With a growing movement in the Southern Baptist Convention encouraging parents to homeschool their children or put them in Christian schools, the time has come for Baptists who are friends of public education to also be heard, a Baptist ethicist told teachers Thursday in Louisville, Ky.
One homeschool advocacy group calls itself "Exodus Mandate" and encourages Christian parents to withdraw from what it calls "government" or "Pharaoh's" schools. But Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, said it is better described as a "phalanx of pharaohs" with disdain for public schools.
"These pharaohs want public educators, like Hebrew slaves, to make bricks without straw, to train children without supplies," Parham said in an address before the 34th annual Delegate Assembly of the Kentucky Education Association. "These pharaohs want public educators, like the Hebrew midwives, to cease bringing children into the real world for a productive future."
A few miles from the meeting, held in a hotel near the Louisville airport, Parham said, there is a training school for Baptist ministers whose president has written that he believes "now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop and exit strategy from public schools."
A resolution passed last year by the Kentucky Baptist Convention described "secular" schools as a place of "darkness," he continued.
Parham said such language "bears false witness" against public schools.
Despite criticism from some Baptists, Parham told the educators, "I trust that you know that you have friends within the Baptist community. Some Baptists are still committed to the public good in the public square."
The Baptist Center for Ethics, he said, a moderate Baptist agency based in Nashville, Tenn., is redoubling its efforts to speak up for public education.
"I think people of faith must recommit themselves to public education, not as a means toward conversion but because it is the right thing to do," he said.
"Let me speak more directly from my own faith tradition as a Christian," he continued. "I think Baptists, who believe that all God's children need an equal opportunity and a just society, must speak up for public education."
"I think we should never let the sun go down without countering the phalanx of pharaohs every time they demonize school leaders," Parham said. "America's churches must honor teachers, bless all the students, call for the highest standards and make sure that society equips schools."
Parham called on churches to recommit themselves to "the best of the American tradition" on three fronts:
--The separation of church and state. "A high wall of separation will help to keep public schools free from coercive pressure to promote sectarian faith statements and to teach creationism or neo-creationism known as intelligent design," he said.
--A just society, he said, "will ensure that public schools have the economic, social and political support necessary to educate every child."
--Unity out of diversity. "A society which honors diversity and strives for unity will readily recognize one of the greatest contributions of public schools."
Parham invited educators to go the BCE Web site, EthicsDaily.com, for a new page devoted to information and commentary about Christians and public schools.
The Kentucky Education Association, a voluntary membership organization for school employees, champions public education through lobbying for improved education funding, safe schools, better materials, smaller class sizes and employment rights of teachers.
An affiliate of the National Education Association, it is the largest professional organization in Kentucky.
Other Baptists introduced as guests at the breakfast meeting included Leslie Hollon, senior pastor of St. Matthews Baptist Church; Chris Caldwell, pastor of Broadway Baptist Church and Jim Holladay, pastor of Lyndon Baptist Church, all in Louisville, as well as David Hinson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Frankfort and Bob Fox, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown, Ky.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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