A local religious leader recently published his fourth book, adding his voice to debate surrounding the topic of religion in public schools.
The Rev. Dr. J. Gentile Everett is a Laurinburg native and graduate of the Laurinburg Institute and St. Andrews Presbyterian College. He attended Duke Divinity School before becoming pastor of Mill Branch Baptist Church in Fairmont.
His fourth book, entitled “The Eternal Divorce: Church History and Public Education,” discusses the eradication of religion from public schools and its implications.
“I grew up during a time in this place when times were extremely difficult for our community, and the descriptions that I give, however funny they may seem, they are true,” said Everett. “Having those kinds of difficult moments when I was growing up, I turned to the only two entities available to me that I could go to on a regular basis: school and church. At the time, they worked in concert. My early teachers were members of my church, when you would go to school, you would have prayer. We would even recite the Lord’s Prayer. After time, we know that ended.”
The book posits that the two entities will never be reunited in the United States, and that they actively alienate each other, to the detriment of some young people.
“The focuses of both institutions have become different,” he said. “The focus in the schools is about test scores: getting the test scores up, getting money into the local school system. It’s all about the dollar… Many churches nowadays will say that you don’t need to be educated, all you need to do is have the spirit and you can do all of these wonderful things.”
Everett’s career includes two years as a teacher at East Laurinburg Alternative Academy, and his work ventures the opinion that standardized testing is an ineffective method for determining a student’s intelligence. For himself, he said that applying himself in school and in church were complementary skills which helped him to rise above his disinterested peers.
“I felt like, when I was at school, I had to take on the same kind of demeanor I had at church and vice versa, but with the advent of separation of church and state it became quite obvious that this was never going to happen again,” said Everett. “The political landscape, the social understanding of both institutions, are such that they will never ever remarry. You’ve got all kinds of religions going on now and people are talking about the freedom to express their religion, and that’s fine, but I thought, early on, they worked better together.”
“The Eternal Divorce” has taken Everett about two years to complete, and he is currently starting his first work of fiction, to be called “Three Rims and a Hubcap.” “The Eternal Divorce” has been adopted as reading material at Wake Forest University, Duke University Divinity School, and Shaw University for seminarians and education students. Later in the year, he will sign copies at events in Detroit, Mich., New York, N.Y., and Atlanta, Ga.
Developing in education and spirituality while reconciling sometimes opposing ideas, Everett said, has helped him to determine his own place in the world.
“School taught me how to deal with the complexities of life that I would have to face and the church taught me who created me and how I can benefit from having made my visit upon Mother Earth,” Everett said. “I really believe there is no way a person can truly be educated apart from a belief in a supreme being, whether you call him God or whatever you want to call him. There is an intelligent design behind the composition of our world. That did not happen fortuitously, that was not some random act. It has too much order.”
Copies are available online through amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.