Last week Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia, found itself in the national news for all the wrong reasons. Amari Allen, a sixth grade student, claimed that three of her classmates attacked her on the playground, held her down, called her names, and cut her hair.
Then she recanted her story, acknowledging that she fabricated the story, though she says she has been bullied at school. In a statement released to the Washington Post, Allen’s grandparents said, “To those young boys and their parents, we sincerely apologize for the pain and anxiety these allegations have caused.”
With the retraction, the K-10 school, whose student body is nearly half (48%) nonwhite, has mostly faded from the national spotlight. But now, the school is working to address any bullying that may have taken place despite its zero-tolerance policy toward such behavior and to explore what could have led one of their own to fabricate such an account.
In the words of Immanuel Christian’s principal, “We recognize that we now enter what will be a long season of healing. This ordeal has revealed that we as a school family are not immune from the effects of deep racial wounds in our society.”
Immanuel Christian School is a ministry of Immanuel Bible Church and shares facilities with the Baptist congregation. About a third of the families enrolled in the school are church members. CT spoke with Jesse Johnson, the church’s lead teaching pastor, about how the incident has offered the student body an opportunity to express forgiveness, work towards restoration, and deepen gospel discussions around race and racism.
In your view as a pastor, what does healing look like in this situation?
Healing begins with repentance and then forgiveness. Those are things that happen instantaneously. Repentance is expressed, as the family did with their statement, which was so much appreciated. And then it is received in forgiveness that is demonstrated by the students and by the school at large. The harm that the lie did wasn’t just confined to the three students, although it was more severely felt by them. The harm goes on to all of the students because it tarnishes the school that they love and that is part of their lives. They are called to respond by forgiving the person that has sinned against them and asked for forgiveness.
That is something they know that is not optional in Christianity…. We’ve been teaching them it’s what they have to do and should be the response from a heart that loves the Lord. And restoration is something that takes place over a period of time. Forgiveness is instantaneous, but restoration takes time as the hurts continue to be exposed and forgiveness continues to be extended.
I would say the No. 1 criticism of the school that I heard during this time is, “What is it that Christian schools are teaching that allows this to happen?” I want to take that question and apply it to the end of this and say, “Why would God allow the school to go through this?” It’s a chance to demonstrate what we are teaching—the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness in Christ.
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Source: Christianity Today