Should 16 million Southern Baptists pull their kids out of public schools?
Don HinklePathway Editor
May 25, 2004
It was one of the most important books of the 20th Century and the first sentence of its first chapter is as much an indictment of America’s public education system as it is a scholarly, yet sobering observation.
The late Allen Bloom, himself a homosexual, political liberal and professor of social thought at the University of Chicago, opened his 1987 smashing best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind, with this: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”
Such is the case today in too many American public school systems bullied by the U.S. Department of Education and the powerful, two-million-member National Education Association (NEA). I am often perceived as being blunt with my opinions, so let me reinforce that perception: The notion that truth is relative is straight from the pit of hell for it mocks the ultimate absolute Truth – Jehovah God and His inerrant, infallible Word. I am reminded of that iconoclastic moment in history when Jesus Christ stood before the Roman government’s representative, Pontius Pilate, who – in John 18:38 — asked one of the most important questions ever uttered: “What is truth?” Yet standing right before him was Truth in all His penal substitution humanity and all-powerful, perfect divinity. Pilate rejected the Truth that day and tragically, the same can be said today for too many public schools in America.
A growing number of Christians – and particularly Southern Baptists – are finally stirring from 50 years of sinful apathy only to discover that too many public schools — prodded by the U.S. Department of Education with its unreasonable mandates that rob local communities of control over their schools and the leadership of the NEA with their liberal, socialist agenda — allow impressionable children to be subjected to a host of things once thought to be as unmentionable in word as they are sinful in deed.
Take for example the shocking incident involving a Massachusetts school district in a March 25, 2000, workshop conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in which pro-homosexual teachers explained to high school students the act of “fisting,” a sexual act performed by some homosexuals that because of my conscience I cannot describe. Suffice it to say that Missouri Baptist parents should know that GLSEN has chapters in about 3,000 public schools nationwide — including in St. Louis and Kansas City. Indeed Christians may be awakening from their slumber on such matters, but like the farmer in Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13), they slept while the enemy came and sowed tares in their field.
The fact that taxpayer-funded schools could be used for such flagrant and insidious indoctrination was unthinkable at the start of the 20th century. Yet an incremental process — promoted, implemented and protected by the NEA and at times the federal Department of Education – has been underway for more than 100 years in America. They have forced public education from being what it once was to what it has become.
Bloom warned us 17 years ago that our children have been going through indoctrination for the past six decades in which they are taught less about how to think and more about what to think. And what they are taught is to view reality relativistically. Indeed Bloom says they are so brainwashed that the only common, unifying principles of too many students produced by American public education is a belief in relativism and an allegiance to radical equality.
Bloom explains, “The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error, but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness and this is the only virtue … . Openness and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth … is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right, rather it is not to think you are right at all.”
This is precisely the view of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF)-funded Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE) in its reaction to an important resolution that is likely to surface at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting June 15-16 in Indianapolis. The resolution calls for Southern Baptists to pull their children out of public schools. In a recent essay dripping with ridicule on the BCE’s Web site, Robert Parham, head of the agency, adds credence to Bloom’s contention by criticizing the resolution as part of an SBC anti-public school movement that is “racist in its roots” and bearing “false witness with its agenda.” He claims the anti-public school movement in the 1960s “was fed from pulpits that used the Bible to support segregation. Not surprisingly, churches planted white race academies, which sought racial purity.” Today’s “spiritual heirs of the race academies now advance the cause of religious purity,” Parham said.
Given the current state of public schools, I cannot understand why there is such weeping and wailing over a resolution that two concerned Southern Baptists want to bring before the entire convention. What is wrong with Christ-honoring public debate? Publicly raising the issue might serve as a much-needed “warning shot” for public education to get its house in order because – at least for many conservative Southern Baptists — our patience is wearing thin. It has been more than two decades since the landmark Nation at Risk study, showing America’s public education system to be in disrepair. Since then little has been done to address matters raised in that historic report.
SBC has supported public education
Certainly not all conservatives are going to support this resolution and many observers are predicting there is no way it will pass should the SBC Resolutions Committee allow it to come before voting messengers at the annual meeting. Historically Southern Baptists have supported public education because it reflected their value system for society and was viewed as an integral part of their vision to fashion a Christian America. While the public school system, by means of Bible reading, teacher example and the ubiquitous McGuffey readers, emphasized non-denominational Protestantism, it was supplemented by Sunday School which stressed particular doctrines of the various denominations. This proved satisfactory to Protestants and precluded the need for private schools.
