Imagine a school where a religious holy book is the primary textbook, modern science is seen as suspect, males are separated from females, unbelievers are the enemy, and 21st century culture is viewed with hostility. If you think this sounds like a fundamentalist Islamic madrasa, think again. This might be the future of kindergarten through 12th-grade education if some Southern Baptists have their way.
Morris Chapman, CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention, has added his voice to those proposing that Southern Baptists withdraw from public schools. In an April edition of the Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma, Chapman wrote, “In far too many public schools throughout the country, our children are being bombarded with secular reasoning, situational ethics and moral erosion.”
Chapman believes SBC churches could found “at least one Christian school in every association.” An association is a group of churches in a small geographical region, such as a city or county. Southern Baptists have approximately 1,200 local associations spread across all 50 states.
Chapman is the latest but not the only well-known Southern Baptist leader calling for the abandonment of public education. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler wrote in 2005, “I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools.”
In that same year, the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting rejected resolutions by Bruce Shortt and T.C. Pinckney, the leaders of the public school exit movement. But things may be different when the Southern Baptist Convention meets in Louisville, Ky., on June 23-24. Shortt, joined by E. Ray Moore, plans to submit a public school exit resolution veiled as support of Morris Chapman’s article. The resolution, posted on ExodusMandate.org, praises Chapman and quotes from his article:
“Whereas, in recent weeks Dr. Morris Chapman, Executive Director of the Southern Baptist Convention, has observed that in far too many public schools throughout the country our children are being bombarded with secular reasoning, situational ethics and moral erosion;”
This paragraph leads to several more “whereas” paragraphs, finally stating the resolution’s purpose, which is camouflaged as recognition of Chapman:
“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention commends Dr. Chapman for his courage and vision;”
However, in the three concluding paragraphs, the resolution calls for “Southern Baptist churches, agencies, associations and other organizations to investigate innovative methods of providing Christian education.” That’s a euphemism for exiting from public schools.
Further, the resolution “encourages all Southern Baptist agencies to communicate repeatedly (italics in the original) with parents and pastors concerning the Christian educational alternatives that are available.” And, finally, the resolution provides specific examples of those alternatives to public education, including Christian schools, home schooling and “University Model Schools and Christian One Room Schoolhouses.”
All of this might sound like meaningless posturing, but resolutions have been repeatedly presented to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting by Shortt, Pinckney and Moore since 2004. Prior to those resolutions, Southern Baptists had routinely supported public education.
A 1979 resolution stated, “Southern Baptists historically have been strong supporters of public education.” However, as the “conservative resurgence” of the 1980s and 1990s made gains in SBC leadership, resolutions concerning public education became more narrowly focused. A 1991 resolution called for “parental choice” in education. A 1994 resolution condemned “outcome-based” educational models. Parental choice was featured again in 1996. Home schooling was praised in a 1997 vote. In 2005 parents were urged to hold schools accountable for their “moral influence” on children, calling them “to make prayerful and informed decisions regarding where and how they educate their children.” The groundwork has been carefully laid for this year’s convention vote.
As the SBC has moved steadily to the right in its critique of public education, Shortt, Pinckney and Moore have led the way. Moore’s web site, ExodusMandate.org, features articles calling the public education system “Pharaoh’s school system (i.e., government schools).” Shortt and Moore characterize public education as “Marxist,” “leftist,” “humanist” and “pagan and godless.”
In their overreaching video titled “The Call To Dunkirk,” Moore and Shortt compare the World War II rescue of Allied soldiers at Dunkirk by civilians to the rescue of today’s children from “pagan, godless schools.” The video features footage of Dunkirk, followed by extended footage of Hitler, Nazi rallies and Hitler youth. Additional footage of students running from Columbine High School during the tragic shooting is also cut into the ominous voice-over by Moore and Shortt about “government schools.” Over and over, the words “leftist,” “Marxist,” “godless,” “pagan” and other pejorative terms are used to describe public education.
An outside observer might consider Shortt, Moore and Pinckney to be fringe extremists, but Pinckney served as second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2001 and has led the fight within the convention to get an official SBC public school exit strategy approved.
The Southern Baptist Convention continues to move further to the right as its new member and baptismal statistics decline. Apparently, SBC leaders, such as Chapman and Mohler, are determined to complete their “conservative resurgence” agenda before their tenures end, even if it means jeopardizing the future of the SBC and America’s children.
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.