The Truth Behind Extreme Evangelical Christianity in Schools

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  • Author Ann Peltier
  • Published November 11, 2022
  • Word count 5,301

The Truth Behind Extreme Evangelical Christianity in Schools

Should extreme Evangelical Christianity be allowed in schools? The type of Christianity that only accepts a certain standard of perfection, and if you don’t reach it then you are just not good enough. This type of Christianity uses God, Jesus, and the Bible to instill fear in the hearts and minds of people and control the masses, not spread love and acceptance. Many would answer yes to this question, they feel that Evangelical Christianity is the only way to obtain perfection and gain entrance into heaven. My argument is no, there are many ways to be perfect. Not everyone holds extreme Evangelical Christian beliefs. An extreme Evangelist Christian religious environment does detrimental psychological harm to a student and does not belong in schools. I don’t think all religious schools are bad, however, I do think Evangelical Christianity in schools allows for the creation of an education curriculum that caters to religious beliefs and does not cater to educational development. Extreme Evangelical Christianity contributes to the creation of an environment so toxic it rips a student’s self-esteem apart until there’s nothing but a shell of a person and a heart that is no longer able to love, it can’t find the strength to love others or itself. Based on my personal experiences at an Evangelist Christian school I believe extreme Evangelical Christianity should be kept out of schools.

I spent a year and a half in an extremely conservative Evangelic Christian high school. Years K-9 had been spent in public school. This gave me the perspective of secular education, then I was thrown into extremely religious education and an extremely conservative environment. The education curriculum was radically different from what I had previously experienced, and the environment was so strict and unloving versus the environment of a public school that is more accepting and tolerant of different people and different beliefs.

Two factors made my experience at Toledo Christian Schools radically harmful: the education curriculum and the toxic environment. In this paper, I am going to discuss both in detail. Then I will explain how both factors combined to make a high school experience that did not benefit me at all. I believe that this experience caused me great harm. High school is supposed to be a time when you are figuring out how to become a confident version of yourself that contributes to society. My experience at Toledo Christian Schools did not help me at all.

EDUCATION

The educational curriculum at Toledo Christian Schools was solely based on the belief in creationism. The educational curriculum and the religious beliefs that were held at Toledo Christian Schools combined. This combination formed a very narrow-minded educational system. You were taught one thing and were only permitted to think that one thing. We were taught not to question, but to just believe. If you were unfortunate enough to think outside the box or ask questions, you were talked down to in a way that made you feel about the size of a flee. You would quickly become an outcast. The teachers were not the ones that ostracized you, it was the students. You can’t blame a teenage student for being terrible, they were just doing what they were taught was right. The teachers were wrong. It is morally not right for a teacher to cast such a strict religious view on a student, so strict questions are not allowed. Questions are good, they enable a student to learn. The job of a good teacher is to answer student’s questions and guide them on their educational journey. These were not good teachers. Albert Einstein is famously quoted saying that “The important thing is to never stop questioning.”

One day as I entered my 10th grade American History class, I noticed a small piece of paper on my desk. It was a paper with questions about why abortion is murder. I remember the teacher saying, “Okay guys we have to do this first.” Like the obedient little sheep that we were taught to be we all answered the questions, no questions asked. These were not questions about the historical relevance of abortion, just questions on why it is a wrong sinful act. These questions had absolutely nothing to do with American History. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that most anti-abortion pro-life beliefs are shared by extreme Christian values. This is the first example of extreme religious beliefs and the education curriculum overlapping in an unproductive and extremely harmful manner.

