Bruce Kendall says he's proud to call himself "a Jesus man." For the past 36 years he's also been a high school science teacher at Mt. Vernon High School just outside of Indianapolis.
His beliefs don't interfere with his job, he says. "I believe in natural selection. And in my mind that's how God created the universe," Kendall says. Even so, Kendall finds himself at the center of the latest battle to teach creationism in U.S. public schools.
This week the Indiana state Senate passed a bill  allowing schools to teach "various theories of the origins of life." Kendall's boss, Mt. Vernon schools Superintendent William Riggs, reacted to the legislation by telling an Indianapolis newspaper that "as far as I know, we're always been allowed to do that. … And we've been doing this for years."
Kendall says he would never speak for Riggs. (Riggs was traveling and didn't return a request for comment.) However, despite his strong Christian faith, Kendall says that Riggs is mistaken about what goes on inside biology and earth science classes at the high school.
"We do not have creationism in our curriculum," says Kendall, who chaired the science department for 35 years before stepping down last summer. "But students bring it up whenever you talk about natural selection, and you have to be prepared to respond to them. How can a science teacher go into the classroom and talk about the origins of life and the origins of the universe and not be ready to deal with their questions?"
Many of his students struggle to reconcile what they are learning in school with what their ministers have taught them, says Kendall. "And when they hear about natural selection, some of them wonder, 'Does that mean my entire religion is wrong?' That's a tough situation to be in for a high school student."
The Bible starts out by describing Earth as being without form, Kendall says. And as far as he's concerned, what happens after that squares with evolutionary theory. "I believe in most of the Bible, and I'm very comfortable being a science teacher."
Kendall says that teachers might spend "10 or 15 minutes" a year on the topic as part of a biology or earth sciences class. Still, a teacher should never initiate a conversation with a student on this sensitive topic, he cautions. "You never try to impose your beliefs on a kid. And you never want to attack their faith." But if it does comes up, he says, "I tell my teachers, 'Please don't kill God just to make your point.' "
Not everyone is as careful with their words, however. Kendall says he received a vicious e-mail this week from a teacher in another school district in Indiana denouncing the superintendent's comments. "He says Christianity is a myth and that he's ashamed of us." Kendall's response? "I really don't even know what he's talking about. But why be so hateful?"