I registered my two oldest children for school on Friday. The principal needed to know which church they belonged to so that he could assign them to the proper religion class. For a first and third grader attending public school in Bavaria, there is a class for Catholics, a class for Lutherans, or a course on ethics.
Actually, we’re Mormons, I said, prepared to explain that I have only one wife and that we do use electricity.
But something clicked with the principal. Did I know that there was a large Mormon congregation in town? A lot of Mormons had come to help with the renovation of the schoolyard a few years ago.
Yes, I said, I know the congregation very well.
So youâ€™ll probably want your children enrolled in the ethics course.
The Lutheran course might be a possibility, I said, trying to make sure the principal knew that Mormons are Christians.
The principal handed me the appropriate forms to request the enrollment of a child in the religion course of a different confession. A local ecclesiastical authority has to approve the request. Why don’t we place your children in the ethics course for now, the principal suggested.
So, do my kids get the prize behind door A, B, or C? With a good teacher, a Catholic or Lutheran religion course might not be a bad thing. Our kids know a thing or two about the Bible, and could stand to learn more. But the confessional courses might be primarily concerned with preparing children for first communion or confirmation. Or the teacher might decide to show the young heretics the error of their parents’ ways. Or the conflict between our church’s teachings and the school’s might be more than our kids could handle. On the other hand, the ethics class might be a first course in atheism, and most of the other students will probably be Muslims. Not a bad thing in itself, but it might be hard for an American Mormon to fit in.
Within limits, I can imagine sending my children off to any of the religion classes just for the sake of broadening their horizons. As a visitor in a foreign country, I’m more willing to accept local custom on its own terms than I am at home, while I would feel like I had much more at stake if I had grown up here and had no plans to leave. But in that case, I would know already which one of the three classes was the best choice for my kids.
Two last thoughts: It’s hard to foresee all the consequences of a ward service project, but I’m very grateful for the members who helped paint lines on a playground years before we came here. And if release-time seminary is a quintessentially Mormon experience, so is being the only member of the church in your school. For the near future, we can probably expect less of the former and more of the latter.