Southern Baptists Reject Private Schooling Initiative

A proposal that would have encouraged the mass exodus of Southern Baptist children from the public school system was killed at this year's annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (search), supporters say because leadership felt it was too radical for the organization.

Though the resolution, sponsored by two members from Texas and Virginia, sparked debate and publicity, members of the resolution committee refused on Wednesday to send the proposal to the full floor for a vote by the membership, which is conducting its convention in Indianapolis. A subsequent attempt by one of the sponsors to attach it to another resolution on the floor was also defeated.

"I would never impose on anyone how they should be educating their children," said Rev. Tommy Green, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Brandon, Fla., who serves on one of the committees to the convention and opposed the resolution from the outset.

The proposal, sponsored by retired Air Force General Thomas Pinckney (search) and home-school advocate and attorney Bruce Shortt (search), suggested that each parent in the estimated 16 million-membership of the SBC take their children out of the public school system because, they say, it has long fostered an anti-Christian world view.

"I often tell people that public schools are killing our children morally, spiritually and academically," Shortt told "Certainly, any side of that should be a concern to any parent."

Shortt said the sponsors were not upset at the measure’s failing, but glad it got so much publicity and has sparked debate among the membership.

"Frankly, it’s the end of the beginning," he said, explaining that the proposal was "just too radioactive" for the SBC leadership.

The 21-paragraph resolution used strong religious and biblical references to argue that members cannot expect their children to be educated to Christian standards in the public schools, which they say in the last decades have developed a "godless," even anti-Christian, worldview. It also complains that the schools have accepted and promoted a pro-homosexual agenda.

"What is being taught in our government schools today is antithetical to the Christian faith and antagonistic to the Christian faith," said Voddie Bauchum, a Texas preacher and lecturer who attended the convention this week to support the resolution.

While the resistance to prayer and any religious expression by the public school establishment has been a topic of discussion for years among the SBC, which represents an estimated 43,000 Baptist churches in 50 states, the Pinckney-Shortt resolution was considered by many to be the most strident introduced on the subject in the last decade.

Sources said the idea of asking for a mass walk-out of the public schools was not very palatable to the leadership, despite strong feelings about the issue.

Green said that while he and many others support the ventures of home-school education (search) and private Christian institutions, they believe that public schools serve their purpose. Furthermore, many members have personal investments in public education.

"We have teachers, administrators, educators who are part of our churches and we stand firmly with them in their roles in public education," said Green. "Are there things that need to be changed in certain parts of the country? Certainly yes. But encouraging our 16 million Southern Baptists out of the public schools will never be supported."

Green said that while he understands that the anti-religious sentiment in the schools today has created "a downward spiral in the culture," he believes millions of children in the U.S. need the government’s assistance when it comes to getting an education.

"The majority of children are coming from broken homes, they don’t have the right kind of parental role models. They are facing tremendous challenges before they even arrive at their schools," he said.

The 10-member resolution panel typically sends about eight final proposals to the floor out of an average of 40 that are submitted to the body, according to sources. The delegates, or "messengers," who travel from the churches each year to participate in the convention — around 15,000 this year — vote from the floor on the measures, which serve as non-binding guidelines for churches across the country.

On Tuesday, the messengers voted to secede from the Baptist World Alliance (search), which represents 46 million Baptists in over 200 denominations. The SBC, which represents about a third of the Alliance's annual income, concluded that the larger group was becoming too liberal, particularly on issues such as abortion (search) and female clergy.

Those who wanted to walk away from the public schools say even though they lost, the debate has been healthy for the convention.

"There is something very important going on here," said Jim Babka, who is behind the campaign, which is both religious and libertarian in nature. The campaign argues that government schools are finished.

"We need individual families to make the decision to leave. If they do, the system will implode," he told

Babka acknowledged that the Pickney-Shortt resolution’s radical goals may have hobbled its success. "[The meeting leaders] believe it’s a lightning rod and they don’t want to touch it," he said.

Some opponents complained that the committee may have considered the partisan implications of passing a resolution that in any way cast a critical glare on public education during President Bush’s re-election campaign. The president, who spoke via satellite to the membership on Tuesday, draws a great deal of support from Christian conservatives like Southern Baptists.

But Green and others said they didn't agree with the resolution simply because Southern Baptists cannot cut themselves off from the world, especially when their faith requires them to serve as messengers.

Some parents like Rev. Grady Arnold, however, whose 9- and 11-year-old children are home-schooled, said they don't believe the children are supposed to suffer bad education for their faith.

"My children are not evangelical tools," said Arnold, pastor at Forestwood Baptist Church in New Caney, Texas. He said he lobbied for the resolution because of the "immorality and the inferiority of the education in public schools."

Despite the failure of the original resolution to get to a vote, Arnold said he was happy it got the publicity it did.

"People are now grappling with the idea, ‘Should I pull my kid out for home-school or Christian school?'" he said. "I think there’s a majority who have never thought of it before."