SBC DIGEST: Discussion over education resolution back in the media; Proposal “On Dissent” stirs exchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The Baptist tug of war over education is back in the media.

A proposed resolution has garnered media attention for urging Southern Baptist churches to develop “an exit strategy from the public schools,” with the assistance of Southern Baptist Convention entities. Meanwhile, the Baptist Center for Ethics, a liberal group regularly critical of the SBC and substantially funded by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, is promoting a “Baptist Pastoral Letter Supporting Public Education.”

The proposed resolution follows a resolution adopted by the SBC last year. The latest proposal may or may not survive deliberations by the SBC Resolutions Committee, which is closed to the press. The proposal is being submitted by Roger Moran, a Missouri layman who is a member of the SBC Executive Committee, and Bruce Shortt, a Texas attorney and homeschooling parent who has authored “The Harsh Truth About Public Schools.”

The 23-paragraph resolution begins by citing a call for an “exit strategy” that R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, penned in a June 2005 commentary.

A Christian alternative to public schools, the proposed resolution notes, should give particular attention “to the needs of orphans, single parents, and the disadvantaged.”

The proposed resolution asserts that “government schools continue to adopt and implement curricula and policies teaching that the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable” and cites, for example, a ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last November that parents have “no constitutional right to prevent the public schools from providing information on [the subject of sex] to their students in any forum or manner they select.” The proposal also notes that a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled last December “in favor of government schools indoctrinating children with dogmatic Darwinism.”

Moran, in a statement circulated by “Christian Newswire,” wrote:

“The last two decades have established beyond doubt that America’s public school system is the ‘golden calf’ of the religious left. Religious and secular Left organizations like the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way, The Interfaith Alliance, the ACLU and the National Education Association have created a unified voice in support of the current course of public education. These far-left organizations understood with absolute clarity that if their version of ‘separation of church and state’ could be implemented by the courts, they could universally prevent the views and values of a conservative Biblical worldview from competing in the public schools with the secular worldview of America’s religious/political far-left.”

Moran called Mohler’s 2005 call for an exit strategy “not only wise, but courageous” because “multitudes of our own people still don’t see the inherent dangers. The time has come for the debate to begin.”

The BCE letter in support of public education, meanwhile, states, “We decry the anti-public school statements that identify public schools as ‘the enemies of God,’ that label the nation's school system as ‘a dark and decaying government school system’ and that claim public schools are converting Christian children ‘to an anti-Christian worldview.’ We urge a halt to the demonization of public schools.”

The letter has been signed by 56 pastors and various state leaders with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a splinter group that opposes the conservative direction of Southern Baptists. CBF leaders from Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Georgia and Oklahoma were among those signing the letter.

The letter states that “public school children are God's children who deserve the nurture of a good society, the prospect for a good education and the equal opportunity for a good life.”

The letter also calls for Baptists “to recommit themselves to the separation of church and state, which will keep public schools free from coercive pressure to promote sectarian faith, such as state-written school prayers and the teaching of neo-creationism (intelligent design).”

Last June, messengers at the SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., adopted a resolution “On Educating Children” that called for parents and churches “to research and monitor the entertainment and educational influences on children,” including a particular call for them “to exercise their rights to investigate diligently the curricula, textbooks, and programs in our community schools and to demand discontinuation of offensive material and programs.”

The resolution also commended “godly teachers and students who feel called by God to take a stand for Christ in secular schools as a light shining in the darkness.”

It ended with a call to Christian parents “to fully embrace their responsibility to make prayerful and informed decisions regarding where and how they educate their children, whether they choose public, private, or home schooling, to ensure their physical, moral, emotional, and spiritual well-being, with a goal of raising godly men and women who are thoroughly equipped to live as fully devoted followers of Christ.”

Proposed resolutions can be submitted to the SBC Resolutions Committee no later than 15 days prior to this year’s June 13-14 SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C.

For information about the SBC resolutions process, go to http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/default.asp.

