Originally created 06/12/04

Pastors to back public schools at Baptist convention



A proposal urging Southern Baptists to pull their children out of the "godless" public school system didn't play well among Augusta pastors headed to the denomination's annual convention Tuesday and Wednesday in Indianapolis.

"I would never support something like that," said the Rev. David Fleming, the pastor of Warren Baptist Church, whose children are enrolled in public schools.

"I am not ready to throw out the baby with the bath water," said the Rev. Mark Harris, the pastor of Curtis Baptist Church. Curtis operates its own schools.

The Rev. William Harrell, the pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, predicted the proposal would never make it out of committee.

According to the Christian Education Resolution, proposed by T.C. Pinckney, a former convention second vice president and retired Air Force brigadier general, and Bruce Shortt, a awyer, public schools have failed to educate pupils while "adopting curricula and policies (which teach) that the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable."

Convention rules allow sponsors to bring resolutions directly to the floor if they fail to get out of committee, a move the resolution's sponsors might do. Two-thirds of the messengers would have to vote "yes" for such a resolution to pass.

Any messenger can stand at the convention and make a recommendation, but the only issues that count are the ones that get a favorable vote, though resolutions are nonbinding, Dr. Fleming said. Southern Baptists get criticized for that autonomy, but that is how they do "church," he said.

"With the cameras rolling (on the convention floor), somebody can get up before the mike and propose that everybody wear pink ties on Sunday ... (the messengers) would have to listen and have to vote. That is how it works," he said in dismissing the resolution.

It would be tragic to abandon Christian teachers and administrators who are serving in public education, Dr. Harris said.

"We cannot move to an isolationist philosophy of Christian living," he said. "We are to live in this world" and be "salt and light."

Most parents can't afford to take their children out of public school, and not many are equipped to teach at home, Dr. Harrell said. The proposal is not well thought out, he said.

"That resolution would take a lot of refining if it were ever going to be considered seriously," Dr. Harrell said.

The Southern Baptist Convention executive committee will ask messengers to end the denomination's participation in the Baptist World Alliance, a nearly 100-year-old organization that represents about 200 Baptist agencies throughout the world. The convention, one of the founding members of the alliance, is the largest member and its biggest financial contributor.

Citing theological differences behind the recommendation, the convention also is frustrated that the alliance recognized the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a network of congregations whose views are generally less conservative than those of the convention.

"I am saddened, honestly, that it has come to this point," Dr. Harris said, but he, Dr. Fleming and Dr. Harrell said they expect the recommendation to be approved.

Another issue before the messengers is the relationship between New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the Baptist convention. To shield the convention from lawsuits while maintaining the rights of ownership of the school, the convention has requested New Orleans to amend its charter to say that the convention has sole membership, as other Baptist seminaries have done.

Although he agreed with the sentiment, Charles Kelley, the president of the New Orleans seminary, said he doubted sole membership status would keep the convention out of lawsuits under Louisiana law and feared that the sole membership strategy would unintentionally create "the potential for direct control of the denominational structure," according to a statement he made last September.

Dr. Harrell, a member of the executive committee, said he expects Dr. Kelley to come with an alternative proposal.

"(But) Dr. Kelley has said that whatever the convention votes, they will gladly do," he said.

The messengers also will elect a new president to lead the more than 16-million member denomination. The only nominee is the Rev. Bobby Welch, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla.. A former Green Beret who was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with valor for service in Vietnam, Dr. Welch is the author of Evangelism Through the Sunday School, A Journey of Faith.

"I know him as well as anybody in the SBC," said Dr. Fleming, who was a co-pastor with the Rev. Welch in Daytona Beach before coming to Warren Baptist. "I am thrilled at the opportunity he will have to lead the SBC. He is a fine man and has earned the respect of the convention."

See the convention Web site, www.sbcannualmeeting.net. For more information on the public education resolution proposal, see www.Exodusmandate.org.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.