A hard topic for Christians is Science or “non-science” as it was often referred to. Toledo Christian and many other Christian schools do not approach this topic with the level of educational professionalism you would expect from an educational institution. In my 10th-grade Biology class at Toledo Christian when the topic of evolution came up, we were always told something like “this isn’t what happened, but it’s what the book says.” This statement was then followed by a sarcastic joke, “now they say we come from dolphins, OK.” All of this was said to make sure that our education aligned with their religious beliefs. How does this benefit a student? It doesn’t. I remember having many questions like “Didn’t God make Dolphins?” “Didn’t God make monkeys and cavemen?” Even though I had these questions in my mind, I was actively and passively discouraged from asking them. This is not beneficial to a student and is not the appropriate culture of a classroom. It is a very good thing that even at 15 years old I was smart enough to not say anything.

Biology is the study of life, and how the world developed into the modern version that we know today. A big part of that is dinosaurs. My 10th-grade biology teacher could have handled this situation so differently, but he didn’t. He had a “specialist” come in to tell us all about how dinosaurs were made up. According to my biology teacher and the “specialist,” dinosaurs were nothing, but a mere work of fiction invented by non-Christians to challenge our faith. This “specialist” came prepared. He made a PowerPoint that accompanied his lecture on the fiction of dinosaurs. The slides were pictures of dinosaurs, and fossils, and then the “specialist” would explain the fiction of them. He started talking about how we don’t know what color the dinosaurs were because we weren’t there so scientists just made it up. One slide was the average brown T-rex, the next slide was a purple T-rex. Toledo Christian was not very technologically advanced, so it was a bad early 2000s PowerPoint. It was like being trapped in an SNL clip, but we couldn’t laugh. This “specialist” reiterated his earlier claim saying, “We weren’t there, we don’t know dinosaurs could have been purple.” I give credit where credit is due, we weren’t there. However, know from science like carbon dating that humans never roamed the Earth with dinosaurs, so that part of his claim is correct. I still find it hard to believe that once upon a time there was a purple dinosaur roaming the earth, some would say that this is fiction.

One morning in that biology class we were studying roots and the life cycle of plants. The teacher puts on the projector a close-up picture of a root. He then says casually with the arrogance only found in a man that has never been reprimanded, “Boys you know what this looks like, and girls if you know then you’re not a good girl.” I have a large family; I knew what a penis looked like. It is common practice for extreme evangelists to expect an unrealistic and unattainable level of purity from women. I am sure other girls in that classroom were unfortunate enough to possess the knowledge of basic human anatomy. This was another example of their extreme radical religious views overlapping into the classroom. The only thing that was achieved in that biology class that day was shaming myself and other female students into idle submission we felt small, and we were beginning to lose sight of our worth. Little did we know that piece by piece and brick by brick our identities as women were going to be eroded away into complete oblivion with prolonged exposure to Toledo Christian. This type of public shaming was not shown to the boys, never the boys.

Part of life on the earth is germs, there are good bacteria that we need to sustain life and there are bad bacteria that cause devastating pandemics such as the Bubonic Plague, The Spanish Influenza, and the Coronavirus. A biology teacher should educate his or her students on this, but what should happen and what does happen are often two entirely different things. I remember my 10th-grade biology teacher going on a rant about how hand sanitizer didn’t work, and you shouldn’t use it because God put those germs there. The Coronavirus pandemic entered the United States in March of 2020. Telling students that hand sanitizer was bad did not adequately prepare me or the other students in that class for life, and it was very bad advice.

In an article by Thomas Nagel titled Public education and Intelligent Design, he suggests that creationism (modernly named Intelligent Design, or referred to as I.D.) should be taught in schools. His reasoning for this is that I.D. is a scientific theory just like evolution is a scientific theory. I.D. should have a place in schools, but evolution should as well. If both scientific theories were taught in a religious school a student would be adequately prepared for continued education after high school. For example, after I left Toledo Christian and finished my High School diploma with TPS, I was leaps and bounds behind other students when it came to science. If Toledo Christian would have just taught us both I wouldn’t have been so far behind. Other students like me jumped ship as soon as they saw the nearest port that would have greatly benefited from Intelligent design and evolution being taught in an inclusive educational curriculum.

