The Baptist Center for Ethics on Friday released a pastoral letter decrying the demonization of public education and calling on Baptists to “speak positively about public education and to take proactive initiatives that advance a constructive future for America’s public school system.”

Fifty-six Baptist pastors and organizational leaders have signed the letter so far. Other signatures will be added later.

The letter acknowledges the need for reform in public education, because “all organizations need reformation,” including churches and corporations.

While each family is free to make educational choices for their own children, the letter says, “We believe it is wrong for Baptist leaders to urge Baptists to exit the nation’s public school system for homeschools and Christian academies and to equip that cause.”

The Baptist leaders decry anti-public school statements that identify public schools as “the enemies of God,” that label the nation’s school system as “a dark and decaying government school system” and that claim public schools are converting Christian children “to an anti-Christian worldview” and “urge a halt to the demonization of public schools.”

“We believe Baptists should recommit themselves to public education, not as a means toward converting school children, but because it is the right thing to do,” the letter says. “We believe public school children are God’s children who deserve the nurture of a good society, the prospect for a good education and the equal opportunity for a good life.”

It calls on Baptists to recommit themselves to the separation of church and state, in order to “keep public schools free from coercive pressure to promote sectarian faith, such as state-written school prayers and the teaching of neo-creationism (intelligent design).”

It further calls on Baptists to recommit themselves to a just society. “A just society will ensure that every American child has an opportunity for a good education and that public schools have the resources necessary to provide such an opportunity, achieving the highest standards possible,” the letter says.

It affirms a diverse society, noting that, “A society based on unity out of diversity will embrace every child and recognize the vital role public schools play in achieving national unity.”

The signatories pledge to pray for public schools; support public schools through worship services that affirm all school-related personnel; advocate for “a high wall of separation between church and state that is critical to good public education; pursue a just society that benefits every child; speak up for the role public education plays in democracy, especially the unity it creates in the midst of diversity so necessary in our society; challenge religious voices who demonize public education;” and share the letter with others.

Headed by Robert Parham, executive director of the Nashville-based Baptist Center for Ethics, signatories so far include:

North Carolina: Bob Albritton, Millbrook Baptist Church, Raleigh; Roger Gilbert, First Baptist Church, Mt. Airy: Jack Glasgow, Zebulon Baptist Church, Zebulon; Wayne Hager, Calvary Baptist Church, Mount Airy; Larry Harper, Forest Hills Baptist Church, Raleigh; Kevin Head, First Baptist Church, Lumberton; David Hughes, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem; Robert Prince, First Baptist Church, Waynesville; Layne Smith, Viewmont Baptist Church, Hickory.

Kentucky: Chris Caldwell, Broadway Baptist Church, Louisville; Bob Fox, Faith Baptist Church, Georgetown; David Hinson, First Baptist Church, Frankfort; Jim Holladay, Lyndon Baptist Church, Louisville; Mark Johnson, Central Baptist Church, Lexington; Joseph Phelps, Highland Baptist Church, Louisville; Bill Shoulta, Melbourne Heights Baptist Church, Louisville; Chuck Summers, First Baptist Church, Middlesboro.

Tennessee: Brent Beasley, Second Baptist Church, Memphis; Gary Carver, First Baptist Church, Chattanooga; Ken Corr, First Baptist Church, Memphis; David George, Immanuel Baptist Church, Nashville; Frank Lewis, First Baptist Church, Nashville; Bill Shiell, First Baptist Church, Knoxville; Mike Smith, First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro.

Texas: Stacy Conner, First Baptist Church, Muleshoe; James R. Fuller, Calder Baptist Church, Beaumont; Ed Hogan, Jersey Village Baptist Church, Houston; Charles Johnson, Trinity Baptist Church, San Antonio; Mark Newton, First Baptist Church, San Marcos; Steve Wells, South Main Baptist Church, Houston.

Georgia: Bob Ballance, Heritage Baptist Church, Cartersville; Bob Browning, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain; Jimmy Gentry, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Carrollton; Bill Wilson, First Baptist Church, Dalton.

Missouri: John Baker, First Baptist Church, Columbia; Tom Clifton, First Baptist Church, Kansas City; Jeanie McGowan, First Baptist Church, Jefferson City; Doyle Sager, First Baptist Church, Jefferson City; Scott L. Stearman, Kirkwood Baptist Church, St. Louis.

Alabama: Gary Burton, Pintlala Baptist Church, Hope Hull; James Evans, First Baptist Church, Auburn.

South Carolina: Fred Andrea, First Baptist Church, Aiken; Jeffrey Rogers, First Baptist Church, Greenville.

Virginia: Tom Leland, University Baptist Church, Charlottesville.

Convention and Fellowship Leaders
Ron Cook, Truett Seminary, Waco, Texas; Charles DeWeese, Baptist History and Heritage Society,  Brentwood, Tenn.; Ircel Harrison, Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Larry Hovis, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina; John Lepper, Kentucky Baptist Fellowship; Jeff Langford, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri; Emmanuel McCall, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Atlanta; Rick McClatchey, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Texas; Harold Phillips, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri; Bruce Prescott, Mainstream Baptists of Oklahoma; and T. Thomas, Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma.

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