Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dueling Hashtags

In response to the recently broadcast racist video, Mount Hebron students wanted to stage a protest, which they have just successfully done. But they faced huge pressure from the school system to back down. Rather than partner with the students, the school system put together a competing event and suggested to the overall community that their event was the preferred one, citing "safety issues" and "loss of valuable class time."

They even created their own hashtag. While students were promoting #HoCoStudentWalkOut and #StopTheSilenceStartTheConversation, hcpss was promoting #HCPSScommUNITY. For Example:

From Bridgeway Community Church: #HCPSScommUNITY town hall meeting Feb 2 from 4p to 6p. See you there #HoCoMd

I responded: I hope Bridgeway members with be supporting #HoCoStudentWalkOut as well.

Bridgeway had bridge builders listening to student leaders on campus at Hebron yesterday and will continue to be present throughout the week. We believe comprehension starts with conversation and we will be hosting a town hall. Hope you can attend.

Wait, what?

I have absolutely nothing against Bridgeway Community Church. But when did they become the official, approved, establishment church of the Howard County Public School System? As a friend said,

Do we really have NO ONE in the system who is trained to facilitate such discussions? If that is the case, that explains some of this. Where are the programs that help schools build inclusive communities? This is not a progressive community response.

This feels inappropriate to me. Is this a violation of the separation of church and state?

I have nothing but good things to say about Bridgeway Community Church. The evidence is pretty clear that their relationship with the school system has been for the purpose of being a good neighbor to the community. And their pastor, Dr. David Anderson, is well known in the field of race relations. As a friend suggested:

I have no religious affiliation, and pretty much consider myself a non-believer, but I keep in mind that David Anderson, the pastor at Bridgeway, is a renowned speaker, particularly on racial issues and inclusiveness. He's world-class and happens to a member of the HoCo community. He'd be at least one of the guys I'd reach out to in this kind of situation.

All of this is true. I do not dispute it one bit. But once you invite representatives of a particular (Christian) church into a school and give them access to students that other denominations/community representative will not get, you have crossed a line, and I think that line is an important one. You now have a school system which has demonstrated a clear preference for one religious institution over others, and you have a church which has (perhaps unwittingly) aligned itself with the goals of a secular institution.

In all of this, I think that Bridgeway stands to lose the most. They have been called in to echo the voice of the school system and have lost a valuable opportunity to be a voice for the students. The students are smart. They can see what is going on. There's not much to prevent them from walking away from this experience thinking that Bridgeway is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Howard County School System.

Ponder this thought from a friend of mine:

I fully appreciate the good folks and work of our religious communities, but they should not be the face of a governmental agency. They can do their good work with their congregations, they can share their talents with the community at large, but the very tolerance and inclusiveness we seek is diminished when government favors one or another religious community.

This is not a post of condemnation. This is a post meant to ask a question: is this an appropriate response? Is this institutional partnership healthy, or misguided? Who is being put first here? Who is included, who is excluded?

Okay, a lot of questions. The first one would be: what do you think?

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