Southern Baptist Convention president Jack Graham says he supports Christian education but doubts Southern Baptists will adopt a resolution urging parents to pull their children out of public schools.
Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, said in an e-mail Thursday that parents should make a “make a fully informed decision” about their children’s education “after much prayer.”
Graham said he hadn’t yet seen a resolution being proposed by a Virginia conservative leader and Houston attorney urging leaders and members of the SBC “to remove their children from the government schools and see to it that they receive a thoroughly Christian education,” but he was aware of its basic content.
“I doubt the SBC will approve a statement which urges parents to remove their children from public schools,” Graham said.
But one of the resolution’s sponsors said whether or not the resolution passes is less important to him than drawing attention to an already-growing movement of home schooling and starting Christian schools.
Bruce Shortt, an attorney and member of North Oaks Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, said he is hopeful the resolution he is co-sponsoring with retired Air Force Brig. Gen. T.C. Pinckney will pass.
Shortt said a number of SBC leaders believe not only in the importance of conservative theology but also recognize there is a “crisis in culture” that needs to be addressed. Education, Shortt said, “is really the Archimedean point in moving a culture.”
But Shortt, Texas state coordinator for Exodus Mandate, an advocacy group for alternatives to government-run schools, said there is a disconnect between leadership and many people in the pew on the subject.
“We’re trying to raise the issue in a general way, because this issue needs to come full front-and-center, not just among leadership, but among the laity as well,” Shortt told EthicsDaily.com in a telephone interview.
“That’s the reason why this resolution ought to get to the floor,” Shortt said. “Whether or not it is voted up or down on the (convention) floor is not as important as that this issue begins to be discussed in a meaningful way in homes and churches.”
The resolution must pass a Resolutions Committee before it comes to a vote at next month’s SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis.
Should the committee decide not to bring the resolution forward, Pinckey, a former SBC Executive Committee member and editor of the conservative newspaper Baptist Banner, said either he or Shortt would likely request from the floor that messengers be allowed to debate and vote on the measure. Such a motion would have to pass by a two-thirds majority.
Pinckney said in an e-mail that the SBC needs to adopt the resolution for three reasons: “Because God’s Word assigns responsibility for the children’s education to the parents, not the government; because Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in America and so our decisions carry considerable influence not just for Southern Baptists but for the country at large” and because “government schools are fatally flawed academically, morally, fiscally—and are anti-Christian.”
Shortt described Glen Schultz, director of Christian school resources for the Southern Baptist publishing house LifeWay Christian Resources, and author of the book Kingdom Education: God’s Plan for Educating Future Generations, as an “unsung hero” in highlighting the need for instilling children with Christian values.
The Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools envisions a nationwide system of at least 5,000 Baptist schools by 2025. That is despite the fact that there are today only about 650 schools among 43,000 Southern Baptist churches. That compares to more than 8,000 Catholic schools, which educate about 5 percent of all American school children, 1,650 schools among all branches of Lutherans and 951 schools run by Seventh-day Adventists.
“The Christian school movement may well be the next Sunday School movement in our churches,” SBACS Executive Director Ed Gamble says on the association’s Web site.
Gamble recently announced, along with Florida Baptist Convention Executive Director John Sullivan, the first-ever statewide summit to explore the potential of Christian schools as a tool to help Southern Baptist churches reach the lost and disciple children and their parents.
The summit, scheduled May 11 at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., features professional golfer Lee Janzen, a supporter of Christian schooling.
Graham’s Dallas-area church sponsors a 1,000-plus student Christian academy. The SBC president endorsed the convention’s Christian-schools initiative in remarks to the SBC Executive Committee in September 2002.
“It is time that Southern Baptist churches and associations look more seriously at establishing Kingdom schools,” Graham told SBC leaders, according to a transcript published in the denominational newspaper SBC Life.
“Now, I might not have said that five years ago,” Graham confessed. “My attitude a few years ago was that if someone else wanted to have a Christian school, then God bless them. But now I believe that it is time we look at equipping not only these young leaders, preachers, teachers and missionaries in our seminaries and the various Baptist colleges across the states, but that we look more seriously at starting at the earliest years in developing disciples and empowering Kingdom growth through education.”
Shortt said he has run across many churches where pastors are home schooling their children while 80 percent of the congregation’s members send their kids to public schools. He said pastors avoid speaking out on the topic because it is controversial and they fear losing members, or reduced giving, or even losing their jobs.
“It puts people in an awkward situation, at least from a worldly point of view,” Shortt said. “But we have this old hymn, ‘Stand Up for Jesus.’ It’s time to stand up.”
Shortt said many parents have been “spiritually blind” not only to their responsibility to see to their children’s education but also to the dangers of turning that task over to “government” schools.
Baptists who object that Christians shouldn’t “turn their back” on public education fall prey to “a mistaken application of a valid theology,” Shortt said, of being “salt and light.”
While Jesus sent his disciples into the world, Shortt said, they were adults and spiritually prepared. While he has no problem with adults who want to teach in public schools to bring a Christian witness to bear, Shortt said, youth are not ready for such a responsibility.
“We are sending our children to do adult work,” he lamented, during a time when youth need to be “putting on the armor of God.” He said studies show that Christian youth are more likely to draw away from the church as a result of secular education than to successfully win people to Christ.
Some people say a massive withdrawal from public schools is impractical because of the cost involved.
Shortt said it is a challenge to persuade some Christians of the need to “restructure their lives” for the good of their children.
“Yes, you may save tuition cost,” he said. “You may be able to have the better lifestyle by having both parents work. But there’s going to come a time when suddenly you’re going to be confronted with tremendous problems. It may be drugs. It may be divorce. It may be a number of things. How many Christian parents find themselves raising their grandchildren? How many are suffering heartache because their children left home at 18 and a few years later are having serious problems?
“That’s the real cost. That’s the cost we ought to focus on.”
But Shortt said parents shouldn’t be forced to go it alone. Churches, he said, need to do far more in developing educational alternatives.
Shortt said some people mistakenly assume their only choices are home-schooling, paying for a private school or sending their children to public schools. In reality, he said, “there’s something of a continuum” of programs that allow parents to use a group school one or two days a week and then supplement it with home schooling.
Shortt said both he and his wife have jobs outside the home. He home-schools his children, ages 7, 8, and 19 months, at night. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. “I really know my boys.”
Shortt said some Christians buy into “fallacies” that public schools can be reformed or that despite problems in education, their own schools are OK. They are wrong, he said, because decisions limiting what can be done to instill Christian values are set not by local communities but by state and federal laws and courts.
Shortt uses the term “government” schools instead of “public,” because, “They really don’t belong to the public. They belong to the government. The government controls them.”
“They’re publicly funded schools,” he said, “but they’re not public schools.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.