America’s public schools were thoroughly Christian from their creation. Fisher Ames, author of the First Amendment to the Constitution, wrote an article in 1801 expressing concern over the growing number of textbooks being introduced into the schools. He was concerned that they might take time away that had been set aside for Bible study. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and often called the “Father of Public Schools under the Constitution,” wrote an essay in 1791 in which he gave dozens of reasons why he thought we would NEVER take the Bible out of our schools. He concludes: “If we were to remove the Bible from schools, I lament that we would be wasting so much time and money in punishing crimes and taking so little pains to prevent them.” It has been estimated that since Rush wrote that statement, crime in America has risen 794 percent.
Things have changed
With groups like GLSEN and Planned Parenthood pushing condoms in sex education classes, much has changed. By the 1960s, humanists and socialists – with the NEA leading the way and backed by anti-Christian rulings by a liberal U.S. Supreme Court — gained control of public schools. Southern Baptists should know that the NEA is behind such exotic initiatives as outcome-based education, pupil data banks, multiculturalism and global citizenship. They routinely pour millions of dollars – from paid union dues of teachers who often do not agree with their politics – in efforts to get liberal Democrats elected. The NEA supported the 1970s philosophy called “values clarification.” This form of moral relativism called for schools to stop their time-honored task of transmitting sound moral values. Instead they were to allow the child to “clarify” his own values (which adults, including parents had no “right” to criticize). But it didn’t clarify values; it only clarified wants and desires. Thus there were no set of values, nothing was right and nothing was wrong and everybody had an equal right to their own values.
So it should have come as no surprise when in 1995 the NEA passed a proposal to support the celebration of a Lesbian and Gay History Month in public schools. The NEA wants to raise the “awareness” and increase the “sensitivity of staff, students, parents and the community to sexual orientation in society,” The (Nashville) Tennessean reported at the time. Indeed the NEA has been a leader in the training of “teachers on how to offer ‘equal opportunities’ to gay and lesbian students,” Christianity Today reported in 1993.
Meanwhile, the NEA has been backed by liberal federal court rulings, starting when the U.S. Supreme Court redefined “religion” in 1962. Prior to that time the court had consistently interpreted the First Amendment mandate against establishing a religion as prohibiting Congress from setting up one Christian denomination as a national religion. But in 1962 the court gave authority to the phrase “separation of church and state.” Such words are found nowhere in the Constitution. The court went on to define “church” as any religious activity in public. This cleared the way for the court to later remove the Bible, prayer and the Ten Commandments from public schools. The NEA and federal courts have deliberately steered teachers and children down a disastrous path that includes socialism, secular humanism, planned failure in reading and writing, the trashing of basic values and the obliteration of Christianity.
What does the resolution say?
So why shouldn’t retired Air Force General T.C. Pinckney of Virginia and Bruce Shortt, a Houston, Texas, attorney, be allowed to bring their resolution calling for Southern Baptists to pull their children out of public schools to SBC messengers? The resolution has garnered some early support (no one can say exactly how much), including that of Roger Moran, the admired lay leader of the conservative resurgence in the Missouri Baptist Convention. Conversely, there are moderates – and some thoughtful conservatives — who do not want this resolution, in its present form, to get anywhere near the SBC meeting.
While I am not in favor of Southern Baptists pulling their children out of public schools at this time, I say, let these Christian gentlemen bring their resolution and let Southern Baptists engage in some constructive public debate on the matter. Perhaps someone can craft a resolution that sends a powerful message from America’s largest Protestant denomination to the U.S. Department of Education, the NEA, the federal courts and their liberal supporters.
According to the resolution, “the government school system that claims to be ‘neutral’ with regard to Christ is actually anti-Christian, so that children taught in the government schools are receiving an anti-Christian education. Just as it would be foolish for the warrior to give his arrows to his enemies, it is foolish for Christians to give their children to be trained in schools run by enemies of God.”
Who can disprove the truthfulness of such a statement? The fact that public schools have largely become anti-Christian is beyond dispute. To deny the existence of absolute truth, as children are now taught, is to deny the existence of the ultimate, absolute Truth – God. I cannot think of anything more anti-Christian than teaching impressionable children that God does not exist. As Samuel L. Blumenfeld has noted, “The simple fact is that attitude is now considered more important than knowledge and political correctness more important than truth.”
As for the second sentence of the resolution that I cite, it is a principle taken straight from Scripture. Consider Matt. 18:6, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” It is clear that parents are responsible to God for the education of their children (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4), whether they do the teaching themselves or delegate it to someone else. For sure the demise of the American family – largely through this nation’s high divorce rate – bears some of the blame in this matter, but that does not absolve the government and its school system from its guilt.
Objections to the resolution
A number of objections to the resolution have surfaced. Some people think it lumps all public schools together. I cannot think of any reason why they shouldn’t be. Federal judge after federal judge – thanks to the bogus separation-of-church-and-state arguments of liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State – have ensured that public schools do not proselytize and are not Christian in any way.
