Extreme right-wing factions of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are gearing up for another attack on the public schools, but this time mainstream Baptists are fighting back.
A Nashville-based group, the Baptist Center for Ethics, founded in 1991 to provide “positive and practical ethics resources and services” to Baptist congregations nationwide, has issued a letter in support of public education that has been signed by more than 80 Baptist pastors and organizational leaders.
The letter urges “a halt to the demonization of public schools” and insists that “we believe it is wrong for Baptist leaders to urge Baptists to exit the nation’s public system for homeschools and Christian academies and to equip that cause.”
The missive came in response to recent efforts to urge the SBC to adopt resolutions calling on church members to pull their children out of the public schools. These resolutions appeared in 2004 and 2005, pushed by a group of far-right reactionaries, including Texas pastor Rick Scarborough.
The measure was derailed completely in 2004, but in 2005 its boosters were able to persuade the SBC to call for an investigation into whether the nation’s public schools are hostile to their values and supportive of the so-called “homosexual agenda.”
Scarborough and his backers announced in late April that they will push for a new resolution during the SBC’s meeting this month in Greensboro, N.C. The resolution will call for Baptists to create an “exit strategy” from the public schools; a press release refers to the schools as “the golden calf of the religious left.”
The Baptist Center for Ethics, beyond calling for Baptists to “speak positively about public education,” urged Baptists to “recommit themselves to the separation of church and state, which will keep public schools from coercive pressure to promote sectarian faith, such as state-written school prayers and the teaching of neo-creationism (intelligent design).”
The letter adds, “We call on Baptists to recommit themselves to the nation’s founding principle of ‘E Pluribus Unum.’ A society based on unity out of diversity will embrace every child and recognize the vital role public schools play in achieving national unity.”
At the same time, moderate Baptists continue to call on the denomination to re-embrace its historic support for church-state separation. In a powerful speech delivered in early April at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology in Abilene, Texas, Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, debunked the Religious Right’s “top 10 lies” about church and state.
One of those lies, said Walker, is the assertion that the United States was founded to be a Christian nation.
“This is a whopper!” Walker said. “The United States of America is not a Christian nation – in law or in fact. We have a constitutional democracy in which all religious beliefs are protected. And that’s good. The same Constitution that refuses to privilege any religion, including Christianity, protects the rights of Christians to proclaim the gospel to all who will listen. As a result, paradoxically enough, we are a nation of Christians because we are not a Christian nation.”
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