A resolution was recently introduced at the SBC urging Christian parents to withdraw their children from the public schools.
What is of interest is the hostile reaction that this is provoking from some putatively conservative Christian quarters. So far I’ve tallied the following objections:
1. It runs counter to the Baptist belief in freedom of conscience.
2. It is divisive.
3. It will be ineffectual, like the Disney boycott.
4. Fundamentalists are busybodies.
5. It is hypocritical. We need to put our own house in order.
6. Public schools are only symptomatic of the problem, not its source.
7. It would dilute our public witness.
Let us weigh the worth of these objections.
i) This sidesteps the question of the child’s welfare in the interest of some abstract principle of freedom. But what is more important—to be a good Baptist, or to be a good parent?
ii) Since the resolution, even if it were to pass, would be a nonbinding resolution, it is hard to see how this infringes on individual conscience.
If a conscientious objection such a hothouse flower that it will wilt under a little heat, then it lacks much moral or intellectual substance.
2. Taking a stand on anything is divisive. Not to take a stand is also divisive. So the only relevant question is whether a given issue is important enough to risk division over. Surely the moral formation of our youth ought to be a high priority.
i) It is hard to see how the same stand can be both divisive and ineffectual. It can only be divisive if it enjoys some measure of popular support, in which case it should enjoy some measure of popular success.
Of course, everyone will not go along with it, but since when is unanimity a condition of moral action?
The pertinent question is whether it would do more good than hard.
ii) The objection is circular. I won’t take a stand since taking a stand is ineffectual. I won’t make a move until you make the first move. Obviously, though, its degree of success is in direct proportion to the number of those who act on it.
iii) In any event, this objection is another red-herring. Parents are primarily responsible for what they do with their own kids, and not what other parents do.
4. Even if true, this ad hominem attack is not germane to the issue.
5. The fact that the SBC has a problematic attendance record and retention rate is hardly an argument against the resolution. If anything, this is designed to counter complacency and get parents more involved.
i) This is a half-truth. Public schools are both a source and symptom of the problem. The NEA is well to the left of the general culture, and is trying to recruit the next generation.
ii) This is an all-or-nothing argument. But you do what you can. You don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. And the only way of doing the most you can is to attack the problem on several fronts at once or over time.
i) Even if this were so, it is not the duty of a child to be an evangelist—any more than to be a boy soldier. In the nature of the case, a child is imitative and impressionable. You corrupt a child by putting him in a corrupt environment.
There are, of course, exceptions, depending on the child’s maturity and strength of character. But this is not a general argument for placing Christian children in the public school system. Rather, the reverse. Make no mistake, this is spiritual warfare, and the battlefield is no place of kids.
ii) The best method of child-to-child evangelism is to raise Christian children, and then let them freely relate with the other kids in the neighborhood. Tossing your kids in a snake pit is a way of losing your own kids rather than saving any others. The way to save a snake-bit victim is not to for me to get bitten as well, but for me to stay healthy so that I can suck the poison from his wound.