August 2004 – Despite the media attention garnered from a resolution urging Southern Baptists to “remove their children from the government schools,” messengers to the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) failed to back the controversial initiative. However, the convention’s lack of support did not blind evangelicals to concerns brought to the forefront by this proposed resolution.
According to AgapePress, in 2002 the SBC’s Council on Family Life reported that approximately 88% of evangelical children leave the church soon after high school graduation. Due to such a high percentage of loss in combination with other devastating factors, T. C. Pinckney, a retired Air Force brigadier general and former second-vice president of the SBC, and Bruce Shortt, a Texas attorney, decided it was past time to take action.
With the support of E. Ray Moore, founder of The Exodus Mandate Project (www.Exodusmandate.org), Shortt and Pinckney drafted the resolution to be submitted to the annual meeting of the SBC prior to its convening June 15-16, 2004, in Indianapolis, Indiana
As set forth by www.sbc.net, “A resolution has traditionally been defined as an expression of opinion or concern, as compared to a motion, which calls for action. A resolution is not used to direct an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention to specific action other than to communicate the opinion or concern expressed.”
In its final form, the resolution intended to bring all parents to the realization that educating their children is their personal Biblical responsibility.
“You cannot read the Bible and tell me with a straight face that God assigns responsibility for educating the children to the government. It just does not appear in the Bible,” Pinckney said.
The resolution also recognized government schools as “godless” and “anti-Christian” and proposed home schooling and “truly” Christian schooling as the only viable alternatives. However, the resolution did commend and encourage Christian teachers and administrators to be “salt and light” in a decaying system.
“It would be devastating to the [public] schools to remove Christian public school teachers and students,” said Jane Robertson, a former public school teacher and wife of a Southern Baptist preacher.
Robertson’s daughter, Danielle Eldridge, is also a pastor’s wife, former private Christian school teacher, and presently a public school teacher.
Eldridge knows from experience how beneficial it is to have Christian students in her classroom. She recalls one student who wanted to be either an astronaut or a preacher. He chose her public school classroom as his “congregation” and took what opportunities he could, usually holidays, to share with his classmates about Christ.
“He shared the whole plan of salvation,” Eldridge said. “It was exactly what I wanted shared in my classroom.”
Eldridge, like other Christian public school teachers, is restricted when it comes to sharing her faith in the classroom. However, she explained how holidays are just one way that Christian teachers can work with their Christian students when it comes to sharing the gospel in government schools.
“Holidays call for glimpses of Christianity. If it were not for Christian students in schools, then we wouldn’t see those.”
And without Christian students, there would be an absence of Christian parents who provide vital support for Christian teachers, as Eldridge knows from experience.
“It’s more challenging in public schools, for me personally. But I think it is good [sometimes] to surround yourself with non-Christians,” Eldridge explained, as a means of being salt and light to non-believing students and teachers.
The issue of being “salt and light” in a dying world is a significant argument surrounding the thought of removing evangelical children from the public school system.
“We don’t send our eight-year-olds off to war. The idea that some Christians have is that they’re going to send their Christian kids out to witness in the public schools, which is like sending the Christians out in the first, second, and third century to witness to the lions in the arena,” argued Dr. D. James Kennedy, senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, in an interview with American Family Radio (AFR).
“They’re in no way able to deal with adult teachers that eat them for lunch,” he said.
“If the United States gets into war where we have to draft soldiers, we do not draft soldiers one day and put them into combat the next. They’re not ready for it. They have not been trained,” Pinckney further explained.
“But it comes back to the fundamental point. We have an obligation to provide our children with a Christian education,” Shortt reiterated.
Still, many question the practicality of such a resolution since many parents are not able financially to provide their children with a Christian education.
While Pinckney sees Christian education as the only option, Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, rationalized the alternatives differently in a radio interview with AFR.
As a former public school teacher, counselor, and administrator, Dobson said he does not like being critical of the public schools “especially since many parents can’t afford to take their kids out and put them in private education.
“Private education is very expensive today, and furthermore, there are some circumstances in some states that are not so contradictory to the Judeo-Christian ethic and system of values where I might be willing to leave my kids there,” he explained.
While Dobson did not feel at liberty to comment specifically on the SBC resolution having not read it, he did say, “I do believe, under all circumstances, parents need to monitor everything being taught because the educational system, as a whole, is . . . failing our kids academically and morally.”
Therefore, Moore, who endorses only Christian education, said there are three warning signs Christian parents should look for as deterrants to placing their children in public schools: secular curriculum, non-Christian teachers and peer pressure.
In addition to being aware of negative factors in government schools, supporters of the resolution also point out the significance of distinguishing between Christian schools and “truly” Christian schools.
“There are schools that have Christian in their name or perhaps some denomination in their name, and perhaps they open the school day over the intercom [with prayer] and close it with prayer over the intercom. But they use exactly the same materials and have the exact same academic perspective that government schools do,” Pinckney said.
He explained that if parents want to send their children to Christian schools, they need to go into the schools and “examine the textbooks, sit in on some of the classes, observe the teachers, talk to the principal, [and] observe the students.”
Parents should also pay attention to the type of dress and language of the school.
To Moore, failing to adhere to these warning signs and others indicates a compartmentalization of faith by Christian parents.
“Several times [in the Bible], it is very obvious God is assigning the responsibility of educating the children to the parents,” Pinckney explained.
According to an article by SBC Writer Tom Strode, Calvin Wittman, chairman of the SBC Resolutions Committee, said “ ‘this is a responsibility that God has given to the parents of each individual child and we encourage parents to exercise that God-given responsibility over their children.’ ”
Despite the differing views, Pinckney continued his efforts by attempting to attach a very similar amendment to a “secularization of culture” resolution prior to its approval by the SBC messengers.
However, “it seemed the convention wanted choices, wanted to be the salt and light in public schools,” Robertson explained.
After what Robertson described as a short but spirited debate of the amendment by both supporters and opponents, the SBC messengers overwhelmingly decided against anything related to an exodus from the public schools, as expected by Dr. Jack Graham, 2002-2004 SBC president.
Prior to the convention, Graham told The Dallas Morning News that the “resolution will never see the light of day.”
While the light of day seems dim for the authors and supporters of the resolution, they are hopeful that the resolution took them one step closer to informing America’s parents of what they believe it is going to take to save America’s children.
“If we save our children, we may save our churches. And having saved our churches, we still, at this late hour, may have saved our nation. So we feel this is an agenda for revival and renewal and the re-Christianization of America,” Moore said.
SALT AND LIGHT – ONE STUDENT’S VIEW
Tenth-grader and avid athlete, Miles Backstrom, admits there is a lack of freedom to share the love of Jesus Christ in a public school.
“[But] to be truthful, I would not be very happy if my parents took me out … and put me into a private school.”
“This year I was chosen to be in FCA [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] officer for the next school year and the opportunity to share with my peers the gift of Jesus Christ is so awesome,” Miles said.
He believes that if Christian students leave the public school system, then his non-believing friends and classmates “would have a negative perception of Christians.
“If I don’t lead by example and be a light for God, some may not know of the gift of salvation. I know that I am human and may fail at times in my attempts to be the salt and light for God, but God gives me a new day every day.”
Expressing God’s Love At School is a 25-page booklet from Gateways to Better Education. It offers “52 successful ways to bring a godly influence to your children’s school and classroom.”
Order online at: www.gatewaystobettereducation.org