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Church authority and the suspended student

By Scott Tibbs, May 12, 2009

A Christian school in Ohio has stirred up controversy by suspending a student who attended the government school's prom despite a warning from the school's principal not to do so. The school does have a reasonable point in avoiding sexual temptation, though the principal made a foolish decision by signing the permission slip allowing the boy to attend the prom. Nonetheless, the boy should have respected the school's authority and should respect the punishment he was given. The situation was made worse by the boy's stepfather petulantly proclaiming that he will sue the school for the boy's punishment. (See articles here and here.)

The primary issue here is not whether the school's policy is right or wrong. The primary issue is that both the boy and his stepfather are in direct rebellion against clear Scriptural teaching regarding church authority. There are several passages from Scripture that apply to this situation, regarding the authority God has given to the church and the respect Christians should show to those God has placed in authority over us. For Biblical doctrine on church authority, see 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15, 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and Matthew 18:15-20. While a Christian school is not the church, these lessons still apply. Furthermore, the boy has willingly placed himself under the authority of the school and signed a code of conduct, and he is obligated to respect that authority and honor the contract he signed.

What is worst of all, though, is the behavior of the boy's stepfather. First, his petulant decision to file a lawsuit against the school is in direct violation of the Apostle Paul's exhortation in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 for Christians not to sue one another before secular society. The boy's stepfather could have used this as a teaching moment, instructing his son on how to be a man by taking responsibility for his actions. Instead, the stepfather is teaching his son that authority may be ignored if he feels a decision is unfair. The stepfather also undermines his own authority over his son by establishing this precedent. In a culture that hates authority and where so much of pop culture is oriented to oppose authority, this would have been a valuable lesson.

Whether one agrees with the school or not, this is a very dangerous situation for the future of religious liberty. If the courts side with the petulant stepfather, this will not only undermine the ability of Christian schools to discipline students as they see fit, but it will serve as a precedent for undermining the authority of church elders to engage in exactly the kind of discipline Scripture itself commands in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and Matthew 18:15-20. A lawsuit by the stepfather should be laughed out of court on First Amendment grounds, and any attorney who takes this case should be disbarred. This is a private Christian school, and we should not reward the selfishness and arrogance of a student who thinks he is above the authority placed over them and above honoring the contract he signed.