Baptists debate public-school education
By Dan L. White
HARTVILLE, Mo.--In 1997 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution officially encouraging homeschooling.
In 1999 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution officially encouraging Christian schooling.
In 2004 the Southern Baptist Convention debated a resolution calling on all members of the denomination to pull their children out of American public schools.
These Southern Baptists have taken what are seen to be strong Christian positions before, such as when they officially endorsed the proposal that God wants wives to be submissive to their husbands. The Rather-Jennings-Brokaw media criticized the Baptists for such a "controversial" position.
The Southern Baptists are the second-largest Christian denomination in the United States, less than half the size of the Roman Catholics. The Catholics have had a parochial school system in place since the missionaries first went to the Indians. The Baptists, however, have never had an official church education program. When they endorsed homeschooling in 1997, and then Christian education in general in 1999, that simply indicated they were not opposing what many were already doing. That was more of a passive position, encouraging Christian education but opposing nothing.
They were favorable toward a Christian education but were not on record as being opposed to the anti-Christian education of the government schools.
The 2004 anti-public-school resolution encouraged Baptists not just to favor Christian education but to withdraw from and not support anti-Christian public education. The resolution included the following statements:
"Just as it would be foolish for a warrior to give his arrows to his enemies, it is foolish for Christians to give their children to be trained in schools run by the enemies of God . . . The public schools claim to be neutral in areas of religion and morality, maintain the resolution's sponsors, but the result is that they are godless and oppose Christianity . . .
At the Baptists' convention, a total of six education resolutions were considered by the Resolutions Committee, including the resolution against the public schools. The committee chose not to refer any of these resolutions to the floor of the convention for open debate. Instead its members sent out a generic measure that included a warning against "the cultural drift in our nation."
When this resolution was being considered on the convention floor, one of the anti-public-school resolution's sponsors, T.C. Pinckney, tried to have his original resolution included in the generic measure as an amendment.
This amendment stirred some lively debate, and a general vote by show of hands was taken. Another sponsor of the original bill, Bruce Shortt, estimated that 70 percent of the 5,000 Baptist delegates voted against the amendment, which is to say they voted against pulling out of the public schools.
To rock or not rock the boat
Mr. Shortt indicated that the president of the Southern Baptist Convention and other high officials put "tremendous pressure" on the Resolutions Committee not to put the issue before the whole convention. Surprisingly, Mr. Shortt concluded that,
"if the leadership had reported it out favorably, it would have passed. With them being adamantly opposed, it is very hard to pass any sort of resolution."
The reason given by the chairman of the Resolution Committee for not opposing the public schools is that it is parents who must decide how to school their children, and a church should be careful "not to usurp the authority that God has placed firmly in the home."
Mr. Shortt said that "a lot of these pastors are worried about church mortgages and jobs." A vote against the public schools could have alienated many church members.
Many thousands of churchgoing Baptists work as superintendents, teachers, coaches, counselors and staffers in public schools. In fact, many of the Baptist pastors' wives work for the public schools, bringing in a second paycheck.
Some maintain that in working for the public schools they are presenting a Christian witness to the other side while being paid by the other side.
Mr. Shortt said for Southern Baptists the public schools are "almost viewed as a sacred institution."
Although there are no definite figures on this, most Southern Baptist families still send their children to public schools.
Baptists could collapse schools
Again, money is a big concern. Pulling children out of public schools, where the government pays the price, and choosing Christian education, where the parent pays the price, deeply involves not just matters of the heart but matters of the wallet.
What would happen if the Southern Baptists did encourage their denomination to pull out of the public schools and if their members actually did so?
The public-school system would probably collapse, says one of the resolution's sponsors. He goes on: "I think that would be one of the finest things that can happen for the United States."
What about us?
The Sabbatarian Churches of God have historically been strong supporters of the government schools. As an example, the United Church of God ran an article in its member newspaper last fall about how to fit in the public schools, and the UCG paper includes a constant stream of short inserts about how well a certain superintendent or teacher or student has done in the government schools.
All of this gives implicit approval and encouragement of the church for the public schools, and all the COGs seem to follow the same policy. They do not actively oppose Christian education and they do not actively oppose anti-Christian education.
However, at the same time they spend much press--with repeated articles--discussing how dangerous and sinful conditions are in the public schools. They stand against the sin in the government schools, but they do not oppose the sinful schools themselves.
Some time ago Ron Dart of Christian Educational Ministries gave a strong sermon against public schools. In his stir-to-action conclusion, he urged his listeners to do something but never said specifically what to do.
One would assume that, since he was against the public schools, and since he urged parents to do something, that something would have to be withdrawing from public schools.
Christians vs. the left
The Southern Baptists plan on bringing the antiÐChristian-education issue up before their state conventions. Mr. Shortt says that, "in time, most are going to understand better that the little red schoolhouse has really become the little white sepulcher, and it's a seething cauldron of spiritual, moral and academic pathologies."
With this discussion, Baptists have brought this issue up for general discussion in the country. In the debate over whether Christians should support anti-Christian education, the left wing will be adamant that Christians should support the public schools.
Leftists have used two main channels to change the country over the last half century: the mass media and the education system. They don't want to lose their hold over the educating of America's children that Christians have allowed them to have.
It will be interesting to see which side each Church of God takes in this life-changing, nation-shaping and church-membership-affecting debate.
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