Monday, January 07, 2008

Two faces of religion

Two more examples of the good and bad sides of belief, both from Minnesota.

On the bad side, there's the case of Chris Lind. He was fired as a hallway supervisor in the Prior-Lake/Savage school district for talking to students about abstinence, despite repeated warnings to stop. He would also question them about their sexual orientation, and reportedly told one student that it was "National Pick On Lesbians Day."

The story doesn't end there. After being fired, he went out and got elected to the school board, prompting the popular school superintendent, Tom Westerhaus, to resign in protest.

Now Lind is threatening to sue the school board he is now a member of, if it doesn't pay him a settlement for wrongful termination.

The school board may have overstepped its bounds a bit, because the cause for firing included activities Lind pursued in his off time, off campus. But unless the conversation is consensual, teachers have little to no business discussing an individual student's sex life, faith or sexual orientation, either on campus or off.

Outside the legal realm, overstepping boundaries is wrong and rude, even if it's motivated by sincere belief.

On the good side, there's the case of Tom and Polly Wiley, an Iowa couple who went on a missionary trip to Tanzania in early 2007, helping to put a concrete floor into a preschool near Arusha. There they met 5-year-old Zawadi Rajabu, a girl born with two club feet.
They found a surgeon who helped them find Dr. Mark Dahl, a St. Paul specialist who is one of only a handful of surgeons in the country familiar with an arcane technique for straightening club feet. He agreed to do the surgery for free, and the Wiley's then raised the money to fly Zawadi and her mother to the Twin Cities -- and found a Tanzanian physician that they could stay with while they're here.

Here's the difference between the two cases: Lind spent his time pointing out the flaws he perceived in others, while the Wileys simply lived their belief, showcasing their faith by humble example, compassion and sacrifice on behalf of others. Lind demonstrates why many people associate believers with sanctimony and the bedroom police; the Wiley's demonstrate the power and hope that true belief can engender.

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