An anti-public school resolution proposed to the Southern Baptist Convention is receiving early media attention thanks to a pre-convention publicity campaign.
One of the resolution’s two authors, Houston attorney Bruce Shortt, encouraged readers of the Exodus Mandate Web site to circulate copies of the resolution via e-mail lists, lobby for support among SBC leaders and distribute copies to Christian media and home-schooling and church-school organizations.
Shortt is a state coordinator for Exodus Mandate, an organization arguing that public education is fatally flawed and should be replaced by a network of church-run private schools and parents who educate their own children at home.
Shortt told EthicsDaily.com that he and fellow sponsor T.C. Pinckney had reached an estimated 1 million people in the first two days after releasing the resolution to the public, through interviews on Christian radio and with secular newspapers, plus the Internet.
And that was before a Thursday afternoon story by Associated Press, which has appeared in numerous papers and TV news broadcasts across the country.
The attention raised a question of whether the resolution will clear a committee for debate and vote at the convention’s annual meeting next month in Indianapolis. The resolution decries public schools as godless and “anti-Christian,” and urges Baptist parents to either home school or put their children in private Christian schools.
The SBC already promotes alternatives to public education by providing resources for home schooling and Christian schools through LifeWay Christian Resources and a Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools. A number of prominent SBC leaders send their children to private religious schools, and home schooling is in vogue on campuses of SBC seminaries.
The convention has previously passed resolutions affirming both Christian schools and home-schooling, but some view a call to abandon public schools outright as too extreme. Shortt and Pinckney both admit such a mass exodus could bring collapse to the nation’s public-school system.
“I don’t think we should give up on our public schools,” David Horton, conservative president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, told the Greensboro News and Record. Horton said he believes Christian schooling and home schooling are better alternatives to public education than ever before, but “the bottom line is parents are responsible for making those decisions.”
SBC president Jack Graham, whose Prestonwood Baptist Church in suburban Dallas sponsors a Christian academy, said he supports Christian education but doubts Southern Baptists will pass a resolution that calls for parents to pull their kids out of public schools.
The SBC Resolutions Committee isn’t saying how it plans to handle the resolution. John Revell, a spokesperson for the SBC Executive Committee, said it is against convention policy to discuss to possible resolutions in advance.
“The Southern Baptist Convention has more than 43,000 churches with more than 16.3 million members,” Revell clarified in a statement reported in the Charleston Post and Courier. “Any–or all–of those members could hypothetically submit a proposed resolution on any subject matter they choose. The resolutions committee prayerfully and carefully evaluates each proposal to determine if it is suitable for submission to the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Should the Resolutions Committee decide not to move the resolution forward, Pinckney said he or Shortt would likely appeal from the floor to have the measure debated by messengers. Such a motion would require a two-thirds vote. Pinckney said it is far from certain that the tactic would work, because convention crowds generally tend to trust the judgment of their leaders in such discussions.
Shortt said he is hopeful the resolution will pass, because of previous strong statements since the SBC’s “conservative resurgence” rescued the nation’s second-largest faith group from “liberalism.” Either way, though, he says the resolution ought to come to the floor in order to spark a discussion in churches and homes, which he believes are far behind the convention’s leadership in recognizing the pitfalls of public education.
Shortt says the Bible teaches that parents, and not the government, are responsible for instilling values in their children, and that Christian children in government schools are more likely to lose their faith than to evangelize others.
Leaders of Southern Baptist efforts to promote “Christian education” believe it is the wave of the future.
“The Christian school movement in our churches is going to take the denomination by storm in the next 10 to 15 years,” Ed Gamble, head of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, told theSouthern Baptist Texan newspaper. “By the end of that time it will be as unusual to find a church that is not sponsoring or supporting a Christian school and a home school network as it is today to find a church that does not have a Sunday school program.”
Nevertheless, some advocates of Christian education question Southern Baptist leaders’ commitment to the cause, since only about 600 of some 43,000 congregations counted by the denomination currently have a Christian school.
Ninety percent of the 50 million children in American grade schools attend government-run schools. About one child in 12 attends a religious school.Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.