A proposed resolution calling on Southern Baptists to abandon public schools has received two key endorsements on the eve of next week’s Southern Baptist Convention.
The resolution, which encourages parents to withdraw their children from the public-school system and educate them either through homeschooling or private Christian schools, gained support from the 80,000-member Home School Legal Defense Association and World magazine.
“Homeschooling is growing rapidly and successfully producing mature Christian citizens with a biblical worldview,” the HSLDA, an advocacy group based in Virginia, said in a position statement on its Web site. “It’s time for the wider Christian community to make the choice for homeschooling.”
A signed editorial in the June 5 issue of World, a conservative magazine that is widely respected among SBC leaders, said the resolution, though sure to divide the convention, would do the whole nation a favor by forcing the nation’s second-largest denomination to grapple with the debate over home vs. public schooling.
Southern Baptist leaders for the most part have shied away from extreme language in the resolution, which characterizes public schools as “Godless” and run by “enemies of God.” A resolutions committee scheduled to report at the convention is expected to bring forward a resolution on Christian vs. secular education is some form, however.
“I certainly don’t believe, as the resolution suggests, that it would be sinful for Christian parents to put their kids in public schools,” SBC president Jack Graham said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Attention to the anti-public school resolution, which if it passes would be non-binding on individual Southern Baptists and churches, has in recent weeks overshadowed another big issue facing Southern Baptists. Messengers at the convention are expected to vote on a recommendation to terminate a 99-year membership in the Baptist World Alliance, a global network of Baptist conventions that the SBC was instrumental in establishing and has been its most generous supporter.
The SBC Executive Committee is recommending severing ties with the BWA, and reallocating $300,000 in annual support, based on a study committee which criticized the organization as anti-American and influenced by liberalism. Leaders of the BWA deny those charges, and the proposed split has been roundly criticized by Baptists from around the world.
Other points of interest anticipated at the June 15-16 convention in Indianapolis include:
–Election of a president. Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, is ineligible for re-election after serving two one-year terms. Expected to succeed him is Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Welch’s claim to fame among Southern Baptists is that he co-developed the FAITH Sunday school evangelism strategy marketed by LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC’s publisher. In recent months, however, Welch gained attention for his ties to Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, a Pentagon official under fire for allegedly anti-Muslim views. Welch defended Boykin, describing him as a friend who has spoken at his church.
–Name-change study. Graham in February said he supports changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention, because it is no longer a regional body and needs a new identity to communicate that reality. He told the Associated Press this week that a motion would come from the floor at this year’s convention for a study on the possibility of a new name.
–Bush address. Graham also told the AP that President Bush has been invited to speak, and will likely address the convention live via satellite. It would be the third straight year for Bush to address Southern Baptists, the most ever by a sitting president. Graham also said he expects the convention to adopt a resolution supporting a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which is backed by Bush and sure to rankle protestors on hand from Soulforce, an interfaith gay-rights group that has picketed the SBC the last four years. (See story.)
–“Resurgence” anniversary. Supporters of the “conservative resurgence” movement plan to commemorate their 25-year anniversary in a pre-convention event. The movement, launched at the 1979 convention in Houston, wrested control of the convention from moderates. It was touted as a means to restore conservative doctrine as a theological base for continued missions and evangelism. Twenty-five years later, however, baptisms have declined each of the last four years, and Southern Baptists are baptizing fewer people now than in the 1970s.
–Sole membership. Possibly the most internally divisive issue going into this year’s convention is a brewing controversy between the SBC Executive Committee and trustees of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary over governance. The seminary is the only SBC entity in recent years not to take action to amend its charter to name the convention as “sole member” of its non-profit corporation.
Growing impatient, the Executive Committee formally asked seminary trustees to take the step.
Seminary trustees balked, citing concerns that the change might increase liability for the denomination under Louisiana law and could be used to remove power from trustees and centralize control under the Executive Committee, which seminary President Chuck Kelly says would violate historic Baptist polity.
Executive Committee leaders said those fears were unfounded and that the change would clarify for legal purposes who owns the seminary in the event that trustees should ever attempt to remove the seminary from direct control of the convention, as several colleges with ties to Baptist state conventions have done in recent years.
Seminary trustees most recently voted to ask the SBC in 2005 to resolve the impasse by choosing between the Executive Committee recommendation and an alternative motion to be drafted by the seminary.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.