While the Southern Baptist Convention is not yet ready to endorse a mass exodus from public schools, the day will come when most Southern Baptist children are educated at home or in church-run schools, says a Christian education leader.
Ed Gamble, executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, told the Associated Press he was not surprised to see anti-public school resolutions fail at the SBC this summer and in several state conventions this fall.
“Historically, Baptists have been pretty staunch supporters of the public school system, and they still are,” Gamble said. “But this is a bottom-up movement, as it is a bottom-up denomination. This is not a movement that is being led so much by pastors as it is being led by moms and dads who are frustrated.”
“And some day–I don’t know how long it will be–most of the kids will be educated in Southern Baptist schools or in their homes,” he predicted.
Gamble was among supporters of Christian education who nevertheless opposed this summer’s proposed resolution urging parents to remove their children from “government” schools. The resolution termed public schools “officially godless” and “anti-Christian” and urged parents to provide their children an “authentically Christian” education through either home schooling or private Christian schools.
“This is not mainstream,” Gamble said in May, noting, “The language parts of it are inflammatory.”
Yet Gamble shares some of the resolution’s concerns about secularization and acceptance of alternative lifestyles, which are prompting increasing numbers of parents to remove their children from public schools.
“What has happened is not so much that the Christians are leaving the public schools as that the public schools have left the Christians,” Gamble told the AP. “As the public schools have become increasingly secular and increasingly intolerant of things Christian, people who are openly Christian have said, ‘I guess they are not part of our team anymore.'”
At least 10 Baptist state conventions were expected to consider resolutions on Christian education this fall. Only one, the Missouri Baptist Convention, passed a statement warning of “the inherent dangers of secular educational philosophies” in public schools.
But Bruce Shortt, a co-author of the failed SBC resolution this summer, said he is less concerned with passing resolutions that prompting discussion. “So far we’ve been pretty successful in getting our few minutes in front of people at the convention to discuss these things,” Shortt recently told EthicsDaily.com.
“Despite the efforts of some elements of the SBC leadership to prevent an open discussion at our conventions about how we are educating our children, the message that we should not be rendering our children’s minds to Caesar’s public schools resonates strongly with parents and other laymen,” Shortt said Friday.
“The SBC’s leadership has shown vision and courage in many doctrinal areas, but now it is time to bring our practice in line with our doctrine,” he continued. “While the SBC can, of course, only warn parents about the danger of educating Christian children in our aggressively anti-Christian public school system, it should be sounding the alarm loudly, and now is not a minute too soon. No issue facing the church is more important than this, and the SBC should seize the opportunity to lead rather than worry about the complaints of those who have been co-opted by the public school system.”
One outcome of the discussion was formation of a new national organization for home-school parents similar to Gamble’s association of church-sponsored schools.
Elizabeth Watkins, co-founder of the Southern Baptist Church and Home Education Association said the debate over the education resolution made it obvious that Baptist homeschoolers did not have a voice with convention policy makers.
“No one asked us homeschoolers what our opinion of the resolution was,” Watkins, who lives in Allen, Texas, told the conservative news service World Net Daily.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.