I think Toledo Christian Schools have a lot to learn from Thomas Nagel. Most of the students at Toledo Christian went on to small Christian Colleges like Hillsdale University or Cedarville University where the educational curriculum taught at Toledo Christian was perfectly adequate. On the other hand, many students did not go on to continue education at a small Christian college, we went on to secular schools like Owens Community College or the University of Toledo where previous knowledge of evolution is expected.

I asked a former student what he thought of the education that was provided at Toledo Christian Schools. The answer I received was very brief and it was delivered in such a hasty manner I was left with more questions. The former student was telling me all about how fabulous his educational experience was. His answer was very vague I wanted to know exactly what he found so beneficial. The former student did not like me asking questions. His voice relayed a tone that was nervous and scared, not the tone of voice of someone confident in what they are saying. The most interesting part of our brief phone conversation was the end. He said, “I think I have adequately explained my position,” and ended the call. This student went on to continue his education at Hillsdale University. The conservative Christian education provided at Toledo Christian would have adequately prepared him for a small Christian college. Shouldn’t high school prepare you to attend any college? A high school should not be so conservative in what they teach. A high school should prepare a student to continue education at whatever college that student chooses, not a small handful of colleges that align with the high school’s belief system.

Toledo Christian Schools teach with a Classical Christian education. This means that biblical teachings are emphasized while incorporating a teaching model from the classical education movement. This education model consists of three main parts: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. This education model began under Greek influence in ancient Rome and was further developed in the Middle Ages or referred to as the medieval period and gained popularity in Europe. The rest of the world has modernized since the days of Medieval Europe and does not operate on this education system. If Toledo Christian would have modernized their education and included evolution alongside intelligent design part of my experience as a student at Toledo Christian would not have been so harmful.

TOXIC ENVIRONMENT

The environment at Toledo Christian was horrible. Toxic is a better adjective to describe my experience there. At Toledo Christian, there were many red flags that when I look back on those times, I should have been aware of. Unfortunately, a young naïve teenager was not aware. The first red flag that I should have been aware of at Toledo Christian was the contract you have to sign that says you won’t participate in any activity that can be described as gay, but the staff at Toledo Christian Schools are nothing if not good sales representatives. I bought it and my parents bought it. We signed away our souls not knowing that our sense of self-worth was going to be as lost as a fallen leaf on a windy November day.

Once enrolled I and many other students were subjected to extreme rules. It is common practice for extreme evangelists to hold themselves to a higher moral standard, and if they succeed in following every “Christian” rule for humanity this gives the succeeding Christian a feeling of superiority. This so-called Christian uses his or her feeling of superiority to impose these unrealistic expectations on others. If you violate one of these high standards you are cast out, no longer a Christian and a disgrace.

Naturally, the rules for female students were much more extreme than they were for male students. You were expected to not drink, smoke, swear, have knowledge of basic human anatomy “this rule mostly affected girls,” have premarital sex “this rule mostly affected girls,” gay activities (the scandal), teenage pregnancy “this rule mostly affected girls,” have an abortion, show too much skin “this rule only affected girls,” you cannot dress masculine if you’re a female or you are a lesbian, you cannot dress feminine if you’re a male or your gay, or be in any situation where one of these situations described above can occur. You were also not allowed to question or think differently, or the public shaming took place.

From the moment I stepped into Toledo Christian I learned very quickly that being born a woman was wrong. It wasn’t just wrong, being born with a vagina and a uterus was a curse, Eve's curse. A story told at Toledo Christian, a story told and used to terrify girls into never exploring and understanding their sexuality was the story of Katerina. The story of Katerina happened a few years before I was a student at Toledo Christian, so I never personally knew her. Katerina was a teenage girl that made a mistake, a reasonable one considering we were not permitted any knowledge of the reproductive system or basic human anatomy. She had sex and as a result, got pregnant. They called her to the office one day and with tears streaming down her face as she went. They kicked her out because she was pregnant. At a time when that girl needed support and help, they rejected her in the cruelest way possible. In that small circle of perfect people, they might as well have pinned a gold star to her chest. Given the way, they very coldly ejected her from their lives. They cut her out and removed her with the same accurate precision as a surgeon removing a tumor from a patient. She was ostracized and shamed for making a mistake. The boy was never mentioned in the story, he wasn’t to blame. Sex and all its outcomes are always the responsibility of the woman.

