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Public Schools as National Treasure, Not Enemies of God

Will the Southern Baptist Convention speak well of America’s public schools next week in its annual meeting?

Meeting in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Indianapolis, the SBC’s resolutions committee will consider two resolutions. One urges Southern Baptists “to remove their children from the government schools,” which it asserts are “officially Godless.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
The resolution states that “it is foolish for Christians to give their children to be trained in schools run by the enemies of God.”
 
Written in reaction to the first, the second resolution affirms public education in the context of Christian missions.
 
Neither resolution, however, speaks for the inherent value of public schools. Both see public schools as mission fields—places where Christians are needed as missionaries to witness to pagans.
 
The reactionary resolution says that “the Great Commission teaches us that we are to GO” into the world, in order to “be effective agents of change in a lost and dying world.”
 
The anti-school statement says, “This resolution should not be construed to discourage adult believers who labor as missionaries to unbelieving colleagues and students; rather, they should be commended and encouraged to be salt and light in a dark and decaying government school system.”
 
Like these two resolutions, SBC leaders refuse to speak for the intrinsic worth of public schools. Instead, they suggest that the anti-public resolution will probably not be passed in its current form, perhaps fearing a financial backlash from Baptist schoolteachers and parents if such a statement is officially endorsed.
 
Both resolutions and SBC leaders lack a discerning theology about human organizations, which recognizes the corruption of all of institutions, as well as their inherent goodness.
 
Public schools are not perfect. But they are neither completely immoral, as the anti-public school resolution asserts with its “enemies of God” language, nor pagan mission fields.
 
Public schools deserve unqualified praise and gratitude from Southern Baptists. Public schools educate poor children, helping them escape from poverty and become productive members of society. Public schools teach children how to be civil participants in the world’s most diverse society and greatest democracy. Public schools produce presidents, scholars, entrepreneurs and leaders in every conceivable profession. Public schools pull communities together around common problems and uncommon hopes.
 
Public schools are one of America’s most treasured resources.
 
If the SBC’s fundamentalist leaders cannot speak well of public schools for their inherent educational, social and cultural value, then they need to be honest with rank-and-file church members, who support public education. The leaders need to state publicly their anti-public school agenda.
 
Their rhetorical rope-a-dope is as morally dishonest as their false witness against public education.
 
Regardless what the SBC does, the rest of the Baptist world needs to offer words of praise and gratitude for our schools
 
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Nashville-based BaptistCenter for Ethics and executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.