The Southern Baptist Convention rejected on Wednesday a resolution calling for a mass exodus from public schools, adopting instead a more generic warning against “secularization” of culture.
Two Southern Baptist laymen earlier asked the convention’s resolutions committee to denounce “government” schools as “officially Godless” and “anti-Christian” and urge parents to either home-school their children or enroll them in private Christian schools.
About 8,500 messengers at the two-day convention in Indianapolis rejected an amendment offered by one of the original sponsors, T.C. Pinckney of Virginia, encouraging all Southern Baptists to provide their children with a “thoroughly Christian” education.
The resolutions committee chairman opposed Pinckney’s amendment, saying it is up to parents to decide whether home, public or private schools are best for their families.
“This is a responsibility God has given to the parent of each individual child, and we encourage parents to exercise that God-given responsibility for their children,” said Calvin Wittman, a pastor from Wheat Ridge, Colo., who chaired the resolutions committee. “We must be careful as a denomination to support the authority God has placed firmly in the home.”
The other sponsor, Bruce Shortt of Houston, pleaded with messengers not to conduct the discussion “in a fact-free environment,” citing statistics showing that 80 percent of Christian teenagers stop attending church soon after they turn 18. “I suggest the fruit of our government school habit is not only bad, it is rotten,” said Shortt, a state coordinator of a group called Exodus Mandate calling for Christian parents to remove their kids from public education.
A moderate Baptist ethicist said Southern Baptist leaders skirted the issue of the merits of public schools.
“The SBC refused to preach in Indianapolis what its leadership practices at home. SBC leaders demonize public schools at every turn and have taken their own children out of public schools. The denominational bureaucracy promotes home-schooling and religious academies. Yet the SBC declines to tell honestly its constituency, many of whom are public school teachers or parents, what they practice,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
“Fearing a financial backlash and public rejection, the SBC leadership engaged in moral rope-a-dope with a mealy-mouthed resolution which doesn’t even refer to public schools,” said Parham.
Another resolution adopted on the convention’s final day supported a federal marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It also commended President George W. Bush, who addressed the convention earlier via satellite, for stating his support of an amendment declaring marriage to be between a man and woman.
A resolution on Christian citizenship commended the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s new ivotevalues.com, a voter-registration and education program urging Christians to vote “biblical values” rather than party lines.
Other resolutions stated appreciation for the U.S. military, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the “conservative resurgence,” honored the memory of President Ronald Reagan and promoted LifeWay Christian Resources’ new Holman Christian Standard Bible translation.
While rejecting Pinckney and Shortt’s anti-public school resolution, the committee also declined a resolution by Jim West, pastor of First Baptist Church in Petros, Tenn., affirming the public-education system.
The convention-approved resolution on secularism says “America was founded upon principles derived from God’s word and expressed in Judeo-Christian values” and that “the cultural drift toward secularism obscures moral absolutes under the guise of tolerance.” It also said “some in our society seek to separate Christian expression from public life by misapplying the phrase ‘separation of church and state.'”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.