I’ve been debating all weekend about whether or not to enter the great t-shirt debate that’s been raging across Canada for the past week. After reading the latest update in this morning’s news, I can’t hold back any longer.
First of all, a little background for my many non-Canadian readers. (I love the fact that WordPress now shows us where our readers come from. I can’t help checking the little map on my Stats page several times a day and I’m delighted every time a new country lights up!) Last Monday, William Swinimer, a grade 12 student in Nova Scotia who had repeatedly worn a bright yellow t-shirt with the slogan “Life is wasted without Jesus” on it, was suspended from school for 5 days.
Christians across the country have been decrying the fact that William was suspended for wearing a t-shirt with the name of Jesus on it. Not so, folks! If we, as Christians, want to be listened to and taken seriously we need to get our facts straight. Swinimer was suspended from school for defying authority. After being told by the school principal that other students found the t-shirt offensive and asked not to wear it to school anymore, this young man who was apparently in the habit of telling his fellow students that they were going to burn in hell, chose to wear it to class every day for several weeks. (I hope he washed it in between!) His defiance earned him a series of in-school suspensions and ultimately the 5 day at-home suspension.
While I admire William’s desire to share his faith and his willingness to stand up for his beliefs and in no way support the principal’s initial request that he not wear the shirt to school again, the Bible clearly tells us “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” Hebrews 13:17 Swinimer says that by continuing to wear the banned shirt to school, he was standing up for his rights as a Canadian citizen. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to freedom of religion, conscience and expression to all Canadians. Religious freedom does include the right to speak about our beliefs and to share them with other people but I cannot applaud a student for harassing his classmates or defying authority. If we truly hurt for the people we believe are lost, we won’t win them over to our way of thinking by being obnoxious, rude or confrontational.
While I was mildly annoyed with those who failed to look below the surface and immediately jumped to Swinimer’s defence hailing this as another example of a Christian being persecuted for his faith, it wasn’t until I read this morning’s news that my blood began to boil. Swinimer was due to return to school this morning. Rather than attempting to sweep the situation under the carpet and pretend that nothing untoward had happened, the school scheduled a series of forums to begin today that would encourage open dialogue on how students can express their beliefs in respectful and non-discriminatory ways in a multicultural public school environment. They tried to turn the fierce nationwide debate into a learning experience. Swinimer was invited to participate and was even told that that he could wear the bright yellow t-shirt. The pastor of his church agreed to take part in the discussions.
Then came this morning’s news. William Swinimer arrived at school with his father, John. Waving a New Testament at reporters, John Swinimer announced that he was pulling his son out of the school!
“The taxpayer is paying for him to learn his academics as well as the other students and I am not standing for any of this stuff,” he told reporters. “He will not attend this school unless they are having reading, writing and arithmetic, good old-fashioned academics. When they’re having forums, when they’re having other extra curricular activities, he will not attend that school.” When asked by reporters whether Swinimer will come back to the school when the talks are over, John responded, “I’m making a statement here, I’m not answering questions.”
Whoa!! What kind of parenting is that? Instead of supporting his defiant behaviour, William’s parents ought to be teaching him to show proper respect for authority and how to share his faith in appropriate and respectful ways. Unfortunately intolerance and rudeness breed intolerance and rudeness.
Today, having heard the rest of the story, I have sympathy for young William. Sadly, it’s easy to predict what the future holds for him. He lives in a town of little more than 2000 people. You can’t be anonymous in a place like that and a bad reputation is hard to shake. He’s still going to be “that boy” years down the road. Who wants to hire a young man who’s been taught that he doesn’t have to do what he’s told; that his rights are more important than anyone else’s?
I do hope his life isn’t wasted!