Not only was it wrong to be born a woman, but whatever a man did to a woman was the woman’s fault. If you are struggling to understand what I am trying to illustrate to you, let me explain the “rape chapel.” The chapels at Toledo Christian used fear and intimidation to control people, after all, if I’m not perfect I’m going to hell. They separated the male students from the female students. They found a “Christian rape survivor.” To sum up, all the bullshit that many impressionable young female minds were subjected to, the rape was 100% the woman’s fault. She asked for it by dressing inappropriately and not being stern enough in saying no. The rapist was a male student from Toledo Christian so you can guess what happened to him, not a damn thing.

After the rape chapel, I knew that everything I did as a woman was under scrutiny, and I also knew no one was in my corner. That kind of hate stays in your heart. After the rape chapel, I felt ashamed to be born a woman. I felt I wasn’t worth protecting. I carried this shame with me long after getting out. Years after getting out my mother would comment to me that my self-esteem was low. Anyone that has taken a psychology class knows that nothing in psychology is 100% accidental. I was raped when I was 19. Did the rape chapel have a lasting imprint on my developing psychology that led me down a dark road? I guess we will never know for certain, but we know.

Toledo Christian was completely unprepared to accommodate a handicapped student. They were unprepared with equipment, and they were unprepared to accommodate me in their hearts. They had one operational elevator in the front of the building, then there was an old broken-down elevator in the back of the building. It beeped so loud going up and down and there were no safety walls. On my first day, they asked me to use the old broken-down elevator in the back of the building. They asked me to use the one in the back of the building think about that for a moment. There was one handicapped bathroom in the building, no wheelchair-sized desks, and no ramp to get down to the cafeteria. I should start by illustrating the building, it’s giant and old. There are three stories. Grades K-8 are in the basement while the high school classes are on the second floor, the third story is just storage, the gym and trophies are on the first floor, along with that one handicapped bathroom. To add insult to injury the cafeteria was in the basement. Toledo Christian did not have a wheelchair ramp.

The only reason I survived as long as I did in that school was by the grace and kindness of two students. Toledo Christian did one thing right. To cover their asses with the lack of handicapped equipment they appointed two students to help me. With the help of these two students, I almost felt normal, but like all good things that brief chapter soon came to a close. The staff at Toledo Christian were completely unprepared to deal with a girl in a wheelchair. People fear what they can’t understand. Did they always keep me at a safe distance because they were scared? There were many issues tied to me being in a wheelchair, but the biggest battle I had to fight was the battle of the cafeteria. Toledo Christian could not wrap their heads around why I was not going to the cafeteria. Maybe it was because there was no ramp, but what do I know? Those two girls that were kind enough to eat lunch with me in a classroom were told that they were “missing their high school experience.” They told the two girls not to sit with me so they could go down to the cafeteria. They pulled these two girls out of class to talk to them without me. They never talked to me, I had to make like Nancy Drew and figure it out on my own. Imagine how much my heart shattered one day when I went to lunch, and no one was there. I was alone, heartbroken, and defeated. I was willing to help Toledo Christian get handicapped equipment and bring them into the modern era, but this was the first dent in my shield, my armor was not going to last forever.

