Five months after it was discussed but not voted on at the Southern Baptist Convention, a grassroots effort calling on Southern Baptists to remove their kids from public schools remains controversial.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention on Wednesday killed a resolution in committee modeled after a failed SBC resolution in June decrying “government” schools and urging parents to seek a “thoroughly Christian” education for their children through home schooling or church-run private schools.
Like similar resolutions expected to be introduced in as many as 10 Baptist state conventions this fall, the Tennessee statement avoided language widely viewed as too controversial in the SBC version, which would have declared public schools “officially Godless” and “anti-Christian.”
“I want to be positive in promoting Christian education,” the author of the proposed resolution, Pastor Larry Reagan of Dresden, Tenn., told the Associated Press. “I don’t want the resolution to be portrayed as attacking public education.”
The campaign to move the resolution into the states has met opposition even in the most conservative conventions. The Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia resolutions committee also refused to report it to messengers for a vote.
If you think Bruce Shortt, co-author of the SBC resolution, feels defeated, think again.
“We don’t really at this stage expect to be passing a lot of resolutions,” said Shortt, a Houston attorney and leader in the Exodus Mandate, a South Carolina-based organization pushing for establishing a system of Christian and home schools to replace America’s public education.
At this point, Shortt said in an interview with EthicsDaily.com, the idea is “to keep the issue in front of people.”
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s resolutions committee considered a resolution submitted by Shortt but altered it by including support for public schools. The committee’s resolution urged parents to “ensure the Godly education” of their children “whether in public schools, private schools, home schools or through the church’s education program.”
Shortt attempted to amend the resolution from the floor by replacing the word “public” with “Christian” schools, but his resolution was defeated. Yet he insists he isn’t disappointed.
Shortt said supporting “whereas” statements in the Texas resolution included language that all matters of truth—including academic subjects—fall under the Lordship of Christ and held Christians responsible for “the teaching of our children.”
The relevant “resolved” clause, affirming public education, therefore, isn’t supported by the bulk of the resolution, Shortt said, opening the door for “an acute case of cognitive dissonance.”
“I think that over time, if we keep pushing on this issue, that people will eventually become uncomfortable with holding two contradictory things in their minds,” Shortt said.
Already in a relatively brief time Shortt and allies have succeeded in moving the debate. Instead of being unabashedly pro-public education, as they were in resolutions through the 1970s, Southern Baptists are now arguing about whether public schools are even worth saving.
Shortt says passing resolutions—which aren’t binding on anyone anyway—is less important than generating discussion among leadership, pastors and especially people in the pews.
“So far we’ve been pretty successful in getting our few minutes in front of people at the convention to discuss these things,” Shortt said.
A new organization, the Southern Baptist Church and Home Education Association, has formed as a result of his resolution, to serve as a national voice for home-schoolers in the denomination. It joins the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, an organization committed to “Kingdom education” through church-sponsored schools.
Shortt said he believes he has support both in Baptist churches and among the convention’s leadership. The resistance comes from pastors–many with churches that run private schools–but who don’t want to say anything to offend church members who are teachers or principals in public schools.
The system of adopting resolutions makes if fairly easy to predict the outcome, Shortt said. If a resolutions committee recommends a resolution, it usually passes, perhaps with amendments. If the resolutions committee does not recommend it and it comes from the floor, messengers usually will side with the convention leadership. If it is opposed by an official from the platform, forget it.
Take the Southern Baptists Conservatives of Virginia, for example, which split off from the Baptist General Association of Virginia in 1996 over biblical inerrancy.
When the resolutions committee declined to report the resolution he submitted, T.C. Pinckney, an influential conservative who co-authored the proposed SBC resolution this summer with Shortt, won a vote allowing him to introduce it from the floor during a later miscellaneous business session. He spoke for his resolution, the resolutions committee chair opposed it, and but it failed decisively.
At the Missouri Baptist Convention, Roger Moran, a conservative leader and member of the SBC Executive Committee. managed to get a resolution on “secular influences on holy living” through the committee process.
Moran’s resolution included “the inherent dangers of secular educational philosophies” permeating America’s public schools, along with a listing of other cultural forces. Shortt said he believed Moran stopped short of advocating an exodus from public schools in an effort to ensure passage.
For now, Shortt says he is satisfied with modest gains.
“People want to say things [in resolutions] that are relatively non controversial, that don’t require much action,” he said. “This is controversial. We have developed a government school habit. It’s like smoking. It’s not easy to break.”
One problem, Shortt said, is many Americans have come to view the “little red schoolhouse” as free day care.
Shortt says he plans to continue to voice his warning about the dangers of “government” schools, which he says are not the fault of the many Christians who are teachers but rather court rulings barring religious expression and secular educational theories that indoctrinate children into believing that all value systems are equal.
“The schools are literally destroying us, generation by generation,” he said. “The system is profoundly dysfunctional, and some people are having trouble facing what is entirely obvious at this point.”
“It’s inescapably obvious, if people care to look,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.