A prominent Florida mega-church is scheduled to vote tonight on whether begin a Christian academy, joining a grassroots strategy to eventually build a large network of Southern Baptist schools to compete with public education.

Some members of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., question if this is the right time to be discussing a major commitment, while giving is down and division over the church’s direction is discussed openly on a “watchdog” Web site.

Pastor Mac Brunson supports the idea, and reportedly has sold it to church leadership as well. He cites positive experiences with an academy attached to his former church, First Baptist Church in Dallas, where he served between 1999 and 2006.

Brunson said in an audio file linked to a blog section of the watchdog site: “Not next year, not five years, but in a few years, I hope and pray that I’m going to be on a plane coming back from a mission trip, or sitting in a restaurant somewhere, or just walking down the street and some bright young man or some attractive young lady will walk up and say, ‘Are you Dr. Brunson?’ And I’ll say yes. And they’ll say, ‘I just want you to know I’m a graduate of First Baptist Jacksonville Academy.’ I hope that happens.”

“I hope 30 years from now we have a dozen judges in this city who graduated from First Baptist Academy,” he continued. “I hope in 30 years from now, we’ll have doctors all over this state who graduated from First Baptist Church Academy. I hope we’ll have moms and dads. I hope we’ll have farmers. I hope we’ll have salesmen–all of them out there, equipped, trained, educated and fighting the battle–who are graduates of First Baptist Church Academy.”

An informational meeting held last Wednesday reportedly dealt not with questions like anticipated costs and revenues or if there is support or a market for a downtown school but a presentation by Ed Gamble, head of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools.

Gamble is leader in a growing movement in the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest faith group, advocating “Kingdom Education” as an antidote to government-run schools they view as undermining values taught in church and home.

“While there are no guarantees in raising children, providing Christian homeschooling or partnering with a good Christian school greatly increases the likelihood that children will develop a Biblical worldview,” Gamble says in information posted on the First Baptist Church Web site.

“Parents can choose a Kingdom Education and provide their children with 16,000 hours of teaching that compliments and reinforces what is taught at home and church,” he says. “Or they can hand over the 16,000 hours to secular schools which must, by law, teach humanistic philosophy and values as truth.”

Gamble offers several examples contrasting what he says is taught in Christian homes, churches and Christian schools versus what is taught in “secular” schools.

Christian: “God is the Creator and Redeemer of all the world through Jesus Christ. One’s duty is to God first, then to others and to self last.” Secular: “God is different for different people, and there are many gods–Allah, Shiva, Jesus or no god at all–all are equally acceptable. One should not judge another person’s views about ‘god.'”

Christian: “Jesus Christ is Truth. Truth is absolute and changeless. I believe something because it is true.” Secular: “Truth changes with time, culture, situations and individuals. If I believe something sincerely, it is true for me.”

Christian: “Marriage is a life-long, unbreakable covenant between one man and one woman. The resulting family is God’s template for godly seed and societies.” Secular: “Marriage is dissolvable if it doesn’t work out. Family is two or more people who love each other. Homosexuals should be allowed to marry and have the same benefits as heterosexuals.”

Christian: “Sex is reserved for marriage. Premarital and extra-marital sexual practice as well as homosexuality are perversions of God’s plan.” Secular: “Sex is for consenting persons. Homosexuality is an alternate, acceptable lifestyle which should be accepted as normal.”

Christian: “Abortion is the taking of innocent life.” Secular: “Abortion is a matter of personal choice.”

Christian: “God created the world and mankind by His sovereign decree and design. Evolution is a myth of modern science.” Secular: “The universe, nature, and humanity are the result of natural processes and random chance. God does not need to enter the picture.”

Christian: “The Bible is the only source of God’s complete Truth, his infallible, timeless Word, ‘the Human Owner’s Manual.'” Secular: “The Bible is a book like many others, with no legitimate claim to truth over other books.”

“We have allowed Satan to run his strategy,” Gamble says. “Own the schools, and I will own the culture.”

“Our children have been actively discipled by the people who spend the most time teaching them,” he continues. “So it is no wonder then that Christian students are involved in binge drinking, drug use, sexual experimentation and dishonesty with nearly the same frequency as unchurched youth.”

Gamble envisions a new, alternative “public” school system “open to the public but owned and operated by the Body of Christ.”

Gamble says only about 700 of America’s 5,000 conservative Christian schools are currently run by Southern Baptists–compared to 8,200 Catholic schools. That translates into 43,000 Southern Baptist churches with classrooms sitting mostly unused six days a week. Turning that around, Gamble contends, could bring about “unprecedented revival in America.”

Gamble says Christian schools are a proven tool for growth and outreach. Brunson said one reason FBC Jacksonville needs to consider starting a school is because traditional door-to-door evangelism no longer works.

“How do we reach people in the year 2007?” he asked. “I’ve had tons of you come to me and say, ‘Pastor, in the ’70s we used to go knock doors.'”

“We go knock on doors now and you can’t ever find anybody at home,” he continued. “Let me tell you something. I’m never at home. You’re never at home. I’ve tried to come see some of you, and I know you’re not at home. Nobody else is ever at home. One of the most effective ways we have of reaching the next generation and reaching their parents is through a school.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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