My parents were very understandably angry, they paid for and built a ramp. That just made the situation worse. By the time I got my lunch from my locker, got myself to the bathroom, navigated the large building, got down the ramp, down another long hall to the cafeteria there were about 10 minutes left in lunch. Then as soon as the bell rang, I had to do it all again. All of this was done from a wheelchair. They made another student help me but when you are perfect, and your world is the size of a quarter you can’t handle situations like that. One day I overheard the girl that was supposed to help me go down to the cafeteria complaining to another student. “After I help Ann down to the cafeteria there’s no time for me to eat.” Now I understand why she was never overly flowery towards me. Feeling like a trash can on wheels I quietly slinked away to a hidden corner on the third floor, cried, and never went down to the cafeteria again. They could not and would not understand why I didn’t want to go down to the cafeteria when I could go into a classroom on the second floor and eat my lunch easier and more peacefully.

This was bullying. The staff at Toledo Christian could not and would not respect my way of thinking, so they sank to the depths of petty mean girl bullying. Hey, Mom you always wondered why my self-esteem after getting out was so low this personal attack on a defenseless teenage girl is a large factor in my self-esteem was so low.

Homophobic, sexist, and ableist weren’t enough for Toledo Christian, they went for the gold and added racism. Occasionally there was a token at Toledo Christian from time to time, a very light-skinned black student that was good at some sort of sport. The light-skinned black student that was good at sports was allowed to stick around, on the other hand, a dark-skinned student never made it more than a year and I thought this was strange until I learned why. I found a safe space in another student, a rare friend. To those cookie-cutter Christian kids, a teenager in a wheelchair might as well have had the plague. They did their best to politely avoid me. Melinda and I became best friends, we were both outcasts. Me in a wheelchair and she was black, a dark-skinned African American that possessed a beauty that the narrow minds at Toledo Christian were never able to observe. We both hated it there. Two teenage girls aren’t very open about the trauma they are experiencing, at the ripe age of 15 we didn’t have the communication skills to express what we were going through. We didn’t learn about what we both went through until years later; at the time we were scared into silence.

I noticed Melinda was absent from school a lot, more than can be explained by sickness. On one unfortunate day, Melinda was wearing pants under the skirt required by the school dress code. She was still wearing the skirt but also wearing pants because she was on her period. She was also wearing a very cute headband and scarf set. Remember, Melinda is not only black, but she is a woman, just by existing they didn’t like her. Now that I am older, I believe a small part of those feeble minds feared her, it is common to fear what you don’t understand, Toledo Christian feared a lot. They suspended her for 2 days for a dress code violation. Suspending her wasn’t enough they locked her in a room with no bathroom for 2 hours so she could “pray about it.” The next day I wore a scarf, and they did not make a peep. When I asked why my friend Melinda got in trouble and I didn’t I was told not to talk about other students and the conversation was promptly shut down. Melinda left the following year. Years later I learned they sent her several emails harassing her. I guess that Toledo Christian sees fit to pick on defenseless teenage girls, the feeling of power needs to come from somewhere.

It should be wrong for a school to expect teenagers to follow these extreme rules, but the staff and faculty at Toledo Christian strongly disagree. It's 2022 surely a school wouldn’t have these radical expectations and expect teens to follow them. Many Christians would argue that learning and following all of these rules is the one and only way to earn God’s love and learning all of these rules from a young age is nothing but beneficial. High School is supposed to be a time when you are figuring out what you like and dislike while also developing into a productive member of society. You can’t do that if you are only allowed to do certain things. How are you supposed to know if you like girls or boys when gay activity is forbidden?

GETTING OUT

Everything I had experienced up to this point was so abnormal that it was perfectly adequate that this experience was just as strange. With all the craziness of my sophomore year, my parents wanted me to try to make it work and finish high school, I gave it my best effort, but a good soldier can tell when a battle is lost and ceases to fight. Pressure can only build in a volcano for so long until it erupts. I was that volcano.

