Missing from criticism about the final report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, intended to reorganize the stagnant Southern Baptist Convention, is concern about the statement’s anti-public school agenda.
Almost every critic of the report looks at issues of reorganization and money.
“I adamantly oppose the recommendations of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force,” wrote Larry Lewis, former president of what is now the North American Mission Board, claiming it would “greatly diminish” the denomination’s funding program and “could unravel the Southern Baptist Convention from top to bottom.”
An Alabama Baptist Convention official said the proposal “would devastate us.”
The SBC’s chief executive, Morris Chapman, expressed “grave concerns” about what the recommendation would do to giving.
The North Carolina Baptist state newspaper editor saw a “disconnect between what the task force wants to see and what Southern Baptists are already doing.”
The Alabama Baptist state newspaper editor didn’t like the proposal to cut the budget of one agency to transfer the funds to another agency.
Amid all the nitpicking about funding and organizational program assignments is a remarkable silence among the critics about the report’s advocacy of Christian academies and home schooling. They apparently see no problem with pushing the agenda of the anti-public school crowd.
The task force sees private religious education as the primary moral and social concern of the denomination.
No other moral or social issue receives the depth of attention in this document as does private religious education. Institutional racism, chronic poverty/world hunger, gambling, alcohol/substance abuse and the denominational hardwiring to the Republican Party are ignored. Abortion and homosexuality are bypassed. The report does mention in a list of sins “racism,” “bigotry” and “other sins of the flesh.” Yet aside from these generic words, no other moral or social issue gets such explicit consideration.
The report challenges local churches and pastors: “Enter, if possible, the world of private Christian schooling and Christian homeschooling to provide a Christian alternative for the education of children, especially in areas hostile to the Christian worldview.”
Advocacy of Christian academies and home schooling is not surprising given the makeup of the committee.
The task force chairman, Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., has a Christian school attached to his church. The same is true for other committee members: Al Gilbert at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Ruben Hernandez at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas; and Kathy Litton (pastor’s wife) at First Baptist Church in North Mobile, Ala.
Task force member Al Mohler wrote in June 2005 about the need for Southern Baptists to have “an exit strategy” from public schools. He wrote, “Forces opposed to what Southern Baptist churches and families believe dominate the public school arena.” He claimed that “government schools now serve as engines for secularizing and radicalizing children.”
The president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary concluded: “I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools.”
Even when the report acknowledged the role of Christians employed by the public schools, it did so with a peculiar negativity. It identified “the many faithful Christians serving in the public school systems” as having a “calling” and “a missional assignment.” In other words, public school employees are missionaries in a pagan mission field.
The challenge to individual families underscored that parents had “the primary responsibility of educating their children.” While few Christians would deny the parental responsibility, such language is the boilerplate argument of the anti-public school forces.
In another section, the report challenged LifeWay to “strengthen ministries directed to the support of Christian schools and homeschooling families.”
The GCRTF push for Christian academies and home schooling is a push against public schools. It furthers the cause of the anti-public school forces who want the SBC to withdraw from America’s public education system.
One is hard pressed to understand how a cultural retreat from the public square is a growth strategy for a denomination that baptized fewer people in 2008 than it did in 1950 despite having 17,000 more churches. Moreover, do the GCRTF leaders really think that public education employees in Baptist churches are going to give sacrificially when they realize the SBC’s anti-public school direction?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.