". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Media Comes for Bible Class Impacting 300 Public Schools

April 2, 2024

When NBC News talked to Joel Penton about doing a story on how his LifeWise program is bringing Bible-based character development to the public schools, the former Ohio State linebacker was thrilled. It was the perfect chance to bring more exposure to an idea that’s not only shattered the group’s expectations but also had a huge impact on students’ behavior. But it turns out, NBC wasn’t interested in the good news — they were interested in raising suspicions about the Christians sharing it.

“I have to say, I’m a little disappointed, because we invited them in,” Penton responded after the story went live. “[We] lined up people for them to speak to, and they left out some of the most critical information. … They left out the results,” he insisted. And “there are real results.”

After all, this isn’t some state-sanctioned Bible-thumping conversion program forced onto unwilling students. It’s a Supreme Court-protected curriculum that’s taught off-campus without taxpayer dollars to any child whose parents sign off. “A lot of parents want to be able to say to their child, ‘Yeah, you’re going to get science class, you’re going to get math class, you’re going to get English class — and you’re going to have Bible class, too, because this is important to us as a family,’” Penton told NBC.

Not surprisingly, the six-year-old program hasn’t sat well with the country’s anti-faith bullies. “Whether it’s happening on campus or not, this program is bringing religion into the school,” argued tutor Demrie Alonzo, who works at several schools with LifeWise programs in Ohio. “It’s not fair to the kids of different religions.”

Penton disagrees, explaining that LifeWise “follows all laws and local policies and avoids hot-button partisan topics in its curriculum, which is designed to guide students through the entire Bible in five years.” As he explained, the idea receives “very broad support” from groups with a range of political views. And why not? “When LifeWise is implemented in a school, attendance goes up,” Penton points out. “Schools are struggling with attendance post-COVID and with LifeWise, attendance goes up to the point that there’s a net increase in class time … Also, in-school suspensions go down and out-of-school suspensions go down, so there is clearly improved behavior.”

In fact, the organization’s polling found that the idea is anything but unpopular with everyday Americans. According to LifeWise’s survey of 1,000 registered voters:

  • 71% believe that teaching character education can help teachers and schools be more effective overall.
  • 76% are in favor of teaching moral and character education to public school children.
  • 56% support teaching public school children character lessons along with biblical values, as long as it is with parental consent. They also believe those biblical values help children become good citizens.

As for LifeWise somehow violating the separation of church and state, Penton tells critics to take it up with the high court. “The Supreme Court ruled in 1952 that public school students could receive religious instruction during the school day so long it doesn’t happen on school grounds, is privately funded, and parents approve of their child’s participation.”

If anything, the appetite for this kind of instruction blew Penton away. When the academy launched in 2018, the goal was to serve 25 schools by 2025 — a figure the program has since demolished. As of this year, LifeWise has chapters in 300 different schools, serving 35,000 students.

“You know you’re doing something right when you get hit … by places like NBC News,” former Congressman Jody Hice pointed out on “Washington Watch.” But the reality, Penton said, is that “they really didn’t land many solid punches. … Some of the things they pointed out [like] flaws in the approach [are] honestly, somewhat comical. I think my favorite was them being concerned that we give all our kids t-shirts that come to the program — that the kids wearing matching t-shirts is somehow problematic. So yeah, I think they were grasping at things.”

Frankly, Penton told Hice, “It is very, very rare that we get any significant pushback. Of course, there’s always a very small, very vocal, minority of people that are anti-Bible [and] anti-religion. [But] what we’re seeing in school districts is that the schools love us coming in, because they’re seeing an increase in attendance. They’re seeing behavioral issues decrease. We have an independent study that shows … that school suspensions are going down. Parents love it — even parents who aren’t believers, even parents who don’t enroll their kids, they realize that it’s entirely optional. They can sign their kids up if they want to.”

Of course, the irony, Hice pointed out, is that the Left is the side forcing an extreme ideology on American schools. “It is so hypocritical — so hypocritical — for these people to come after you … [for] ‘indoctrinating’ these children, when that is exactly what they are doing. And they’re doing it on the [most objectionable topics], just brainwashing these children to believe in some of the worst things ever. It is what they are doing, and they don’t want your voice there. They don’t want your influence there. They don’t want the influence of parents there.”

Penton agreed. “They don’t want kids exposed to the biblical message, which is preposterous. And so, yeah, it’s hard to come to conclusions other than there’s a clash in worldview. And so that’s why we’re so grateful that this is so clearly legal. The Supreme Court has backed it. Now state laws are in place.” Chances are, he said, there’s a movement underway in your community to get LifeWise onto local campuses. “It’s very simple to get a program started. … It’s a signature campaign,” Penton explains. “So you can go to our website and find any school district in the nation. … We would love to work with you to bring the Bible to your local public school students.”

So regardless of the fears the media is trying to stoke, “We are very optimistic,” Penton wanted people to know. “And we’re excited that through LifeWise, public school students can receive Bible education during school hours. We see a viable path of reinstalling Bible education for the public school system across the nation.” So at the end of the day, “we’re not too concerned about the naysayers.”

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.