Public school resolution nets divergent reactions

by James A. Smith Sr., posted Monday, June 07, 2004 (10 years ago)

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--A resolution calling for a Southern Baptist exodus from public schools, proposed by two laymen for consideration during the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 15-16 annual meeting in Indianapolis, found little support at a May 11 meeting of Southern Baptist backers of Christian schools.

T.C. Pinckney of Alexandria, Va., and Bruce N. Shortt of Houston are circulating the proposed resolution which calls public schools in America “officially godless” and urges Southern Baptists to “remove their children from ... government schools.” The resolution, although only proposed for consideration by the SBC Resolution Committee, garnered major media attention across America weeks before the committee and convention were to meet.

The Resolutions Committee will meet in Indianapolis prior to the SBC annual meeting to consider submitted proposals and determine what resolutions it will submit to the convention for consideration.

Pickney is a retired Air Force general, former SBC second vice president and editor of the Baptist Banner journal. Shortt is a Houston attorney and Texas coordinator for Exodus Mandate, an organization that describes itself as advancing “the proposition that private, Christian and home-school education can successfully replace public education.”

The resolution proposed by Pickney and Shortt contains 20 “Whereas” clauses and three “Be it resolved” clauses, spanning 910 words.

In a statement provided to the Florida Baptist Witness, Tommy Green, pastor of First Baptist Church in Brandon and president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, expressed opposition to the resolution.

Noting that many Southern Baptists work in public schools, Green said, “The schools are a mission field and a place of ministry for our teachers and other employees. I trust that we will pray for these faithful folks who are in the midst of the world seeking to make a difference in Jesus’ name. Our Southern Baptist Convention needs to affirm and not criticize these individuals for their diligent labor for the Lord.”

In an e-mail interview with the Witness, Pinckney said the “resolution is primarily about being obedient to God.”

The most important reason for the resolution is that “in the Bible, God assigns the responsibility for the education of children to the parents, not to the government. When we relinquish that education to any other agency, including the government, we are not following God’s commands,” Pinckney said.

“Government schools are and now must be in the United States officially godless. This amounts to an artificial compartmentalization of life.”

Pinckney added, “We believe it is time for the SBC to take a biblical stand on this issue.”

To those who argue that Christians must minister in public education, Pinckney pointed to the resolution’s last “Whereas” clause, about which he said it “commends Christian government school teachers and administrators.... They have a tough assignment and are to be applauded.”

Pinckney told the Witness if the Resolutions Committee fails to report the resolution for consideration by the Southern Baptist Convention, “someone will” -- perhaps himself or Shortt -- attempt to get the two-thirds support necessary to bring the matter to the floor for a vote.

Even among strong Christian school advocates meeting in Orlando for a first-ever “Florida Baptist Kingdom Education Summit” May 11, support for the resolution was limited.

Although James Kibelbek, pastor of First Baptist Church in Port Charlotte, supports the “essence” of the resolution, Kibelbek told the Witness the wording “is a bit harsh” and “sounds too rebellious.” He would prefer to express support for Christian education in a “more positive light.”

Glen Schultz, director of LifeWay Christian School Resources -- the office of LifeWay Christian Resources tasked to support Christian schools in the SBC -- said he would prefer Southern Baptists to say what they are for, rather than what they are against. Schultz added that the resolution focuses too much “on something out there, outside Christianity, what the world’s doing.... We’ve got to focus on biblical principles and let that guide us, rather than saying let’s run away from here.”

Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the Witness he is uncomfortable with a blanket statement condemning all public schools. “To call for all Southern Baptists [to leave public schools], that’s a pretty wide brush stroke and it may not be applicable to everybody.”

Henry added, “Take a stand, yes; but there’s another way to do it.”

Even the head of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools told the Witness the resolution is “ungracious” and “inflammatory.” Ed Gamble, executive director of SBACS, said that he would “probably” vote against the resolution if it came to the floor for consideration in Indianapolis.

More than just being bad public relations or setting the wrong tone, Gamble said, “It’s a matter of basic, biblical philosophy -- what is it we are trying to achieve with our children? ... If a parent can choose a public school system and give their child the kind of education that results in their child being given a Kingdom education, go for it. And I know parents who have done that.”

Prompted by the Pinckney/Shortt resolution, a Tennessee pastor has filed a resolution expressing support for public education. Jim West, pastor of First Baptist Church in Petros, told the Baptist and Reflector, newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, that his concern is theological.

“Christians aren’t supposed to withdraw from the world. They are supposed to minister to the world,” he said.

Messengers wishing to propose resolutions were to submit them at least 15 days prior to the annual meeting, giving the Resolutions Committee a two-week period in which to consider them. Detailed guidelines on the SBC resolutions process are available on the Internet at www.sbcannualmeeting.net.


James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

Download Story