A Southern Baptist seminary president who two years ago called for an evangelical Christian “exit strategy” from public schools now chides churches for neglecting to help parents make responsible decisions about their children’s education.
On Friday’s “Albert Mohler Radio Program,” the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary lamented that while millions of Christian parents are making decisions to remove their children from public schools and either enroll them in Christian schools or teach them at home, the issue isn’t on the radar screen in many churches.
Mohler said he chose the topic in part because of a conversation he had with a mother who told him the education of their children is one of the biggest decisions her family faces, and yet no one in their church talks about it. Many of their friends use alternatives to public education, the woman told Mohler, “but there’s no structured way of having the conversation.”
“Well there ought to be,” Mohler said. “Christians ought to be thinking these things through, and we ought to be talking to each other about how we need to make these decisions and encourage each other on what convictions and principles should we make this decision, what kind of information can we bring to the process, and what kind of experience have you had with the option you’ve chosen.”
A generation ago, with the exception of Catholics, few religious parents ever gave second thought to sending their children to public schools, Mohler said. Today, he added, “We face a new situation.”
While many parents say they eventually decide to take their kids out of the public schools in older grades because they fear for their safety, Mohler said he is as concerned with curriculum designed to secularize children and indoctrinate them into a post-Christian society.
“The problem is not just the kind of drugs and stuff that goes on in some of these schools,” he said. “It’s the curriculum. It’s what’s being taught. What do they want these children to become? That’s the frightening thing in an awful lot of these settings.”
Mohler is one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s highest-profile supporters of Exodus Mandate, a 10-year-old movement to promote schooling of children in Christian rather than public-school environments. Most other SBC leaders, while personally supportive of homeschooling and Christian schools, are reluctant to speak out on the issue for fear of offending the many public educators who attend Southern Baptist churches.
Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has been vocal in countering with an alternative Baptist voice in support of public education.
Speaking at a statewide gathering of the Tennessee Education Association in June, Parham cited a “politics of fear” among conservative Christians he said is locked in on the public square. It is directed toward public libraries, public radio and public programs for the poor, Parham said, but is “most visceral” when directed toward public education.
Parham told educators his faith tradition has produced a “phalanx of pharaohs” that fears public schools the way pharaohs of old feared the Hebrew slaves.
“Wisdom tells us that fear is negative,” Parham said. “Fear is destructive. Fear is highly infectious.” Left unchecked, he said, “The anti-public school fever will harm even more the common good.”
Recent SBC resolutions have criticized public education but stopped short of an exodus call, citing the Bible’s commandment that Christians serve as “salt and light” in a dark and decaying world.
Mohler said the question of whether removing the remaining Christians from public schools would make them even worse is valid, but he answers it for himself in two ways.
“Number one, my first responsibility before God is the education of my children, not for the state of the public schools,” Mohler said.
“Secondly, I am concerned about the public schools, and I am concerned with an evacuation of the public schools with all Christian families and Christian concern.”
“I want to see Christian families there in the PTA boards and trying to do the good work,” he said. “But there just comes a place where I think from time-to-time and from place-to-place it’s clear that some limit has been reached, such that it’s just not possible to leave our children there in good conscience. And the influence we can have is being so countered that it’s become neutralized anyway.”
Mohler said he sees public schools as a “mission field,” but “we have to understand our children are targets of proselytization on the part of progressivist educators who want to shape their souls and minds.” Mohler said younger children, especially, are “more likely to be influenced than to be influencers.”
What should churches be doing?
“I really want to encourage churches to take this on as an issue,” Mohler said. “At the very minimum an evangelical church should be a place that calls parents together in order to say, ‘Where should we educate our children? How should we make those decisions? How can we support each other in making the right decision for our children?’
“At the next level I hope churches will think about sponsoring Christian schools.”
Mohler said his two children have been educated in a “hybrid” program between homeschooling and a Christian school–a consortium where some homeschooling parents got together to “basically hire” teachers who are also homeschoolers but specialize in certain subjects.
“There is something about learning in a classroom that can help kids to learn together, and there certainly is expertise and knowledge that certain people have that you want to be given to your children as well–people who have a proficiency in teaching biology and chemistry,” Mohler said.
“Because I’ll tell you right now, my wife can teach our children those things, but boy, I couldn’t,” he quipped. “Give me history and government and literature, but not chemistry, please, I beg you.”
“You don’t have to have a big campus and a huge infrastructure to have a Christian school,” Mohler said. “Because of the fact that you can merge it or align it also combined with homeschooling, you can have minimal infrastructure, minimal bureaucracy and minimal cost in helping to encourage that.”
Mohler also challenged preachers to issue “a very clear message from God’s Word” from pulpits to parents about their responsibility to teach their children.
“If we do not faithfully teach our children, we’re falling short of one of the clearest commands in Scripture,” he said. “Look at Deuteronomy Chapter 6–one of the clearest commands given to anyone in Scripture is the command to parents to take responsibility for teaching our children.
“And of course not just teaching them anything–the context in Deuteronomy 6 is to teach them about the one and only true God. Everything else follows from that.”
Two years ago Mohler wrote an article saying responsible Christian parents should have an “exit strategy” from the public schools.
“I wrote it very carefully,” he said Friday. “I didn’t say that now is the time for an exit–that is a mass call to say Christians simply must leave the public schools; you can’t leave your children in the public schools.”
“I am aware of the fact that even in an age of federal mandates and all the rest, there are still some big differences place-to-place, community-to-community in the public schools,” he said. “There are Christian parents in many communities who will say it’s working out well for us to have our kids in the schools.”
“I will say as a word of analysis of what I expect–I won’t say a word of prophecy–that those communities are going to get fewer and fewer all the time,” Mohler said. “And that the closer that people start looking at the curriculum, the more problems they are likely to find, especially as you move into older grades.”
Mohler said the issue “needs to be a topic of ongoing, responsible, mature, Christian conversation.”
“Christian churches need to take the lead,” he said. “Christian parents need to stand up and participate in a conversation in which we as Christians talk to each other, especially as parents, about how we make these decisions and how we should make these decisions.
“You need to get back to the fact that the church is the new community Christ, where in local congregations you come together to talk about the things that matter the most.”
Parham said education and faith leaders should work together to “address the politics of fear.”
“Public educators need to reach out to faith leaders, correcting myths, combating fears, corralling support,” he said.
“Knowledge and action–educators and faith leaders of goodwill will immunize our culture from the anti-public school fever,” Parham said. “Together, we must speak loudly for the right of a ‘great public school for every child.'”
Parham also spoke at a meeting of the Kentucky Education Association in 1996. Other local Baptists introduced at the breakfast meeting of the teacher union 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.