It was junior year middle of the semester. I went to the guidance counselor to get clarity on one of the many issues I was experiencing at Toledo Christian, I don’t remember exactly what issue just pick one, as there were so many at this point. I asked her, I remember her responding with something along the lines of, “We’ll pray about it.” It was that exact moment I knew nothing was ever going to change. They were never going to get handicapped equipment, they were never going to stop bullying me, and they didn’t want me. I wasn’t the cookie-cutter-perfect version of a “Christian” student they required. The perfect able-bodied student that never has any emotions and agrees with everything. I had had two brain tumors and 32 rounds of radiation. I could not walk, I was tired and stressed all the time, and I was very depressed. A far cry from their standard of perfection.

The brain tries to protect itself during traumatic events, and thankfully mine did. Adrenaline took over. I had to get out, but I knew if they knew what I was doing it would never work. Being sneaky in a wheelchair is not an easy task, but somehow, I got it done. With a porcelain smile and kind words, I got out of her office. I swiftly made my way to my locker and snagged my phone. I texted my mom telling her that we needed to go for good. Just my luck a teacher was in the hall at the worst possible moment, and I had to go to Spanish class. Luckily, we had a test that day so I could easily play the part of a quiet student concentrating on her test while I waited for my mom to rescue me.

The brainwashing, we were all subjected to ran deep. I remember my mother being angry with me at first. However, somewhere deep within her heart of hearts, she knew there was nothing for us at Toledo Christian. She came and rescued me; the car ride home was completely silent, but it was better than staying. Once home I was safe, a feeling that had been foreign to me for far too long. Fearing the fate of Sal’s wife, I never looked back.

It is wrong for a 16-year-old girl to have to make an important decision about her future based on the adrenaline coursing through her brain triggering her fight or flight response. It's 2022. No one, let alone a teenager can reach the “Christian” standard of perfection. If you think that Toledo Christian is the only Christian School to subject a student to these harsh expectations, you’re wrong. Go to the bible belt, pick a Christian school, and ask questions, I guarantee that they are just as unloving as Toledo Christian. These schools will completely exile a student based on LGBTQ+, disproportionately punish females for sex rather than males, and discriminate based on a student’s skin color and physical ability. A school that subjects a student to these harsh beliefs and expects an unattainable standard of perfection from its students is morally and ethically corrupt.

It is possible to have a good religious school. O.L.P.H is a Catholic school, and they are not as strict and unloving as Toledo Christian. O.L.P.H uses religion and the Bible to encourage growth and help kids develop into adults. O.L.P.H teaches Intelligent Design while also teaching the state-required curriculum. This school is an example of a religious school that’s not traumatizing. A small religious school offers a kinder environment than an extreme Evangelist school does. Toledo Christian uses religion to instill fear and control people. Negatively impacting the developing psychology of its students and leaving a wake of heartbreak. Many other extreme evangelist schools inflict this amount of devastating harm on their students, and it needs to stop. What I and many other students endured at Toledo Christian was horrific. I can only hope that my story can shed some light on the negative effects these extreme evangelist schools have on students.

Any school that uses religion as a tool to invoke fear and control students is wrong. Any school that turns a student away based on LGBTQ+ is wrong. Any school that punishes female students unproportionally to their male counterparts regarding sexual activity is wrong. Any school that discriminates based on a student’s skin color or physical ability is wrong. Extreme Evangelical Christianity does not belong in the classroom. Extreme Evangelical Christianity expects a level of unattainable perfection that is completely unrealistic to expect students to obtain. Christian schools that hold extreme religious values are outdated and morally wrong. It is 2022 the world has changed a lot since the Bible was written we need to do better for our youth.

CONCLUSION

To sum up, everything that was stated earlier Toledo Christian is a cult. The only thing they succeeded in giving me was religious trauma. Extreme Evangelical Christianity in schools needs to stop. It is impossible to grow into a person under these conditions and it gives people trauma that they must carry with them for years after they graduate (escape). My children will never go to a school with Christian in the name. I never want anyone to experience the hate that Melinda, Katerina, and I experienced.

I am a 25-year-old Community college student. This article was written last year as an honors project and has gained a lot of popularity.

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