A Southern Baptist seminary president told a North Carolina newspaper that public schools are not neutral toward religion but rather hostile to people of faith.
“In the public schools, you don’t just have neutrality, you have hostility toward organized religion,” said Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />WakeForest, as quoted by the Raleigh News & Observer. “A lot of parents are fed up.” <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Yesterday and today the Southern Baptist Convention seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., is sponsoring a Christian School 101 workshop to train church leaders to open private schools.
The long-term aim of the workshop, launched in 2006 at the former church of past SBC President Jim Henry, is for Southern Baptists to build a new alternative education system of church-based Christian schools to compete with the government-run education system.
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina helped promote the conference, mailing out materials and posting a press release about it on the convention Web site. In it, one of the conference speakers, S.L. Sherrill, founder and superintendent of NorthRaleighChristianAcademy, gives his views on why pastors should attend the Christian School 101 workshop.
“A lot of pastors are afraid that a seminar like this is about getting your kids out of public school,” Sherrill said. “What we’re trying to do is show the value of Kingdom Education. It is not about pulling the kids out of the public school. It’s about showing pastors the value of Kingdom Education, so they can share that with parents and give these parents the opportunity of a choice.”
But the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, the group offering the program, makes it clear that if thousands of Baptist school were to open across the country, then “schooling that has been used to secularize our nation and its children could be used to give them a sacred education instead.”
SBACS says children from ages 5 to 18 spend 16,000 hours in school, compared to about 1,600 hours in church. They view that as a main reason that studies show that 88 percent of children leave the church within four years of high school graduation.
The solution, the group says, is for Southern Baptists and other Christians to get involved in a movement to return God to the classroom by starting Christian schools.
Southeastern Seminary already offers a master’s degree in Christian school administration. Its purpose, according to the seminary catalogue “is to equip God-called men and women for leadership in Christian schools.”
“Are we going to be satisfied with the thousands of hours children spend in an environment with the absence of support for what we hold dear, and in many cases, hostility to it?” Ken Coley, a professor at Southeastern who runs the program, asked the News & Observer.
Southeastern isn’t the only SBC seminary encouraging alternatives to public schools. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., wrote a column two years ago saying the time had come for responsible Christian parents to develop an “exit strategy” from public schools.
Mohler revisited the issue as recently as Aug. 3, when he chided churches on his daily radio program for not doing enough to help parents make informed choices about their children’s education.
“At the very minimum an evangelical church should be a place that calls parents together in order to say, ‘Where should we educate our children? How should we make those decisions? How can we support each other in making the right decision for our children?'” Mohler said.
“At the next level I hope churches will think about sponsoring Christian schools.”
SBC President Frank Page has said he agrees that Christian students are under attack for their beliefs in many public schools today, and he hopes more churches will begin offering Christian schools. But Page, who says two of his three daughters graduated from Christian schools, believes it is up to parents, and not the denomination, to decide where their children should be educated.
While not all Southern Baptists agree it is time to give up on public schools, at least one Baptist state paper editor believes such a consensus is building. In a special edition of the Southern Baptist Texan handed out free of charge to messengers who attended the 2007 SBC annual meeting in San Antonio, Gary Ledbetter wrote an editorial about people calling for an exodus from public schools titled “Almost They Persuadeth Me.”
“Consensus or not, public schools lose a little ground with Christian parents every year,” Ledbetter wrote. “There is little sign of reform and less movement toward parental control of the institution. It deserves to lose ground with us.”
“Every year, my enthusiasm for government-supervised education is harder to maintain,” Ledbetter wrote. “I fully expect it will be worse next year than it is this year. I also expect whatever problems it takes to push your buttons will eventually do so–in your town or the town of your grandchildren.”
Ledbetter said churches need to be ready with alternatives when large numbers of parents decide that enough is enough.
“When I think of the Exodus story I can’t help but see Charlton Heston leading a cast of thousands out of a movie-set Egypt,” Ledbetter said. “One day there are millions of the Hebrew children in Egypt and a few days later, not one. The removal of Christian families from public schools will not be that way.
“Think instead of an oppressed minority leaving a repressive political regime. A few get out early, others need a more urgent threat, others escape through some kind of underground rescue movement, dogs baying in the background. Some will stay too long. I’m convinced that we’ll leave, not as a denomination or as churches or even as a faith, but as refugees whose alarms go off according to different sensitivities. Eventually we’ll all leave public education or wish we had.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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See our special resource section on Christians and public education.