Questions From Readers
◼ What should a Christian family do if their child has to attend a school where religious instruction is compulsory?
Christian parents are not interested in having their children indoctrinated with false religion. But there may be situations where children cannot decline to be in a class where religion is taught, though they would not share in false religious acts or ceremonies.
God’s friend Abraham set a fine pattern as to religious instruction for children. He raised his offspring in Canaan, where they were surrounded by religious error and abominable “sacred” practices. (Compare Exodus 34:11-15; Leviticus 18:21-30; Deuteronomy 7:1-5, 25, 26; 18:9-14.) Nonetheless, he was the source of religious instruction for his family. God was confident that Abraham would “command his sons and his household after him so that they shall keep Jehovah’s way to do righteousness.”—Genesis 18:19.
As a youth, Jesus too benefited from family and congregational instruction in true worship. Thus, he “went on progressing in wisdom and in physical growth and in favor with God and men.”—Luke 2:52.
In most parts of the earth, Christian youths receive secular education in public schools. Not everything taught is in full accord with Biblical truth and established fact. For example, many generations of Christian youths have attended science or biology classes as part of their normal curriculum. Most of them have thus been exposed to prevailing theories of evolution and associated views about “natural” origins of life on earth.
This exposure did not, however, turn these Christian youths into adherents of godless evolution. Why? Because at home and at Christian meetings, they had previously received accurate information based on God’s inspired Word, which helped to train their ‘perceptive powers to distinguish both right and wrong.’ (Hebrews 5:14) Many parents had studied with their children the balanced coverage of evolution in the faith-strengthening volume Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?* Thus equipped, these schoolchildren did not accept as believable the classroom instruction about evolution. Yet they were able to show in their classroom responses and in tests that they were paying attention and could learn the details presented. Some even had opportunity to provide alternative explanations in accord with the facts presented in the Bible by man’s Creator.—1 Peter 3:15.
What, though, about class periods devoted to instruction about the predominant local religion or even religion in general?
It is unlikely that such instruction will be presented neutrally, as mere information. The teacher may even practice that religion and thus try to influence the minds and hearts of the students. So Jehovah’s Witnesses prefer that their children be excused from religious instruction classes. This may enable their children to use school time more profitably to complete assignments for other classes or to study in the school library.
In some places, however, such requests have been denied; the school or public authorities may even require that all children attend and complete a religion course in order to be graduated. Each family must decide personally what to do in that case.
Some of God’s servants in the past have involuntarily been in situations where they had to endure exposure to religious teachings or acts while remaining loyal to the true God. That was likely so of Moses. He was brought up as the grandson of Egypt’s Pharaoh, and he “was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.” (Acts 7:20-22) That probably included to some degree the beliefs and religious practices common in Egypt. But Moses was safeguarded by the superior instruction he evidently received from his family and perhaps other Hebrews.—Exodus 2:6-15; Hebrews 11:23-26.
Consider also the example of the three young Hebrews, associates of Daniel, who were given special instruction in Babylon and made government workers. (Daniel 1:6, 7) They were not at liberty to do or refuse to do whatever they wanted. On one occasion King Nebuchadnezzar decreed that they assemble with other officials at the gold image he set up on the plain of Dura, where acts of nationalistic devotion would be performed. How did the three Hebrews respond? We can be certain that they would have preferred not to be there, but that was not possible.* Yet they remained faithful to their beliefs and to Almighty God. Their godly consciences permitted them to be present while resolutely refusing to participate in, or personally engage in, any act of false religion.—Daniel 3:1-18.
When it is compulsory for all students to be present at a religion class and possibly to learn to the extent of being able to pass standard tests, children from families of true Christians might be present, as those three were at Nebuchadnezzar’s command. But the Christian youths would put God first. There would be no need for them to challenge each incorrect statement made or each unscriptural practice shared in by the others, just as the three Hebrews did not try to interfere when others bowed down to the image of gold. However, Christian youths would not themselves share in acts of worship, joint prayers, religious songs, and such things.
These youths ought to exert themselves at other times to take in upbuilding knowledge ‘from the holy writings that are able to make them wise for salvation through faith in connection with Christ Jesus.’ (2 Timothy 3:15) Through communication with their children, the parents should constantly monitor the content of the class instruction. This will help the adult Christians to see what needs to be corrected or clarified from the Bible so that their children do not become confused or misled.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
The Bible makes no mention of Daniel’s being on the plain of Dura. Perhaps his higher rank in the government enabled him to be excused from going there.