MSNBC Suggests That Program Bringing the Bible to Kids in Public Schools Is Right-Wing Grooming

LifeWise Academy brings Bible study to public school kids off campus during school hours. It's been legal since 1952.

By Nancy Flory Published on April 22, 2024

A pair of hosts on MSNBC took aim at a nonprofit Christian program earlier this month, claiming it exists to inject politics into kids, specifically in red states with blue cities.

The program in question? LifeWise Academy, which The Stream reported on in detail last August. It’s a five-year-old release-time Bible instruction program serving 30,000 kids from 300 public schools nationwide by bussing them from their school to another location during school hours with their parents’ consent. Similar programs have existed since 1952.

Alex Wagner and Antonia Hylton, co-hosts of Alex Wagner Tonight didn’t try to interview CEO Joel Penton or anyone else from LifeWise on the segment, but didn’t let that stop them from talking about it among themselves.  

“Politics is a part of this, right?” Wagner asked Hylton. “It’s not just to spread the Gospel, there is an end to this, there is a goal here at the end of the day.”

Hylton mused, “Another blurry line, right? Because LifeWise itself is not a political organization. These are elementary students.”

Hylton admitted she hadn’t heard of LifeWise telling the kids to vote a particular way. “But when you see who they associate with, you do start to raise questions, right?” she asked, pointing out that Patriot Mobile — an “openly far-right Christian organization” — sponsored a LifeWise teacher summit last year.

They also drew nefarious conclusions about Penton appearing on The Truth and Liberty Live Call-In Show with Alex McFarland last December. “You start to see that political association,” Hylton said. “You see sort of the roots, or maybe the treetops where this is all going,” Wagner agreed. 

Segment Is ‘Laughable’

When The Stream reached out to Penton for his response to the allegations, he simply laughed.

“[The segment] was about Donald Trump and Christian voters and even referenced the Church of Trump — something really bizarre,” he said. The hosts “then started talking about abortion and that red states are struggling because of the deep blue cities [in them]. And then they transition to create some sort of story positioning LifeWise as an effort to turn these deep blue cities more red through this Bible study program for kids.”

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On the other hand, Penton said, the segment showcases the sad state of the legacy media, that they would reach so far to make a story out of nothing. Meanwhile, they ignore or promote much of the real politics being injected into classrooms in the form of DEI curricula and sexually explicit books in school libraries,

Meanwhile, LifeWise is actually having some positive effects.

“Schools are struggling with chronic absenteeism right now in the wake of COVID, and we have a third-party independent study that shows that when schools implement LifeWise, their attendance numbers go up significantly,” Penton said. “Schools that struggle with in-school and out-of-school suspensions have also seen an amazing 50% decrease in those suspensions the day that LifeWise works with the kids.

“That has nothing to do with left and right. It has everything to do with the betterment of kids’ futures.”

Separation of Church and State?

The MSNBC hosts also discussed the fact that schools have to observe a bright line of separating church from state, and accused LifeWise of trying to blur it. 

That is also untrue, said Penton.

LifeWise “is a great example of the separation of church and state because kids are separated from the state school” when taking the Bible lessons. The program isn’t “using state dollars, not using state compulsion. Those who are very enthusiastic about separating church and state should be enthusiastic about LifeWise because it’s such a clear example of that.”

When people “hear ‘Bible education during school hours,’ they do a double take,” Penton continued. “How is this possible in 2024?”

It’s possible because of three things: It doesn’t take place on school property, it’s privately funded, and children are only there with their parents’ permission.

“We adhere to the state, local, federal policies,” says Penton. “[I]t’s been around 70 years, but just very few people have heard of it. We’re providing a program to make it possible in communities across the country.”

Basic Biblical Program

LifeWise doesn’t delve into deep doctrinal questions. After all, it’s a program for kids.

“We keep it simple, meaning we are teaching the basic Bible stories,” Penton said. “It’s a nondenominational program. And we keep it practical. Every lesson we provide not only teaches about the Bible and about Jesus, but about how the Bible transforms our character. And so we’re hitting a character trait each and every week, the things that we want to instill in our kids: honesty and integrity and humility and sacrifice and all those things. We keep it legal, we keep it simple, we keep it practical.”

LifeWise’s goal for helping children has nothing to do with politics of any variety.

“The goal is to provide viable education to public school students during school hours as broadly as possible,” says Penton. “Our immediate goal, of course, is to do that with all the communities we are currently serving. But we hope to make this program available to every one of the 13,000 school districts, 90,000 school buildings, and 50 million public school students nationwide.”

 

Nancy Flory, Ph.D., is a senior editor at The Stream. You can follow her @NancyFlory3, and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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