The Florida Board of Education should discount a letter from the top official of the Florida Baptist Convention opposing the approval of language for the new science standards that reads: “Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.”
That statement reflects the best available scientific truth. Public-school science classes should be about teaching biology, not theology. Creationism and its thinly veiled cousin intelligent design have no more business in a science class than alchemy has in a chemistry class or astrology has in an astronomy class. The Florida Board of Education should speak without compromise for science being taught in science classes.
When Christian fundamentalists say they want fairness in the science curriculum, what they actually want is to weaken the theory of evolution to elevate their own religious dogma.
When John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, wrote that Baptists desired neither the removal of the theory of evolution from the public-education curriculum nor the inclusion of “any other theory on the origin of life,” was he really engaging in full and frank disclosure?
His claims to only want good science–science that recognizes the weaknesses and strengths of Darwinian evolution–must be interpreted by the truthfulness of what Florida Baptists want “at this time.”
Where do Florida Baptists really stand “at this time” on public education?
If their leaders are a fair gauge, then they are infected with anti-public school fever. They simultaneously abandon public education, while they degrade it with attacks on science. Abandoning and attacking schools is a double punch that damages our much-needed system of public education for all children.
By example, notable Florida Baptist pastors are leading their churches to exit public schools. For example, the organization’s current president, Willy Rice, is the pastor of Clearwater’s Calvary Baptist Church, which has its own Christian high school, an alternative to public high school.
Rice’s presidential predecessor was Hayes Wicker, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Naples, who has a Christian academy at his church that runs from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
Wicker’s presidential predecessor was Tommy Green, pastor of First Baptist Church in Brandon. Green’s church began its own Christian academy this year with the addition of a first grade.
Other prominent pastors lead churches with private Christian schools. One is Forrest Pollock, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon. Pollock’s congregation sponsors the Bell Shoals Baptist Academy, which has a mission statement that says “The Bible is the basic textbook.”
Another leader is Darrell Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla. First Baptist Christian School runs from preschool through the 8th grade.
Jim Henry, former Southern Baptist Convention president and the retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, started The First Academy in 1987.
Another SBC president, then pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Bobby Welch, said that “the brightest days of the private school have not yet arrived and I pray that when that day comes that there will be an overwhelming majority of them as Christian private schools.”
Add to the mix the fact that Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools is headquartered in Orlando. SBACS is working toward the creation of a vast Christian-run system of schools that uses classroom space in Baptist churches as an alternative to public education.
The Florida Baptist Convention passed a motion in 2004 to cooperate with SBACS and to “find ways to strengthen and support Christian schools and home schooling among the churches.”
Layer after layer discloses that the Florida Baptist leadership puts its backing behind Christian academies, the de-facto exit system for fundamentalists from public schools.
Given the march away from public education among Southern Baptist leaders, the board of education should not be swayed by Sullivan’s letter.
The Florida Board of Education should advance good science, not bad theology, or even good theology for that matter.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.