Another objection is that the resolution supposedly contradicts Jesus’ command for His children to be “salt and light.” Christians do not need the public school system to be “salt and light.” In fact the public school system was created to nurture those who would be “salt and light.” The significance of this reversal is at the heart of what the resolution addresses.
Opponents of the resolution also argue that children can be exposed to sin as easily at a private Christian school as they can a public school. This argument seems weak. There is a big difference between a child being exposed to an occasional fib and a system bent on undermining parents and attempting to crush the Christian faith.
Yet another objection is that private Christian schools are not an option for some parents because of expense. There are alternatives, like homeschooling, or perhaps, a combination of private instruction and homeschooling.
Finally, the resolution does acknowledge Southern Baptists who work in public schools: “Whereas, many adult members of our congregations teach in government schools, 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.”
My sister, a public school teacher (kindergarten), was recently named “Teacher of the Year” for a two-county area in our home state of Tennessee. At the beginning of this school year her principal called her aside to tell her she was putting a troubled child in her class because, “he needs the influence of a Christian teacher like you.” I am both thankful and troubled that the conversation was in private to avoid der commissar from kicking in my sister’s classroom door and dragging her off the premises. Don’t worry, I will not disclose her name or whereabouts in case the NEA “Thought Police” are reading this column.
One of the more troubling developments since news of the resolution surfaced is the mean-spirited, personal attacks launched by moderates against the two men who have crafted it — particularly Pinckney. One such instance can be attributed to Dwain Walden, editor/publisher of The Moultrie Observer and a member of Trinity Baptist Church there. Addressing Pinckney in his commentary also published by the CBF-funded BCE, Walden writes: “But to save time and space, just let me say this, he’s an idiot. I think the Book of Ecclesiastes will back me by an extension of its advice that there’s a time to be polite and there is a time to just call things what they are.” Later he writes, “Our public schools have served us long and well. They were never meant to instill religion in our children … even to dignify Pinckney’s position with a response is a threat to most people’s valuable time.”
In response, let me be clear: Mr. Walden, you do not know General Thomas Pinckney, but I know Tom Pinckney and he’s no idiot. Pinckney has given more than two decades of his life to protect America’s freedom so that ignorant journalists could write stupid things. Pinckney commanded Air Force bases with billions of dollars of assets and with thousands of people under his command. He is also a former second vice president of the SBC who devoted many years to helping the conservative resurgence succeed in the SBC. In short, he epitomizes everything that someone like Walden would hate.
As I said, I know General Pinckney and I am certain that THE question he is itching to publicly ask Southern Baptists is this: How can we even feel welcome in schools from which our God has long since been expelled? I for one am grateful that he is bringing this resolution to Indianapolis if for no other reason than he and Shortt will upstage the whining protests of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), another liberal organization that the SBC should have severed ties with years ago.
So what should we do?
Let the Resolutions Committee do its work. Considerable lobbying is going on and I think it is likely that some type of resolution will emerge. I think that would be wise. SBC President Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas, and a supporter of Christian schools, said he doubts that the Committee will recommend Pinckney and Shortt’s resolution “in its present form.” Even if the committee does not craft something, it is safe to say that Pinckney will introduce his resolution from the convention floor. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Southern Baptists have expressed concern about the condition of public education. The SBC passed resolutions on Christian schools and homeschooling in 1997 and 1999. Southern Baptist resolutions over the last two decades have frequently criticized government-run schools for being too secular.
Where the resolution fails the test of practicality is that there is simply not enough private Christian – much less Southern Baptist – schools to accommodate the children of 16 million Southern Baptists. Ed Gamble, executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, said it would take 20 years to develop a system of Baptist schools large enough to accommodate the school-age children in Southern Baptist homes. There are more than 700 Southern Baptist private schools already in operation and more are on the way. Additionally, an increasing number of parents are choosing to homeschool their children.
Southern Baptists have never said public education is incompatible with Christian life – and rightly so because public schools were originally started to nurture Christian character. It is not that Southern Baptists protest the idea of public schools because they were our idea to begin with. Rather it is that we abhor what American public education has become.
Another reason I hesitate to endorse a wholesale pullout by Southern Baptists is that some progress is being made. Christians have re-engaged the secular minions in public school classrooms on several fronts. The growing Intelligent Design movement that is tearing evolution out by its roots is but one example.
The ideas of Glenn Schultz, director, LifeWay Christian School Resources, who says the debate needs to be about how God wants Christians to educate their children, deserve serious consideration. “It is not about Christian versus public schools,” he writes in his book just out in its second printing, Kingdom Education: God’s Plan for Educating Future Generations. “It is about biblical education versus secular education.”
To that I say, “Amen!”