Southern Baptist homeschooling and Christian-school advocates remained optimistic despite failure of a resolution calling for an exit strategy from public schools to make it out of committee.
The Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday adopted a resolution decrying ills in public education but urging engagement by running for school boards instead of withdrawal.
“This year actually has been a breakthrough year,” Bruce Shortt, a co-sponsor of the exit-strategy proposal said Wednesday at a Kingdom Education Summit held in conjunction with the June 13-14 SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C.
The resolution’s other co-sponsor, meanwhile, successfully got a motion referred that asks LifeWay Christian Resources to investigate and report findings and recommendations on research that shows the overwhelming majority of evangelical children leave church after they turn 18. The statistic is widely quoted by those who argue that teaching at secular schools undermines religious teaching in the church and home.
The study would also include verifying data that says the vast majority of Christians to not hold a “biblical worldview.” It would examine “growing carnality” in churches that Moran said is raising questions about what percentage of church members are unsaved and how those trends affect specifically the Southern Baptist Convention.
“If LifeWay studies these things, and they come back and confirm these things are accurate, then Southern Baptists are going to rise to the call to address these issues,” predicted Roger Moran, a Missouri layman and member of the SBC Executive Committee.
Shortt, an attorney from Houston, said resolutions critical of public education he has co-sponsored at the last three conventions “have been a media strategy” intended “to force a discussion where no discussion had been.”
“We’ve accomplished that,” he said. “This is the largest denomination of evangelicals and it’s the one the media pays most attention to.”
A leader in the Exodus Mandate movement that advocates creating a network of homeschoolers and private Christian schools to replace a government-run education system they believe is beyond reform, Shortt said SBC leaders have “been missing from the field a very long time” on the issue. “Not only have they been missing from the field, they’ve been standing in the way.”
“Now the issue has moved inside–for the first time really–the convention. It’s going to on to LifeWay,” he said.
“I really think we’ve broken the logjam,” Shortt said. “The issue is really on the table. People–as much as they don’t want to hear about it–recognize there is a problem.”
“Once this convention engages, it is going to engage in a truly effective way,” Shortt predicted. “It’s just a question of how soon are we going to get it.”
Shortt said he is “fairly confident that interesting things will be coming out of LifeWay.”
“I know Broadman & Holman have become more aggressive in marketing their homeschool material,” he said. “I think we need to let the process work through LifeWay. I’m really convinced the tide has turned on this issue.”
Moran, a conservative leader in Missouri, said the “conservative resurgence” movement launched in 1979 demonstrated that “truth matters and it matters supremely” to Southern Baptists in matters of theology.
Years later, he said, some Southern Baptists are now arriving at the conclusion that “truth should matter also in the public school or whatever school we put our children in.”
“We have not really concerned ourselves over this issue like we should have.”
“Now this is a debate in the conservative wing of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Moran said. “We’re dealing with our own people who aren’t seeing these things, but they’re starting to.”
Moran said the evidence he wants LifeWay to study indicates “there’s something seriously wrong in evangelical Christianity.”
“Just like it took years to turn that big ship around theologically, it is going to take a period of time for people to understand the significance of Kingdom Education,” Moran said. “But it’s starting to happen.”
“It’s going to require incredible patience on our part,” Moran said.
The resolution passed by the convention “On Engaging the Direction of the Public School System” denounces the teaching of “dogmatic Darwinism,” acceptance of homosexuality and a “humanistic and secular orientation” in most schools.
“Children are our most important mission field, and the overwhelming majority of Christians have made the government school system their children’s teacher,” it says.
The resolution urges Southern Baptists “to heed our Lord’s admonition to be salt and light in our society” and encourages all Southern Baptist churches “to solicit individuals from their membership to engage the culture of our public school boards and exerting their godly influence upon these school systems.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said while the resolution doesn’t call for an exodus from public schools, it still is “negative and hostile” toward public education.
“Southern Baptist fundamentalists again smear all public schools with false charges,” Parham said.
Parham said the committee-proposed resolution “wrongly claims that public schools universally teach that the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable and that schools ‘indoctrinate children’ with the theory of evolution, as if science is theology.”
“Bearing false witness, saying untruth, breaks the Ninth Commandment in the Ten Commandments that fundamentalists campaign to hang in public schools,” Parham said. “Labeling public schools as government schools is another slur, reflecting the extremist anti-government worldview.”
Parham continued: “The fact that the resolution encourages Southern Baptists to politicize school board races from a theocratic perspective reinforces the negative attitudes that Southern Baptists have about public schools. Such campaigns will only damage schools and divide our society.
“A brief affirmation of Christian teachers should not be confused as genuine support for public schools. Southern Baptist leaders send their children of Christian academies or homeschool them. The SBC’s publishing house produces curriculum for homeschools. Baptist seminary presidents and faculties talk and walk an anti-public school perspective that profoundly influences the students they train for church ministries. A few words don’t whitewash the leadership’s agenda.
“Perhaps more profoundly, however, the proposed resolution really doesn’t encourage Southern Baptists to send their children to public schools. It acknowledges that Christians send their children to ‘government schools.’ That’s all.
“Unlike fundamentalists, good will Baptists seek to strengthen public schools to provide the best education possible to all citizens for the common good, not sneakily make classrooms into Sunday school classes.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.