Southern Baptists and Public Schools

Tweet Share

It has been a long, long time since my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), has had a boring annual meeting. Next week’s gathering in Nashville is no exception, with an expected discussion of whether Southern Baptists should encourage parents to evacuate the public school system.

The stakes have been raised in the last twenty-four hours as the SBC’s most prominent theologian, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., has joined the fray. In a commentary this morning, Mohler calls on Southern Baptist churches to develop an “exit strategy” from the public school system. Tracing the idea of progressive education from Dewey onward, Mohler acknowledges that the public school system is now clearly hostile to the interests of rearing children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This is about more than egregious sex education courses and Darwinist biology lectures. It is about an understanding of education that affirms moral autonomy and cognitive nihilism at virtually every turn.

As Mohler points out, the public school system was designed to “mainstream” children into the corps of American citizens, to mold them into the prevailing American culture. But what happens when the prevailing American culture is so deeply infected with the spirit of Babylon?

The ratcheting up of this discussion will no doubt cause some dust to scatter. Some in the evangelical community speak quite censoriously of parents who send their children to public schools as idolaters sacrificing their children to Molech. The issues are more complicated than that, and Christian charity demands better. But the point is well taken that parents, not the state, have the responsibility to educate children. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, Jesus isn’t holding a Department of Education bureaucrat responsible for the formation of Johnny’s mind and heart. Parents cannot outsource this responsibility to Big Brother.

On the other extreme, some will oppose an “exit strategy” because they believe Christian children are “salt and light” in the schools. I will buy this argument when we commission 7-year old boys and girls to convert a Mormon enclave to Christianity.

A more difficult question is that of the multitudes of Christian teachers, principals, cafeteria workers, coaches, and bus drivers in the public school system. Should they also pull out? I think here the “salt and light” case makes better sense. A Christian teacher is in a similar position, it seems, to a Christian member of the Praetorian guard in the era of the New Testament. Caesar’s men were not commanded to abandon their posts. But neither could they shout “Caesar is lord,” pinch incense to the gods, or throw their brothers to the lions. A convictional Christian teacher in the public schools should be affirmed by the church, and honored for his service. But he must also recognize that he is bound to a higher law than that of the school board. This means that a regenerate conscience must take priority over a mandate to indoctrinate naturalism or to demonstrate how to properly stretch latex over a cucumber.

And so the debate is on the table for Nashville. It won’t be boring.

Only when we see how lost we are, we can find our way again. Only when we bury what’s dead can we experience life again. Only when we lose our religion can we be amazed by grace again.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Editor in Chief of Christianity Today and is the author of the forthcoming book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Penguin Random House).