Education

Vote Sought on Public School ‘Exodus’

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 26, 2004 5 min read
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T.C. Pinckney, a former vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
T.C. Pinckney, of Alexandria, Va., wants the Southern Baptist Convention to vote this summer on a resolution urging Christians to leave public schools. A committee must first approve his proposal.
—Photograph by Allison Shelley/Education Week

Sitting in a wing chair inside his modest brick house—an American flag fluttering out front—T.C. Pinckney explains why he is petitioning the Southern Baptist Convention to urge Christian parents to remove their children from public schools.

“In the Bible,” he says, “God assigns the responsibility for the education of the children to the parents, not the government.” Thus, he says through his white beard and mustache, parents should, ideally, home-school their children.

If that’s not possible, he adds, they should send their children to Christian schools.

Mr. Pinckney, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general who flew combat missions in Vietnam, is asking the largest Protestant denomination in the United States to allow its representatives to vote next month on a resolution calling on Christian parents to abandon the public schools.

Even if his request is denied, some Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians say the fact that such an action is being proposed is a sign of many Christians’ growing unhappiness with public education.

“Certainly, there is a growing discontent about the public schools,” said Paul Hetrick, the vice president of media relations for Focus on the Family, a Christian nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs, Colo., that promotes publications and videos among conservative and many moderate Christians. “The resolution is a reflection of that concern.”

In early June, a 10-person committee will decide if it will bring Mr. Pinckney’s proposed resolution up for a vote by the Southern Baptist Convention when the group meets June 15-16 in Indianapolis for its annual national meeting.

There is a backup plan if the committee rejects the proposal, said Bruce N. Shortt, a lawyer and home-schooling father from Houston who is co-sponsoring the proposal. In that case, he said, he plans to make a motion for church representatives to consider it—a request that would require two-thirds approval of the people present.

Regardless of how the resolution gets to the floor, a majority of the representatives, or messengers, would then have to approve the measure for it to become official. Some 10,000 church representatives are expected to attend the denomination’s annual gathering.

‘Government Schools’

Mr. Pinckney views his resolution as fitting in with the broader “fundamentalist resurgence” in the Southern Baptist convention that began in 1979.

The proposed resolution refers to public schools as “government schools” and calls them “anti-Christian” and “Godless.” It criticizes them for “teaching that the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable.”

The resolution says: “Just as it would be foolish for the warrior to give his arrows to his enemies, it is foolish for Christians to give their children to be trained in schools run by the enemies of God.”

But it’s unlikely that the resolution will make it out of the resolutions committee, according to Ed Gamble, the executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools.

He added, though, that he doesn’t consider the authors of the resolution “totally off the wall.” He simply doesn’t view the resolution as practical.

Southern Baptist churches run about 650 schools, Mr. Gamble said, and couldn’t cope with droves of parents seeking to enroll their children in those schools. “It’s a lot like asking people to jump off the ship when there are no lifeboats ready,” he said.

In any case, Mr. Pinckney himself doesn’t believe millions of parents would immediately pull their children out of public schools. Resolutions approved by the Southern Baptist Convention are recommendations, not commands, for the 16.3 million members of the denomination, he said.

On the other hand, a thumbs-up from the convention could inspire pastors to preach about a withdrawal from public schools, Mr. Pinckney said. Churches might also start joining together to create schools, he added.

Leaving the Mainstream

Robert Parham, the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, a Nashville, Tenn.-based nonprofit organization that has some Southern Baptists among its constituents, said the resolution reflects the nature of Southern Baptist fundamentalism.

Fundamentalists, he said, have gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention.

T.C. Pinckney, a former vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Baptist Exodus?: T.C. Pinckney, a former vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is urging the denomination to advise church members to remove their children from public schools.
—Photograph by Allison Shelley/Education Week

Mr. Parham said he’s been happy with his own children’s experience in public schools, and he argued that the proposed resolution is one more sign that some Southern Baptists want to withdraw from mainstream American culture.

Another indication of that, he said, is that the convention has passed a resolution encouraging women to be homemakers and campaigned for Southern Baptists to boycott the Walt Disney Co. A resolution urging the boycott said the convention was opposed to the company’s decision to extend employee benefits to homosexual couples.

In the 1990s, the Southern Baptist Convention also passed resolutions supporting home schooling and Christian education, though it has never gone so far as to say that parents should remove their children from public schools.

Mr. Pinckney, who has served as a vice president for the Southern Baptist Convention, said during an interview last week at his house here in suburban Washington that he was proposing the resolution not as a means for withdrawal from American society, but rather to make it stronger.

‘The Promised Land’

At least two grassroots Christian nonprofit groups—both with annual budgets of $100,000 or less—have endorsed the resolution and asked Christians through newsletters and the Internet to support it.

Mr. Shortt is a board member and the Texas coordinator for one of those organizations, the Exodus Mandate, whose name reflects the call to leave public schools.

Retired Lt. Colonel E. Ray Moore, a former U.S. Army chaplain, said he founded the Columbia, S.C.-based organization in 1997.

Mr. Moore, a member of the Plymouth Brethren denomination, said: “We’re a Christian ministry to encourage Christians to leave behind state-run public education at the K-12 level and go to the promised land of Christian schools and Christian-based home schooling.”

Dan Smithwick, an evangelical Christian and the founder and director of the Lexington, Ky.-based Nehemiah Institute, has tried to get a similar message across to parents as a guest on radio talk shows and through the institute’s newsletter.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 26, 2004 edition of Education Week as Vote Sought on Public School ‘Exodus’

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