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Southern Baptists Retreat From Bold Mission Thrust

As Southern Baptists gather in Indianapolis in a couple of weeks for their annual convention, one item of business will be a resolution which launches a full scale assault on public education.

Written by T.C. Pinckney, a former second vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Houston lawyer Bruce Shortt, the resolution calls on Southern Baptists parents to “remove their children from the government schools and see to it that they receive a thoroughly Christian education.”
Throughout the resolution the phrase “government schools” is used in place of the more common “public schools.” The reason should be obvious. It’s an old propagandist trick. Calling schools “public” makes them sound benign like a “public park.” But government-run schools sounds ominous. It strikes an Orwellian note of some tangled conspiracy designed to lure children into the dark clutches of paganism or humanism, and so on.
But the whole notion is absurd. These are not government schools run by some central federal agency. For the most part public schools are local schools, run by state, county, and in some instances city school boards with officials elected from local communities. Most public schools reflect local values because they are staffed by local people—many of them Christians!
Where local control is trumped, of course, is in matters of race and religion. The end of segregation began much of the animosity directed towards public schools. This was followed by federal court cases challenging teacher led school prayer and Bible reading. The ongoing battle with science, mainly the teaching of evolution, completes the triple threat which has left some believers feeling that public schools are, in the words of the resolution, “Godless.”
It begs the question I guess, but how does withdrawing Christian influence from local schools make them less Godless? Pinckney and Shorrt believe that without daily prayer and Bible reading there is no Christian influence. But is that really true?
Doesn’t it count that believing teachers pray for their children everyday? It doesn’t matter whether the children hear the prayer, as long as God hears it—at least that’s what Jesus said.
Doesn’t it count when teachers act in a Christian manner towards their children and other teachers? Does it only have an effect if the teacher is wearing a button that says, “Ask me about my Savior?” Jesus said one time that we would be known by our love, not by our advertising.
The resolution proposed by Pinckney and Shortt seems an act of desperation. It seems to suggest that since Southern Baptists are no longer able to command the respect of culture with reminders that they are the “largest Protestant denomination in the world,” they will simply take their spiritual toys and go home. Unfortunately, as they take their toys and leave, they take their positive influence with them. Remember what Jesus said about salt that loses its saltiness?
Just 25 years ago Southern Baptists adopted a program called “Bold Mission Thrust.” The plan was to preach the Gospel in every corner of the world. It was, they concluded, part of God’s divine commission for Christians everywhere. Surely our own local schools can be seen as part of that divine mission. Surely the presence of Christians in public education, both as educators and parents has an obvious positive effect.
“But they won’t let us preach and pray,” Pinckney and Shorrt tell us.
In that case we must follow the wisdom of St. Francis. “Preach the Gospel always,” he said, “and if necessary, use words.”
On June 6 James L. Evans will become pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn, Ala. He can be reached at faithmatters@mindspring.com.