A Christian school was in the news last week after a black female student accused her classmates of a hate crime.
Amari Allen, 12, accused three white sixth grade boys of cutting her dreadlocks and calling her ugly, NBC News reports. Several days later, however, the female student admitted that she had lied about the whole incident. The students attend Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia, just outside the nation's capital. The alleged incident garnered national attention, in part, because Vice President Mike Pence's wife, Karen, teaches at the school.
Christian Headlines sat down with Pastor Jesse Johnson, the lead teaching pastor at Immanuel Bible Church, the church that created the school, to talk about how the church and school have reacted to the national scrutiny and how the school plans to move forward. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What has the last week been like for Immanuel Bible Church and Immanuel Christian School?
Pastor Johnson: This was a difficult week. When the news broke on social media, we were scrambling to investigate, and completely shocked that something like this could happen at our school. As the evidence came to light - that the alleged attack did not happen - our shock turned to sorrow. We love the school, but more than that, we love Jesus Christ, and we were sad that his reputation had been harmed by this ordeal. We were, and are, grieved for the student as well. She has been part of our school for six years, and we love her and her family dearly.
How does Immanuel Christian School pivot from this ordeal?
Pastor Johnson: The school wants to take this ordeal as a platform from which we can demonstrate the Gospel of Jesus. At the heart of our school’s mission is the message of individual reconciliation with God, through Christ. That then plays out in this world where we forgive each other. This is an opportunity for our students to demonstrate the freedom and power of forgiveness to others who have slandered them, and harmed their reputation.
Has there been other racial problems at the school, and how diverse is the school?
Pastor Johnson: There has never been anything like this at our school before. The school is very diverse - even more diverse than the school and the church's neighborhood. We are over 20 percent black, and 48 percent minority. That’s one of the reasons why this issue hurts so much. The allegation cut right to the core of one of the attributes of Immanuel Christian School that makes it such a unique school.
What is next for Amari and her enrollment with Immanuel Cristian School?
Pastor Johnson: Just as repentance is immediate, so is forgiveness. The students affected extend to her forgiveness that is total and complete. As we have been forgiven from our sins, so we extend that to others. At the same time, reconciliation and restoration both involve a process. Certainly, there will be a tough season for healing to take place. The school board is in conversations with her parents to work through the details, and what is in her best interest and the best interest of our entire school family.
How has the involvement of Karen Pence impacted this story?
Pastor Johnson: Let me make clear that Mrs. Pence has been a long-time part of our school. She taught her long before her husband became Vice President. She was at Immanuel Christian School before I was here (I came in 2012). Mrs. Pence is very much a part of our school family. And our school family is diverse racially, as well as politically. Being in the DC area, many of our families are involved in government, are agency directors, or work in politics. That was true under President Obama, just as it is now. So internally, political division doesn’t really factor in at all to our church environment. We come from all political perspectives and love each other dearly.
But externally, obviously, this false story took flight when people were able to make it into a political story. People allowed politics to give oxygen to something that should have been dealt with internally. I think some media outlets didn’t do due diligence on this story precisely because they saw it as a political story, rather than a story about children.
I also want to make clear that at no point in this investigation did anyone contact Mrs. Pence (she did not teach any of the students involved), nor did anyone from her office or any other political or government agency reach out to us. This only involved the families, the school, and the Fairfax County Police.
What do you want non-Christians to know about how your church views racial division in your community and in America today?
Pastor Johnson: The fact that these allegations are believable touches on how racially divided our nation is. In many ways, our nation was sewn from the fabric of racism, and that legacy is still felt today. We recognize that racism is real, powerful, and evil. But politics is not the solution for racial division. True reconciliation can only be found in Jesus Christ. All people—regardless of ethnicity—are made in the image of God. Racial division is both harmful and sinful, but praise be to God that he forgives sin and reconciles sinners.
Finally, people often responded to the original accusation with a complaint along the lines of “what are they teaching at a Christian school that would allow this kind of thing to happen?” Well, the truth is we teach that Jesus was also wrongly accused, did not defend himself, and then extended forgiveness to those who sinned against him. The seed that produces lying is in all of our hearts, but the power of forgiveness comes only through Jesus. That is what we are teaching at our school.
Regardless, I'm proud of our church and school, and I'm confident that we will emerge closer and stronger. We are striving to be more like Jesus, and this trial gives us an opportunity to put his teachings into practice.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Monkey Business Images, this is a stock photo.