By Dr. Clif Johnson, President • BMA of America
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently called the performance of Arkansas’ Lake Hamilton High’s Marching Band unconstitutional since the school’s performance was “showing favoritism toward or coercing belief or participation in religion.” The performance in question was entitled “Revival” and included banners of crosses, fiery images and signs that said, “Sinners Beware.” According to the Lake Hamilton School District Director of Communications and Public Relations, the program drew inspiration from the Great Depression era, when revivals were common.
At the heart of this ongoing controversy in America is the belief that the public sphere should be a place of neutrality where there is freedom from religion. But this cannot be. You cannot have freedom or separation from religion at all. Religion is a “set of beliefs regarding the cause, nature and purpose of the universe… often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” It is true that “religion” is most often associated with those who believe in God, but those who do not believe in God are just as religious. They live their lives according to a set of beliefs that stem from their understanding of the cause, nature and purpose of the world. In other words, they have a distinct worldview that shapes their lives, and that worldview is not “neutral” concerning God. It is godless.
The idea that an educational institution could somehow be neutral when it comes to the cause, nature and purpose of the world is naive. Schools are to teach Science and Math, English and History, all of which are deeply influenced by what one believes as to the cause, nature and purpose of the world. One simply cannot avoid these consequences. There is no neutrality in any realm of life. It matters in every part of life whether you are a believer in God or anti-God.
Let’s take the topic at hand — performances of marching bands and the songs they play. Many marching bands are known for playing pop songs. Believe it or not, pop songs have messages that are based on either a God-ward worldview or a god-less one. Each of them is religious. Each of them is teaching a certain way to view the nature and purpose of the world and humanity. For instance, if a band decided to play the song “So Much for Stardust” by the group Fall Out Boy, would anyone object on religious grounds or on the basis of the song’s message influencing or showing favoritism toward one particular religion? I doubt it, because the common mindset is that messages in pop culture are non-theistic. Therefore, they cannot be deemed religious or showing favoritism toward one particular religion. Yet, the song “So Much for Stardust” contemplates and promotes a nihilistic philosophy (everything is meaningless, including life). Whether you call it a philosophy or religion makes little difference. They both communicate a particular view of life.
Someone might suggest, then, that this particular song, and other songs that communicate similar philosophies or religions, need not be played by marching bands. But that is just it — all media communicates a message and there really is no neutrality.
What’s the point of all of this? The point is to understand that there is no neutral place on earth. You are constantly being asked to believe someone’s religion (or philosophy). You cannot escape it, not in politics, not in school, not anywhere. So, you have to ask yourself, “Who do I serve as my true King?” Along with the question, “Whose kingdom is attempting to sneak into my mind and heart, and the minds and hearts of my family?” As churches, we have to ask similar questions, “Who is the King of our church? What kingdom is being proclaimed?”
The Lordship of Christ in every area of life is a challenge that lies before us as churches. How we answer this from our pulpits will greatly affect how families will answer it from their kitchen tables. So, join us at this year’s BMAA National Conference as we tackle the theme of “No King But Christ.”