As the Southern Baptist Convention's debate on the issue of endorsing a proposal to remove children from public schools is expected to resolve during the denomination's annual meeting from June 15-16, some of the Baptist leaders voiced their views on the issue.
Many of the leaders note that the current proposal blames public schools for corrupting Christian children with their "Godless" and they are urging all Southern Baptists to promote either home schooling or “thoroughly Christian” private schools.
The committee’s vice chairman the Rev. Eric Thomas, the senior minister at First Baptist Church of Norfolk, and John Revell, a spokesman at the Southern Baptist Convention’s national headquarters in Nashville, both refused to comment on prospective resolutions. But Revell made one comment on the issue saying, “The Southern Baptist Convention has never taken an official stand opposing public school education.”
“God commands that parents be responsible for the education of their children. Nowhere does he assign that responsibility to the government,” said T.C. Pinckney , a prominent Southern Baptist from Alexandria, who co-authored the proposal with Bruce N. Shortt , a Houson attorney. Pinckney said he is in concern of Baptist children being undermined of their faith and values learn at home and church because of the secular education in public schools.
Carl. D. Beiber, who heads Tabernacle Baptist Academy in Virginia Beach, was among local evangelical Christians who agreed with Pinckney.
“I think it’s a noble resolution,” Beiber said. “Christian people should be reasonably uncomfortable with the public schools.”
Principal Krista Ryan of Central Christian Academy in Portsmouth called the proposal “a great idea.”
“Being Christians, we have a whole different set of values than what you’ll be able to accommodate in a public school system,” she said.
Pinckney didn’t show much concern of whether or not his proposal would be approved. He was hopeful of the publicity it could yield for his cause among churchgoers of all denominations. The measure could still go on if two-thirds of the delegates of the convention agree to discuss it.
“My prayer is that it will get the attention of tens of thousands of pastors and parents across the country, and speed up the withdrawal of children from government schools.”
Joe Raia , the youth leader at Bethany Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Portsmouth, expressed his wish to send his three children to Christian schools, because they are being exposed to vulgar language at their current public school.
But Raia also pointed out a disadvantage of not sending their children to public school: Taking children out of public schools would deny them an opportunity to become a role model for non-Christian peers.
“There’s a need for a Christian influence in the public schools,” he said.
Some of the leaders are not so content of the proposal. Going beyond what Raia said, the Rev. Tommy Taylor at London Bridge Baptist Church called the proposal well-intentioned but tactically foolish.
“Sometimes we, as Southern Baptists, try to almost fix the whole world through a resolution, and that’s not wise,” he said.
Taylor expressed his concern over the bad impressions that people outside of SBC could have on the convention. He believes the resolutions could make people to think of the convention as “narrow,” “judgmental,” and “legalistic.”
“Every Baptist church is autonomous,” he added, “It seems presumptuous to pass a resolution telling 43,000 Baptist churches what they ought to do, and millions of parents.”
Taylor also said he disagreed with any condemnation of public education. “The public schools aren’t all bad,” he said, noting that many Southern Baptists teach and work in public schools.
Jean H. Bankos, president of the Virginia Education Association, spoke of the possible discouragement of universal education, which she called one of America’s core values once the proposal is enacted.
Said Bankos, “If all the Southern Baptists were to pull their children out of public schools, where will they learn about other people’s values? Are they so afraid of those children running into someone of another race? Culture? Religion?”
Known for its conservative stance, the Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s second-largest denomination, with 16.3 million members.
Resolutions by the Southern Baptist Convention have often made headlines that stirred public debate. The past resolutions made by the SBC, which resulted in controversy include, ruling out women for ordained ministry in 1984; declaring homosexuality as “an abomination” in 1988; and reemphasizing evangelizing Jews in 1996.