With a measure of missionary zeal and a solemn expression to fit the occasion, Rev. Ray Childress gazed down upon his flock of 23 Clinton Christian School students before offering them a lesson on the virtues of being born an American Christian.
"In Haiti," he said, enunciating the name in two distinct syllables, "the Church is very small and you see voo-doo and witchcraft and people living in huts. In New Guinea, they have never heard of the white man or what they call the white man's God. Our life in America is so different, so much better and it is because of the Church."
Much like the foreign cultures invoked in Childress' Prince George's County classroom, the fundamentalist Christian school in which he teaches is a world apart from its large public school equivalent.
Clinton Christian is one of about 40 to 50 schools in metropolitan Washington that are part of an expanding nationwide movement of Christians who interpret the Bible literally and have turned away from the public schools, which they believe have become "anti-Christian" and amoral.
These schools developed at a time when many white parents were taking their children from public schools in response to busing for desegregation. For that reason they are often thought of as enclaves for "white flight." Indeed, in Prince George's County, where the movement is the strongest in the area, private Christian school enrollments doubled almost immediately after busing began in 1973.
But, officials in the Christian schools say that busing was only a small and coincidental contributor to their emergence.
They point instead to the growth of sex education, the Supreme Court's restriction on prayer and Bible reading, the lack of discipline and the "unpatriotic" atmosphere in public schools.
"We were acting out of necessity. Sex education was becoming too strong and ideas too liberal," said Mickey Creed, executive director of the Maryland Association of Christian Schools.
Rev. John C. Macon, the former director of Clinton Christian who heads the Eastern Association of Christian Schools, puts it more forcefully.
"The people are upset with the socialism and communism being taught in the public schools," he said. "They are upset with the lack of discipline and with the rot and filth found in public school text books."
In Prince George's, Creed estimates that 7,000 students -- out of 127,000 school age youths in the county -- are now paying $1,000 each to follow the education philosophy of the county's 10 to 15 private Christian schools.
This philosophy includes strict dress codes, the use of corporal punishment -- usually paddling -- for serious breaches of conduct, no dancing, drinking, long hair or, in some cases, listening to rock music.
Since the schools teach directly from the Bible, students are told that evolutionary theories of creation are false.
The Clinton Christian school earned a reputation as the strictest in the area two years ago when it tried to deny a diploma to the school's valedictorian, Michael Bongiorni, after he had gone out dancing and drinking one night before graduation. The school eventually allowed him the diploma but would not allow him to participate in the graduation ceremony.
"Our main goal is to glorify God, to teach the children about the Lord Jesus Christ. And people want this -- they were dissatisfied with the new radical programs like sex education. Because of those humanistic tendencies the schools are not as patriotic and American as they used to be," Spence said.
For all the talk of discipline and moral values, none of the Christian school officials will deny that the controversy in Prince George's over busing for desegregation has helped increase their enrollment figures.
In 1973, after a federal court ordered the transfer of 33,000 students in Prince George's County from one school to another -- including 12,000 who were bused out of their neighborhood after having previously walked to school -- many parents sought private schools for their children.
Almost all the parents were white, and the new Christian schools that sprang up were accused of catering to "racist" sentiments.
At Riverdale Baptist Academy in Largo, the school's population jumped from 500 to over 1,100 the year busing began.
"It was a boost to our school. I don't think there is any doubt about that. But our population from that time to now is completely different. The people who came to escape blacks or busing didn't stay," said Fred Snowden, the school's headmaster.
Snowden's comment is echoed at other Christian schools. The people who came to escape have since left, school leaders maintain. They point to the increasing number of minorities in the student body to back up the claim.
"The schools have demonstrated that they are interested in integration. They are certainly not lily-white," said Ellsworth MacIntyre, director of Capitol Christian Academy in Upper Marlboro. "While they may have benefited from busing initially, they are certainly not havens for white flight.
While almost all the schools say that about 20 to 25 percent of their students are black, few keep any figures to support such claims.
Only Riverdale kept a specific breakdown of its minority population. In 1978, out of 1,243 students at the school, 195 were minorities.
State education officials said that neither they nor the federal government require racial breakdowns of enrollment figures from the Christian schools as they do from other private schools which are not church-affiliated and tax-exempt.
"We don't do anything with those schools at all. We don't give them accreditation or evaluate them unless they voluntarily srequest it, and a few do. The law gives them the right to exist in Maryland without state intervention," Adolphus Spain, an official in the State Department of Education, said.