A grassroots network of Southern Baptist homeschooling families, pastors and scholars has endorsed a resolution proposed to the Southern Baptist Convention advocating an “exit strategy” from public schools, while decrying “open hostility” toward the movement from the SBC bureaucracy.
Elizabeth Watkins, who with her husband decided to homeschool their first daughter in fifth grade, formed the Southern Baptist Church and Home Education Association in 2004.
The number of church-sponsored homeschool ministries is growing, the SBCHEA says on its Web site. Yet many families receive support from their extended family and homeschooling network but not their church. In fact, it says, many Christian homeschoolers have left the SBC because of “open hostility” to their convictions.
The group’s second annual “Kingdom Education Summit” is scheduled June 14 during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C. It carries the theme, “Exit Strategy: From the World to the Home, From the Home to the World.”
Featured speakers include Greg Thornbury, inaugural dean of the School of Christian Studies at Union University, and Nathan Finn, an archivist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who has written in support of homeschooling in Baptist Press.
Watkins said in a Thursday media release her group “enthusiastically endorses” a 2006 SBC resolution urging an exit strategy from the public schools. The resolution has been submitted for review by a committee by Houston attorney Bruce Shortt and Missouri businessman Roger Moran.
But Watkins added that “homeschooling families are painfully aware of the lack of a true partnership between church/denominational leadership and parents to provide Southern Baptist children with a genuine, Christ-centered education.”
She said resolutions over the issue have come and gone. What is needed now, she said, “is a true church-based support system” to assist parents, grandparents and guardians “in removing their children from the government-based system” of schools.
Sponsors of the Kingdom Education Summit include Union University, a Tennessee Baptist Convention-affiliated school in Jackson, Tenn., along with Christian Liberty Academy School System, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and Homeschooling Family to Family.
Last year, summit participants endorsed Homeschooling Family to Family, a new ministry of Exodus Mandate aimed at bringing 1 million new children into homeschooling over the next five to seven years via peer-to-peer mentoring. Jude Dankworth, the initiative’s recently named executive director, is scheduled to report at this year’s summit.
Homeschools and Christian academies have pockets of support within the SBC bureaucracy. LifeWay Christian Resources, for example, has a division that sells homeschool curriculum and sponsored a session at a national Christian booksellers’ convention in January.
But several SBC leaders, including some who privately support homeschooling and other church-based alternatives to public education, opposed a 2004 resolution calling for a mass exodus from public schools. They feared backlash from educators in Baptist churches and desired to improve Southern Baptists’ “anti-everything” image derived from stances including the Disney boycott, denouncing women pastors and urging wives to submit to their husbands. The resolution died in committee.
Despite opposition, Christian-education advocates managed to pass a resolution in 2005. It warned parents to take necessary steps to protect their children from “homosexual influences” in public schools, including placing them in church-based or home schools.
The new 2006 resolution, if approved, would take the next step of requesting the denomination to lead in developing an “exit strategy” from public schools, a phrase borrowed from a column last year by Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Kenyn Cureton, an SBC spokesman, immediately downplayed the story. He told the Associated Press that just because a resolution is submitted doesn’t mean it will make it to the convention floor. Last year’s resolution, he noted, identified “valid concerns” about education but advised Southern Baptists to “engage” instead of exit public schools.
Watkins worked in the insurance business before her children were born. She now teaches Latin in a homeschool co-op. She formed the SBCHEA because, coming from Southern Baptist ties for generations, she was heartbroken to see homeschooling families leaving the denomination in droves.
The purpose of homeschooling, she says, “is to impact our culture for Christ.”
“It’s a lifestyle change,” she said. “It’s not just an educational choice. It affects youth ministry, it affects discipleship and it affects social activities.”
Because of growth in the program, Union University recently upgraded its Christian Studies program from a department to a school. Gregory Alan Thornbury, the first dean, is co-editor of Shaping a Christian Worldview: The Foundation of Christian Higher Education. David Dockery, president of the university, described Thornbury as “perhaps the brightest young theologian in Baptist life today.”
Finn, a writer and church historian, wrote in Baptist Press that “many a parent has realized that homeschooling provides a natural atmosphere where they can actively evangelize and disciple their children.”
“The teaching parent, normally the mother, spends quality time with their children every day,”
Finn wrote. “Many homeschooling curricula are Christ-centered, making it easier to talk to children about spiritual things. By all indications, homeschooling is only going to become more popular as time goes on.”
Other prominent Southern Baptists supporting “Kingdom Education,” according to the press release, are former SBC presidents Paige Patterson, Jack Graham and Tom Elliff.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.