Dan Duncan serves at the Hillside Community Church.
On a typically cold Russian winter day, I sit in an old, rickety folding chair, mesmerized by a large, distinguished gentleman named Vladimir. He speaks to 10 fellow Russian educators and me about why he came to this conference, Jesus Christ and Ethics for the Secular Classroom. Vladimir is a science teacher with a doctorate, instructor of atheistic communism for more than 40 years and a lifelong member of the Communist Party. He had come to the conclusion that he had taught and lived a lie. Vladimir, after this eye-opener, asked, “Is there truth?” and if so, “would it make a difference in my students’ lives?”
So, how did I, an American pastor and educator, come to be sitting in that chair? It started in 1989 when the Soviet Politburo commissioned a study on the effects of the Ten Commandments on society. In looking at societies that “worked” they found a common denominator, a Judeo-Christian ethic (whatever that means?), but the point was that as historical truths would permeate a cultural system resulting in most people behaving in honest, considerate ways and yet still encouraged self-initiators as well as protect individuality.
As the communist government fell, its framework for ethics fell with it. So, Deputy Minister of Education Evgeniy Kurkin went looking for a solution to the problem he described this way: “Seventy years ago we closed God out of our country, and it has caused great caverns to run beneath our society and make it collapse. We must put God back into our country and begin with our children.”
The CoMission was the result, a collaboration of 85 Christian ministries working together with the Russian Ministry of Education. The job entailed the development of a curriculum and then sending educators from the west to introduce the material to Russian educators. In weeklong conferences, westerners and as many as 500 Russian educators a week would work in small groups handling the new curriculum and discussing educational theory.
So like the Soviet Union of old, are we closing God out of our country? Are we creating great caverns to run beneath our society which could result in its collapse? How do we create safe places for the diversity we see in individuals, while at the same time maintaining cultural norms that create healthy productive models for our society?
Kurkin saw the need and put his life on the line for the historical culture of Russia. He believed that religious culture could prompt most people to behave in honest, considerate ways. I think that would be a good thing – don’t you?
But does having a culture with a moral framework mean that there cannot be diversity? Jesus seemed pretty clear about the love and acceptance “thing.” Can we as a culture love and accept those who are different, while still maintaining cultural truths? Regardless of how you feel about spiritual things, what do we as human beings need in light of a moral framework? The Apostle Paul may have had the idea when in Romans 12:9-11a he called us to “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence…”