Cultural diversity lecture raises concerns

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Dec 13, 2013

A school presentation about cultural diversity and the celebration of different holidays has prompted some concerns from local church officials.

On Dec. 17, Bethel Middle School students will experience the Festivals of Light Show presentation from the Center for Cultural Diversity in Asheville.

The 45-minute show will briefly discuss basic history involved with Greek Christmas traditions, the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah and the Islam traditions of Ramadan. In addition, the presentation will include artifacts from the cultures, as well as different types of food.

The Revs. Mark Caldwell, of North Canton Baptist Church, and Roy Kilby, of Bethel Baptist Church, both have said they were concerned about a presentation including Muslim elements. They voiced their concerns during a recent Haywood County school board meeting.

Caldwell addressed the board as a concerned parent, and questioned the teaching of Muslim, Buddhism and Confucianism without also incorporating Protestant faith into the lecture.

“I have no problem with them learning history and understanding it, but what I would like to do and have is, if they give people 45 minutes to present the history of their faith, that we could have 45 minutes to present what we believe as the true Christians — our faith,” Caldwell said during the Dec. 10 meeting. “Can they tell the children that Allah loves them and has a great plan for their lives? Because I can tell them that Jesus Christ loves them and does have a plan.”

Kilby spoke out against the Islamic elements in the presentation.

“The Islamic faith is not only a religion, it is a political system,” Kirby told the board. “It teaches that Allah is the only authority, and therefore is a political system. It’s quite prejudice in regard to what it believes and practices, both privately and publicly. Their religion is very bias in many ways. Muslims call Christians infidels and call Jews pigs. Their idea of human rights is despicable.”

Shawn Parris, principal of Bethel Middle School, later clarified that there wouldn’t be any information about Buddhism or Confucianism during the presentation. She said said the program was not at all as it was described by Kilby and Caldwell.

“We’re just going to do a comparison, and we have no desire to go deep,” Parris said. “The students will use historical thinking to understand the expansion and declines of civilizations and societies. It will talk about historical events and issues and cultural issues, but we’re not going to dive deep.”

Parris said the presentation would include learning how Islams praise Mecca by laying down prayer rugs and learning about the Jewish tradition of lighting candles on a menorah.

“That’s as deep as it’s going,” Parris added.

After the meeting, Parris was present and spoke with Caldwell and Kilby and clarified some details about the presentation.

“They were still under the impression that a Muslim was to speak, but it’s the executive director that’s doing the presentation,” Parris said.

After the meeting, Caldwell said he still felt the same about the presentation, and adding that he still thought Protestant faith should be incorporated.

A voice message left for Kilby on his cell phone was unreturned as of press time.


Comments (4)
Posted by: Penny R Wallace | Dec 13, 2013 05:45

Sounds to me like people with closed minds complaining that others of the same ilk exist.

Posted by: Thomas J Hart | Dec 13, 2013 11:24

It would seem that the Rev. Caldwell would like the presentation to be rather narrow with his feeling that Protestantism should be discussed while failing to mention that Protestantism is only one of the major branches of the Christian religion of which the three major branches are Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.  Any discussion of Christianity should include all three of those groups rather than confining thinking narrowly to only one branch of the tree!  I also wonder why these fellows are afraid of open discussion of other faiths than Christianity. 

Tom Hart

Waynesville, NC

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Dec 13, 2013 13:57

Having studied Buddhism in college for a while, it's really not a "religion" in that there is no "faith".  It's more of a philosophy in how to live a peaceful/gratifying life and most (if not all) branches of Buddhism don't mention anything about a god.  The Buddha statue you usually see is "the enlightened one" that might closely relate to what Martin Luther is to Lutherans.  (Lutherans don't worship Martin Luther but certainly respect him as a teacher.)


I think all the fuss about "cultural diversity" is that our public school policy stinks when it comes to religions and culture.  If you really wanted to teach "cultural diversity", draw a religion map.  For Jews, Muslims, and Christians at least it would start with the one God.  And it would branch off into the various faiths with the Christian branch eventually extending into Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. (And even into the various branches of Protestant -- which is interesting just in itself.)  Have students find where they exist on the religion map -- if they have one.  And perhaps explain some stereotypes about each branch -- such as "praying on rugs" and "menorahs" and "church on Saturdays" etc. are typically associated with which branch.  That's as "generic" as it gets.  Excluding Christianity from any "cultural diversity" lesson would be a slap in the face.  The article does not mention if Christianity was or was not excluded.

Posted by: Beth G. Johnson | Dec 13, 2013 14:56

In a very homogeneous community such as Bethel, it is important that schools expose their students to other cultures.  I am sure no one at Bethel Elementary is trying to convert anyone.  However, I think, at this time of year, a comparison of holy days should include those in the winter months, inviting a comparison to Christmas.  Therefore, Ramadan need not be mentioned, but possibly Eid should be.  We should always remember that Parents are the ones who should help children to develop a belief structure: schools only provide a few facts.


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