Not long ago a resolution made its way to the public forum from a couple of conservative Southern Baptists urging members of Southern Baptist churches to withdraw their children from public schools.
As I kept watch on the news headlines, I expected that someone, somewhere, would propose a resolution to the contrary, reminding believers of their commission by Christ to be both salt and light in the world.
None was forthcoming, to my amazement. Surely, I reasoned, this proposal is not the view of so many Baptists that I am the only one who disagrees with its presuppositions. Still no counter-proposal was forthcoming.
So, I fired up my computer, turned on my word processor, and submitted the following resolution to the appropriate committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Resolution: Southern Baptists and the Public Schools
WHEREAS: Southern Baptists are devoted to missions and the call of Christ to be Salt and Light in a world desperately in need of both, and
WHEREAS: Southern Baptists are committed to sharing the Gospel in the world, and
WHEREAS: Southern Baptists take seriously the Great Commission and its requirement that we go into ALL the WORLD-
BE IT RESOLVED: that Southern Baptists affirm the American Public Education system and encourage its members to participate actively in the life of society so that they may indeed perform the dual functions of Salt and Light. We also affirm the hundreds of thousands of Christian men and women who teach in our public schools and we encourage our youngsters to seriously consider the teaching profession as a possibility that in it they may well be answering the call of God.
WE UNDERSTAND: that if Christians are to share the Gospel they are required to live in the World while not being of the World.
WE UNDERSTAND: that the Great Commission teaches us that we are to GO, not to wait for the World to come to us.
WE UNDERSTAND: that only in sharing the Gospel in daily life, as citizens who pray, worship and minister, can we be effective agents of change in a lost and dying world; which means we are not allowed to retreat behind the four walls of the Church and ignore human society.
My purpose in this resolution proposal is relatively self evident, I think.
Southern Baptists have, historically, been a mission-minded people. Our greatest moments have been those times when we have set aside our minor theological and political differences and pooled our resources and prayers in order to share the gospel with all the world.
It seems apparent to me that the public schools are part of the world to which we are sent: both as teachers, administrators and staff personnel as well as Christian young people and teens. If we adopt a resolution and follow through with withdrawing our young Christian witnesses from public schools, what witness will fill the void?
Instead of fearing the influence that the world may have on our young, we should be more concerned about the positive influence our young can have on their peers. Christians are called on to go into the world, not withdraw from it.
There is, simply put, no theological or biblical warrant for withdrawing from society in the way the Pinkney/Shortt resolution recommends.
Not wishing to be uncharitable, but perhaps if the framers of the “anti-public school” resolution were trained theologians or scholars of the Bible they would themselves realize that their resolution rests on no sound biblical or theological foundation. A lawyer and an ex-general can hardly be expected to appreciate the biblical and theological seriousness of what they suggest or the damage potential of such an action.
Further, the Shortt/ Pinckney resolution seems to be based on the false notion that somehow or other Christian schools are insulated from the problems which children and teens face in public schools. This is, of course, an ill founded and untrue supposition, and I reject out of hand this false notion.
Christian schools have the same problems that public schools do with illicit sexual behavior, drugs and alcohol. I can name two young people right away who attend Christian schools and are in more trouble there than they were in public school.
Children need Christian parents first of all and foremost. We cannot surrender, even to Christian schools, our primary task as parents to “raise up our children in the way they should go.” If our children do not learn faith first at home, no school can fill the gap.
One of the most brilliant of the Reformers was Huldrych Zwingli, who had himself occasion to address a situation similar to the one which is presented to us.
Some in Zwingli’s day wished to withdraw from society, to remain segregated from the world, and to imagine that such segregation granted them greater spirituality and security.
Of them Zwingli remarked, “Those who are endowed with the Spirit do not despise sinners or separate from them, but they call them from their evil and join them to themselves.” Further, “Christ taught publicly, whereas the schismatics separate themselves from the churches and teach in corners or in the woods.”
Zwingli made it clear, as I have also attempted to do in my proposal, that Christians are called to serve, not to be served. One cannot serve if one does not associate with those who need to be served.
Christians who hide from the world cannot minister and hence cannot fulfill their Christian responsibility. It is my hope that Southern Baptists will take with utter seriousness the call of Christ to go into all the world.
That, of course, includes public schools.
Jim West is pastor of First Baptist Church in Petros, Tenn. He is proposing a pro-public education resolution to next week’s Southern Baptist Convention in response to a resolution submitted earlier calling on Southern Baptists to withdraw their children from public schools. (See related column above.)