heads. They had students listen to a variety of songs through an iPod and monitored their brain activity. The researchers then cut out portions of the music, leaving gaps. When the gaps hit, researcher David Kraemer said, “We found that people couldn’t help continuing the song in their heads, and when they did this, the auditory cortex remained active even though the music had stopped.” In other words, the brain kept right on acting like the well-known song was still coming through loud and clear through the ears. When an unfamiliar song was played, the gaps led to the auditory cortex getting less active since there was little or no record of the song to call up. According to the latest research, students will still “hear” the curse words in their head even though the words are bleeped from the music.

If she says, “But you are the only one complaining. The rest of the squad thinks the song is fine.” You can say, “Actually, that is a perfect example of the point I’m raising. Whether something is right or wrong doesn’t depend on a majority vote. If there were three children in a family and they voted to eat ice cream three times a day instead of healthy food, the two parents would not give in to their demands just because they are outnumbered. Parents know what’s best for their children. That is why we students look up to our teachers to model for us what is true when it comes to math, and what is right when it come to other areas of life. So, again, the issue I’m bringing to your attention is whether this song is appropriate for our school to be promoting at an athletic event. I’m sure you’re not suggesting that we contradict district policy? I don’t thing the school board would respond positively if teachers or sponsors began disregarding their stated policies, do you?”

You may come up with other issues your sponsor might bring up, but, as you can see from these, they all tend to be “red herrings” to get you off the scent of the main issue. Don’t let her off the hook so easily. Stick to your objective. And remember, the objective is not to win the battle (over the use of this one song) and lose the war (of maintaining as positive a relationship as possible with your sponsor while defending the principle that morality should be encouraged.) Keep your message positive. Maintain the high moral ground, knowing that your cause is right.

Fourth, if your sponsor does not change her mind, then you will have to decide how far you want to take this. Will you go to the principal and follow the same procedure? After that would you appeal to the school board?

Or, you may decide to take a more modest approach. It is certainly appropriate for you to step down from the cheerleading squad. If you do, most of your classmates will not understand your reason and will ridicule you for it. But your stance will also open up conversation with other students over what is right and wrong. At this point, you will have an opportunity to share why morals matter (morals are needed for living together in a civil society) and where morals originate (they originate from God, who by his very nature is moral. The Bible calls this characteristic of God “righteous.”) You can explain to your friends that apart from God, there is no foundation for moral principles, for how can we arrive at moral ideas if we begin with only non-living molecules?!

To prepare for this aspect of the cultural battle, you may want to read the chapters on Ethics in Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews. Another resource is the book, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, by Frank Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. Visit our website next month to check availability.

I wish you the best and know that Pat and I are praying for you. Please let me know how this turns out.

Yours in Christ,
Chuck Edwards

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