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Baptist of the Year 2018: Charles Foster Johnson

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EthicsDaily.com’s board of directors is pleased to announce that Charles Foster Johnson is the 2018 Baptist of the Year.

Johnson, a pastor who has become a tireless advocate for public education, is the executive director of Pastors for Texas Children.

The organization, founded by Johnson in 2013, is a statewide ecumenical group mobilizing the faith community for public education support and advocacy.

In Texas, Kentucky, Arizona, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and other states, adequately funding public education has become a significant political – and campaigning – issue.

Johnson and his supporters deserve much credit for mobilizing Christians to support and advocate for public education.

Their efforts paid off with both Democratic and Republican officeholders recommitting themselves to making public education funding a top priority in upcoming legislative sessions.

“With his deep, infectious voice and his black cowboy boots, he never meets a stranger and never backs down from a challenge,” said Sharon Felton, minister to youth and students at Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown, Kentucky, and the head of Pastors for Kentucky Children. “But what makes Charlie one of my favorite Baptists is his gentle and kind heart.”

Felton says Johnson’s personality is “larger than life,” and anyone who knows him will agree.

In an interview with EthicsDaily early this year, Johnson reminded Baptists about the importance of educating all children for the common good.

“People of faith embrace public education as a provision of God’s common good,” he said, “as a basic, core, fundamental, social justice expression in society.”

“When Oklahoma pastors noticed their local public schools falling apart due to a severe lack of funding, we turned to our neighbors to the south in Texas for guidance and help,” said Pastors for Oklahoma Kids Executive Director Clark Frailey. “Charles Johnson answered the call and spoke at what would ultimately become our first organizing meeting.”

Johnson worked with the leaders of Pastors for Oklahoma Kids when thousands of Oklahoma teachers walked out of the classroom to protest a decade-long trend of defunding public education.

Their efforts gave great support to teachers and helped frame the conversation for people of faith.

Johnson, also the founder and co-pastor of Bread, a faith community in Fort Worth, Texas, knows a thing or two about organizing.

He brought a stellar career of pastoring churches in Texas, Mississippi and Kentucky with him to his current advocacy work.

For example, in Texas, where state spending is 6.3 percent less per student since 2010, Johnson and his advocates worked with state officials to reverse this downward trend.

The final bill is far from becoming law, but legislators are finally talking about increasing education funding instead of extending budget cuts.

Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown told EthicsDaily.com, “The fight for great public schools for all children is not a fight educators and parents can win on our own. We need allies like Rev. Charles Foster Johnson and other supporters of public education to stand alongside of us.”

She added, “Rev. Johnson’s advocacy work has rallied faith leaders all across the country to join the fight to ensure every child has access to a quality public education. His efforts are creating meaningful change that will have a positive impact on students nationwide for years to come.”

Johnson’s passion for and commitment to public education is distinctively clear. He often calls the profession of teacher a “sacred calling.” Why?

It’s simple for Johnson. Teachers are charged with educating our most precious commodity: children.

With each lesson, teachers shape and mold the future of the world. They invest their time and resources into their students each year.

Our public schools employ gifted men and women who educate amazing students eager to learn and shape the world.

“Children depend on grown-ups – especially leaders – to be stewards of their yet discovered future,” observed Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “Charlie calls for the best in today’s leaders to act with clarity, equity, courage for all children’s education and their best future.”

Adding her voice to the accolades is legendary educator Diane Ravitch, who spoke highly of Johnson in an email to EthicsDaily.com.

“Charles Johnson is a hero to everyone who is fighting to preserve a wall of separation between church and state. Charlie knows well that religious liberty depends on keeping religious institutions free of entanglement with government,” she said. “His leadership of Pastors for Texas Children effectively blocked vouchers in Texas. He has helped to organize pastors in other states to defend public schools and religious freedom. He is a hero of our time!”

As a colleague of Charlie’s, and a proponent of our public education system, it has been an honor to work alongside him.

His leadership and passion for public education has inspired me to advocate more boldly for students and teachers.

It is because of his commitment to the public education of all children and his staunch support of teachers that EthicsDaily.com’s board of directors is honored to name Charlie Johnson the 2018 Baptist of the Year.

Previous Baptists of the Year are:

2017: Ellen Di Giosia and First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, Tenn.

2016: Bill and Audrey Cowley

2015: Molly Marshall

2014: Don Sewell

2013: Linda Leathers

2012: Glen Stassen

2011: Wayne Flynt

2010: Babs Baugh

2009: Emmanuel McCall

2008: David Coffey

2007: Al Gore

2006: Lebanese Baptists

2005: Paul Montacute

Mitch Randall

Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com.