Editor’s note: Due to interest in a Christian Education Resolution being proposed to next week’s Southern Baptist Convention, EthicsDaily.com invited one of the resolution’s sponsors, Houston attorney Bruce Shortt, to write a column explaining his call for Southern Baptists to remove their children from public schools.
Few subjects touch our hearts as parents so deeply as the education of our children. Gen. Pinckney and I knew from the outset that encouraging Baptists to rescue their children from government schools would be controversial. We haven’t been disappointed. Not surprisingly, some objections and misconceptions regarding the Christian Education resolution have arisen in media coverage that I would like to address.
Misconception: “The resolution condemns Christians who work in public schools.”
Reality: No! The resolution expressly encourages and commends Christian adults who work in government schools for being salt and light in a dark and decaying system. Anyone familiar with the anti-Christian climate within government schools knows that Christian educators bear a special burden because of their faith.
Objection: “We should not remove our children from public schools because they serve there as salt and light.”
Reality: One critic has suggested that our resolution makes about much sense as withdrawing our missionaries from China because they are surrounded by darkness. I would reply, tongue-in-cheek, that I was unaware that our International Mission Board standards allow “missionaries” into the field who still need help cutting their meat and dressing themselves in the morning.
Although the resolution supports “salt and light” theology properly applied to adult Christians working within the public education system,Christ was not speaking to 5-year-olds, 10-year-olds, or 15-year-olds when he gave the Great Commission. Christian adults bear this responsibility, not their children. Nowhere in the Old or New Testament is it remotely suggested that Jews or Christians are permitted to have their children educated in a pagan institution. In fact, the Bible is quite clear that children require nurturing, training, and, yes, even being “set apart for a season.” In other words, childhood is a time of discipling.
This is not to say that Christian children cannot be “salt and light” in the sense of setting a Christian example in a manner consistent with their still-developing level of maturity. They can visit the elderly in nursing homes; they can involve themselves in community projects; and they can participate in a host of other constructive activities in which they display the Christian character that they are developing. But our children must be given a chance to develop–to grow and be polished. Otherwise, they are likely to fall away.
For anyone who cares to look, there is a great deal of evidence that government schools are converting our children to alien creeds and infusing them with false and destructive values. It should come as no surprise that some humanists regard the destruction of a child’s Christian beliefs as what government schools do best. As Paul Blanchard, a well known secular humanist, once observed: “Our schools may not teach Johnny to read properly, but the fact that Johnny is in school until he is 16 tends to lean toward the elimination of religious superstition.”
For years the Nehemiah Institute has been conducting worldview surveys of thousands of children from evangelical homes. Not surprisingly, the survey results indicate that Christian children in government schools develop a secular humanist worldview, children attending Christian worldview schools develop a biblical worldview and children attending traditional Christian schools fall somewhere in between. In fact, the Nehemiah Institute’s surveys show that only 15 percent of children from evangelical homes in the public-education system expressed a strong disagreement with moral relativism as compared to 75 percent of the children educated in Christian schools. This is the fruit of our disobedience in the education of our children.
Misconception: “This resolution advocates withdrawal from the culture!”
Reality: Wrong! On the contrary, sending our children to government schools is a pre-emptive surrender in the culture wars. The evidence clearly indicates that children educated in government schools overwhelmingly end up being both “in the world” and “of the world.” By rescuing our children and providing them with a solid Christian education we would instead finally join the battle by declaring that the world’s values and beliefs are not ours. Moreover, we can provide no better witness to others than by showing those outside the church our commitment to our faith and children.
Objection: “These people expect instant change!”
Reality: Not at all. We fully recognize that no major change in education can take place overnight. Nevertheless, it is important to declare a biblical standard in education and set a goal. The resolution does just that. If we fail to do this, the needed changes will almost certainly not occur.
Smear: “The resolution is racist.”
Reality: Those who resort to this smear are liberals stuck in a 1960s time warp. It is one way they attempt to silence anyone whose ideas they don’t like. The fact is that homeschooling is probably growing faster among blacks than any other demographic group. Moreover, 70 percent of blacks under 50 years of age and 73 percent of Hispanic adults support vouchers and other funding mechanisms that would allow their children to escape Pharaoh’s schools. The so-called liberals who try to pass themselves off as the friends of the downtrodden need to put their Nehru jackets, tie-dye shirts and bell bottoms in the closet and join the rest of us in 2004.
At the SBC’s 2002 annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life reported, among other disturbing things, that 88 percent of the children raised in evangelical homes leave church by the time they are 18. Barna Research reports that only 9 percent of born-again teens believe that there are any moral absolutes, and more than half believe that Jesus sinned while he was on earth. This is the fruit of giving our children over to government schools.
Besides the spiritual and moral peril in which we place our children when we send them to government schools, we place them in academic peril. The Department of Education has found, for example, that 68 percent of fourth graders cannot read proficiently, and over half of minority fourth graders can’t read at a basic level.The Third International Mathematics and Science Survey found that American students scored at or near the bottom in math and science in comparison with students from other industrialized countries. Moreover, the survey indicated that the longer our students are in government schools, the worse they do in relation to their international peers. So, perhaps you shouldn’t be surprised that the CEO of Intel recently stated that government schools are a major threat to our economy.
If we fail to rescue our children from government schools, we face a future in which a majority of our children may only be prepared to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” You should consider what our churches will be like when a majority of the congregants don’t read well enough to read and understand the Bible.
As the SBC considers the resolution one thing is clear: the discussion cannot be conducted in a fact-free atmosphere of sloganeering born of nostalgia, wishful thinking and antipathy, because the decision regarding how we educate our children is not consequence-free.
Bruce Shortt, a Houston attorney, is Texas coordinator of Exodus Mandate, a group calling for a network of private Christian schools to replace public education.