Good Faith Media (GFM) attended this week’s inaugural National Conference of Pastors for Children in Orlando, Florida. Pastors for Children began in Texas as the brainchild of Rev. Charlie Johnson, who was encouraged by former Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter to unite pastors in support of public education.  

According to their website, Pastors for Texas Children, the first state chapter, is a dynamic ministry that “empowers Texas’ neighborhood public schools through the transformative power of prayer, service and advocacy. We bolster our schools by spearheading school assistance programs with local congregations, championing social justice for children, and driving legislation that prioritizes the needs of Texas children, families, and communities.”

Johnson told GFM that clergy and laity, coming together at the first national conference, recognized they are “better together” when supporting public education. He called the group a “diverse” gathering from all across the country, advocating in their local communities to help children, teachers, and districts.  

Johnson leaves the conference “inspired” and ready to “rock and roll” as advocates return to their homes to counter Christian nationalism, voucher programs, book bans and attempts to whitewash history books of diverse narratives.  

Rev. James T. Golden, co-founder of Pastors for Florida Children, discussed the rise and influence of Christian nationalism within public schools. Golden said, “We have often advocated to protect the church from the state historically, but now we need to protect the state from the church.”  

Golden discussed “a conscious effort to undermine and disrupt” public education for all students in Florida. He confessed that a particular segment of people in Florida no longer want to do the “hard work” of representing all students.

Damaris Allen and Stephana Ferrell of Families for Strong Public Schools encouraged the audience to “get organized” to counter efforts to harm public education and support students, teachers, and administrators.  

For example, Allen and Ferrell mobilized to counter book bans. They began by inviting friends to a book exchange and sharing various books targeted by banners. After they read the books, the parents talked about them. The strategy encouraged conversation and solidarity through collective information gathering.  

Rev. Suzanne Parker Miller is mobilizing pastors in North Carolina to utilize their prophetic voices.  She believes clergy can provide a “moral authority” to support public education.

For too long now, religious conservatives have created the false narrative that public schools are filled with anti-Christian ideas and hostile to Christian values. There could be nothing further from the truth.

While public schools are responsible for educating all children regardless of religious tradition and are barred by federal and state constitutions from supporting sectarian causes, they are also filled with kind, decent, and, in many cases, faith-informed individuals.  

Unfortunately, a well-funded and well-organized group continues spreading the false narrative of failing public schools. Why? 

A two-pronged approach has emerged.  On the one hand, white Christian conservatives want to turn public schools into a bastion for rightwing evangelical indoctrination— stripping schools of any critical lessons that might subvert the dominant white Christian narrative.  

On the other hand, there is a targeted effort to redirect public money to support private education. The effort operates under various guises such as vouchers, tax credits and school choice. Pastors for Children educates communities about the importance of keeping church and state separate while revealing the nefarious strategies privatizers use to line their pockets with money.

For example, private schools receiving public money can be highly lucrative for investors.  With very little investment or risk, public funds and tuition can cover most of the acquired assets and operations. Yet private schools sometimes rent property from themselves or a family member, increasing their profit. With little to no oversight by governmental agencies, the incentive is not to educate children, but to turn a profit for the owners and investors.

Jennifer Berkshire, a public school advocate, revealed that many states attempting to privatize education with public money are also trying to repeal child labor laws. Corporations and manufacturers are increasingly seeing children as a growing cheap labor force. Their rhetoric reveals their true intention.  

Factual history, the humanities and literature are being deemphasized in favor of skilled labor education. While there is nothing wrong with skilled labor education, thoughtful individuals should know why those with power and money are pushing it. It makes one wonder if the effort is more about keeping people on their socioeconomic plane and preventing them from climbing the socioeconomic ladder.  

In the end, Pastors for Children is doing a remarkable job of countering the false narrative of failing public schools and replacing it with a more honest narrative that reveals genuine communities dedicated to educating every child. Public schools remain the best investment Americans can make to support a thriving democracy.

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