A leader in the effort to get a resolution critical of public schools before the Southern Baptist Convention criticized the denomination’s official news service for suppressing the story.
Last Wednesday the SBC passed a resolution urging parents and churches to “investigate diligently” whether their community schools promote homosexuality and “demand discontinuation” of offensive programs and materials.
The resolution, recommended by the SBC Resolutions Committee and passed with only a minor amendment, was modeled after a resolution proposed by Houston attorney Bruce Shortt and evangelist Voddie Baucham. Their proposal went a step further than the final resolution, urging parents to withdraw their children from schools found to legitimize homosexuality by having clubs for gay students or through sex-education or anti-bullying programs that promote a view that homosexuality is morally acceptable.
Baptist Press, which is owned and operated by the SBC Executive Committee, refused to cover the story prior to last week’s convention, even though it was reported in other secular and religious media. After the resolution passed, Shortt said, BP sought to downplay the impact of the resolution.
“You may have noticed by now that I am linking to some stories from EthicsDaily.com, a CBF publication,” Shortt wrote Tuesday in a 10-page report updating supporters of Christian education. “This is because Baptist Press not only refused to report any news about the Baucham-Shortt resolution, but in the reporting by Baptist Press immediately following the passage of the committee’s resolution it was disingenuously claimed that our call for an investigation of the schools was dropped.”
Baptist Press reported June 22 that the education resolution “came after various organizations outside the SBC mounted a pre-convention campaign in support of a proposal calling on churches to investigate their local schools for pro-homosexual curricula or clubs.”
“The resolution presented by the committee and approved by the messengers did not call for such an investigation but urged parents and churches to monitor the various influences on children and to ‘hold accountable’ the institutions involved,” BP reported.
Shortt said in a footnote that claim “could only be defended in the most tendentious [biased] of ways.” While the final resolution did not include his and Baucham’s exact language, he said, it called twice for investigation of public schools.
EthicsDaily.com, Shortt said, “reported accurately about the fact that the committee’s resolution does call for investigation.”
“I find it interesting that a publication produced by an organization that Voddie and I have little in common with theologically or otherwise has done a much fairer job of reporting on the education controversy than Baptist Press,” Shortt said.
[EthicsDaily.com is sponsored by the Baptist Center for Ethics, an independent “partner” organization of CBF. The Atlanta-based CBF currently provides about 22 percent of BCE’s annual budget.]
Shortt wasn’t the only one critical of Baptist Press at this year’s convention.
On Tuesday, in a discussion about whether New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary should amend it charter to declare the SBC the “sole member” of its corporation, President Chuck Kelley complained, “In October 2003, Baptist Press, a ministry of the Executive Committee, refused to print a brief statement from the trustees you elected to our board explaining to Southern Baptists why they did not want to do sole membership.”
“Whatever you think about this issue,” Kelley said, “denying a messenger-elected board of conservative trustees the opportunity to communicate with Southern Baptists was not right.”
Will Hall, vice president for Baptist Press, responded that he regretted having to answer Kelley’s charge in public, but told messengers “it’s important that you know your Baptist Press is representing you well” and “we have been fair, balanced and comprehensive in our coverage.”
Jay Adkins, pastor of First Baptist Church of Westwego, La., disputed Hall’s assessment.
“Since the beginning of this debate, the New Orleans [seminary] Web site has produced information both for the Executive Committee’s position as well as that of the trustees, and presented a very fair and equally balanced view of both sides, whereas SBC Life, Baptist Press and a number of other outlets have been very one-sided, only introducing and pushing the Executive Committee’s position,” Adkins said.
“I’m very disappointed in my conservative news outlets that I used to respect greatly,” he added.
A speaker at the SBC Pastors Conference may have alluded to reports of efforts to suppress debate over the education resolution. Ergun Caner of Liberty University drew applause when he said:
“You know what my favorite moment is [at the Southern Baptist Convention]? It’s the moment the media can’t figure out. It’s this moment: ‘The chair recognizes microphone number four. Please state your name, your church and your point of order.’
“And back in the day that was fun, wasn’t it? Cause you knew there was some little old guy from down in southern Alabama, who left his church of 23 people on a Wednesday and told them, ‘Now you all pray for me, I’m gonna go bring a resolution to the floor.’ And he left those 23 people with his resolution written on the back of an envelope. And he gets to stand right at the same microphone as Adrian Rogers and W.A. Criswell, because in this world, baby, every man, every woman’s got a voice.”
Shortt also criticized Nashville’s local paper, The Tennessean, for “failing to grasp the radical departure that this resolution represents from prior SBC resolutions on education.”
“Although passing a resolution was the least of our objectives, this is an extraordinary development,” Shortt said, given the SBC’s “nearly reflexive allegiance to the government’s schools” during the last 50 years.
He cited a quote from Southern Seminary President Al Mohler among examples of how far the debate about religious education of children has come in two years. “I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools,” Mohler said in an article prior to the convention.
Last year, Shortt said, SBC leaders said they opposed an earlier resolution calling for an exodus from public schools, claiming the decision about how to educate a child is up to parents and not the convention.
But this year, he said, the resolution recognizes that Christian parents’ choices for education “are in fact limited.” The new resolution urges parents to “fully embrace their obligation to make prayerful and informed decisions” about how they educate their children.
While he would have preferred the original “exit” language to the “reform” message in the committee resolution, Shortt said he believes that parents who follow the spirit of the resolution will discover that reform is impossible, and will conclude on their own that their only option is to remove their children from public schools.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.