WHETHER TO AGREE TO DISAGREE -- A proposed resolution “On Baptist Dissent” generated a measure of that dynamic in an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The proposal, submitted by a Fort Worth-area pastor to affirm “principled dissent” among Baptists, is a response to a policy adopted by the International Mission Board’s trustees stipulating that an IMB trustee cannot criticize board decisions.

The policy is “an unprecedented action in Southern Baptist life,” Benjamin Cole told the Star-Telegram. Cole is pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, which is part of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Cole cited the IMB board’s efforts to “silence” trustee Wade Burleson of Oklahoma over the pastor’s airing of his IMB-related opinions on an Internet blog. Burleson blogged about his opposition to IMB policies adopted last year on private prayer language and baptism. The new policies exclude missionary candidates who practice a private prayer language (or hold that conviction) and require nominees be baptized in a church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone; does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative; and embraces the doctrine of eternal security of the believer.

IMB trustee Bob Pearle, pastor of Fort Worth’s Birchman Baptist Church, defended the policy, telling the newspaper, "What we are talking about is that when trustees vote on something, then the whole body needs to get behind it."

Pearle, in rhetorical fashion, asked, "If these so-called Baptist leaders he [Cole] has in mind are silencing dissent, why isn't he being silenced?"

Cole’s proposed resolution states in part, “Every tributary of Baptist identity includes an era of dissent from institutions, policies, political oppressions, and systems of belief that violate the individual conscience....

“Both our Anabaptist and English Separatist forefathers knew the power of the dissent to shield the soul from compromise on matters essential to faith, church polity, and the ordinances, often suffering ostracism, exile, and even death for their principled refusal to compromise their unpopular and inviolable convictions....”

Cole’s draft cites various resolutions adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention over the years, including a 1992 resolution titled, “On the Right of Religious Freedom for All Human Beings.”

Among his “be it resolved” clauses:

-- “that we regard all attempts to silence principled dissent by fellow Baptists within our denomination, or of any religious minority, as a compromise of our cherished Baptist witness and an egregious disservice to the Kingdom of God.” Dissent should be affirmed when it has been “voiced in a manner consistent with the teaching of Jesus Christ.”

-- “that we wish to continue the tradition of welcoming principled dissent and protecting religious speech as the bedrock upon which a diverse people, such as Southern Baptists, may continue to cooperate for the greater good of evangelism and missions to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation of the world.”

IMMIGRATION: ON ONE GROUP’S PLATE -- The extent to which immigration will be a topic during the Southern Baptist Convention is unknown. Much depends in part on what the 10-member Resolutions Committee decides to recommend to messengers -– and what any proposed resolution on immigration might say. There also might be motions from the floor.

However, the topic is on at least one SBC-related group’s agenda: the National Fellowship of Hispanic Baptist Churches, which will meet June 10-11 in Greensboro at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church. A four-page paper prepared by fellowship leaders will be discussed during the 3 p.m. business session on Sunday.

The draft that has been circulated by the fellowship asks that forgiveness be extended to illegal immigrants who have lived productively and peaceably in the U.S.

“As a Hispanic Fellowship and in the name of all those who have violated the existing immigration laws, we ask for your forgiveness, one of the most beautiful words that exist in the human vocabulary and in the Holy Scriptures,” the paper states. “We ask forgiveness for the crime of entering this country illegally; even though we know that most of these people are hard working honest persons only trying to better their social, moral, academic, and cultural situations, and hope that they can contribute to the culture and economy of this great country.”

The fellowship’s paper also states, “There must be a wise and just system that recognizes the dignity of the individual, offers them a reasonable transition to a legal status or, if this is not possible, a gradual transition period to return to his or her native country....

“We pray that God’s divine providence once again [will] guide the hearts of this great nation by acting in consistency with its history and with its virtuous spirit, being sensible to the social situation that many undocumented persons find themselves in today.”


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