A sponsor of an anti-public school resolution proposed to the Southern Baptist Convention says he welcomes a competing resolution supportive of public education.
The convention must now do one of three things, Houston attorney Bruce Shortt said Friday: “Pass our resolution encouraging parents to provide their children with a Christian education; attempt to evade the issue; or pass a resolution that says educating our children in government schools is just fine, even though everyone knows that the government schools are evangelizing our children out of the church.”
Shortt is co-sponsoring, with Virginia conservative leader T.C. Pinckney, a resolution calling on Southern Baptist parents to remove their children from government-run schools and either home-school or send them to private Christian schools. The resolution, which must be considered by a committee which decides whether to bring it to the floor, says the education system is run by “enemies of God” and that humanist-based education undermines values children learn at home and church.
An East Tennessee pastor has submitted to the SBC Resolutions Committee an alternative pro-public-education statement to counter publicity about the Pinckney/Shortt resolution. Jim West, pastor of First Baptist Church in Petros, Tenn., called their statement “silly,” saying it represents a “minority view” and sends the wrong message that Southern Baptists are anti-culture, according to the Associated Press.
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s general board also adopted a position statement last week affirming the historic value of public schools and encouraging Christians to “exercise responsible citizenship” by bringing positive influence to bear on public schools.
Shortt said media reaction to the measure is mixed. Radio coverage has tended to be positive, he said, while print coverage is “fair to good.” Shortt said there is “substantial support” for the resolution both inside and outside of the SBC.
Newspaper editorials have weighed in on both sides of the issue.
The Montgomery Advertiser called the resolution “deeply disturbing.”
The Decatur Daily called public education “the backbone of secular society” and said that Christianity and secular schooling can coexist. “Public schools are not ‘godless,’ nor are they ‘anti-Christian.’ They are secular and a shield for young minds that need the spiritual guidance that comes from their homes and churches,” according to the paper’s May 20 editorial.
A Macon Telegraph columnist said it is impractical to believe that Southern Baptists would sponsor several thousand new schools to accommodate the exodus, which he also viewed as unnecessary. “Diverse public schools need Baptist kids, too,” said columnist Ed Corson. “Children ‘trained up’ properly at home are far from helpless, especially if parents have limited the cultural crud that grips our entertainment media and impacts children many more hours weekly than do schools.”
Respected religion columnist Ken Garfield of the Charlotte Observer called it “the worst idea I’ve heard this year.” Garfield, in a May 14 column, predicted the resolution, with rhetoric declaring public educators “the enemies of God,” has little chances of making it to the floor for vote. “This is a denomination whose leaders are tying to form a kinder, gentler body, and move away from the anti-secular anger that drives a wedge between people of different faiths, colors and classes.”
Other secular journalists, however, said “Amen” to the resolution’s call to ensure that Christian kids receive a “thoroughly Christian education, for the glory of God.” Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, who described himself as a religious Jew, agreed that government-run schools are often hostile to religion. “[F]or those who want their children to live God-centered lives, the animus against religion found in so many public schools is indeed a problem—or should be,” he wrote.
The Wall Street Journal on Friday carried a column by the Washington Times‘ Diana West describing her decision to home-school her twin fifth-grade daughters. “I came to believe there was no way on, er, God’s green earth that I could possibly teach my girls less than they learned in that school.”
Rather than being devoid of religion, West described a religious-type devotion to “political correctness” in the nation’s schools, and said “school isn’t necessarily the best place for learning,” both for “Baptist and humanist alike.”
Shortt said satirically that perhaps those who say children should remain in public schools in order to evangelize ought to consider having their kids schooled by imams in Muslim mosques. “After all, there are more lost souls in mosques than even the government schools,” he said in an e-mail. “Why not send our 9- and 10- and 11-year-old evangelists where they are needed the very most?”
Shortt, Texas coordinator of an anti-public school organization called Exodus Mandate, has written a book supporting his case for Christian education. While a common argument against Christian education is that it is too expensive, Shortt proposes a model called the “One Room Schoolhouse,” which combines characteristics of home-schooling, home-school cooperatives and traditional Christian schools. Shortt admits such a choice is a sacrifice, but he says parents should set priorities and that such a model is within reach of most individuals and churches.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.