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Abstinence program linking Buckner & Planned Parenthood stirs concern

AMARILLO, Texas (BP)–With the teen pregnancy rate for Amarillo, Texas, and surrounding Potter County exceeding national and state levels, Buckner Children and Family Services is one of several groups seeking to reduce that trend by sponsoring a sex education workshop for fourth- through eighth-graders. More than 100 youth received information to help them understand puberty, sexual diseases and the decisions they will face as they approach their teenage years. But some Texas Baptists have voiced objections that this Buckner ministry effort included involvement with Planned Parenthood.

Buckner’s Amarillo office is part of a statewide network of family services operated by Buckner Baptist Benevolences. Established in 1879 on a foundation of Christian faith and principles, Buckner is governed by Texas Baptists affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Anxious to promote a message of abstinence, Buckner’s Amarillo office joined with 20 other community groups to sponsor Kids in the Know, a Planned Parenthood conference held Aug. 11 to “help kids make the transition through puberty and young adulthood with appropriate and factual information about puberty, relationships and sexual health.” A month later, area Southern Baptists still are questioning the wisdom of partnering with an organization identified on the national level as the largest provider of abortions.

Although the Amarillo Buckner division provided no financial support for the event, Buckner’s name was included in a publicized list of sponsors as diverse as the Girl Scouts, American Red Cross and Texas Tech University Health Services Center. Religious denominations also noted as supporting the conference included United Methodist, Episcopal, Unitarian and Jewish congregations as well as the local pro-homosexual Metropolitan Community Church.

“Most of what we do with that program is to help them with volunteers and in providing transportation,” stated Scott Collins, public relations director for the Dallas-based Buckner Baptist Benevolences. “The primary nature and message of the workshop is abstinence.”

Ellen Green, public affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle (PPATP), explained that parents of participating children previewed materials used at the workshop. “When the child came home from the workshop and wanted to talk about it, parents were able to have a conversation,” she stated.

Green noted that more than half of the children said the conference taught them “to wait to have sex” or even “don’t have sex.” She added, “Obviously, Planned Parenthood is an abstinence-based organization. However, we do teach sex education in a realistic way because we know some of these kids are going to be sexually active.”

But Dorothy Boyett, a member of Southcrest Baptist Church in Lubbock, objects to Planned Parenthood’s self-description as an abstinence-based organization.

“Planned Parenthood claims to even promote abstinence, but the astute reader needs to understand there is a difference between the Christian concept of chastity and Planned Parenthood’s definition of abstinence.”

Boyett also expressed alarm that Buckner would partner in any way with Planned Parenthood because of Planned Parenthood’s known involvement with the abortion industry. Nationwide, a third of PPF clinics offer abortion procedures. While the Amarillo Planned Parenthood does not offer abortion services, Boyett recalls hearing the women she counseled outside a private Lubbock clinic say that the Amarillo office directed them there. Boyett pickets that local abortion clinic twice a week.

“I was horrified to learn that Buckner has been a sponsor of this event for several years,” Boyett told Baptist Press. “The church of Jesus Christ cannot be tied to Planned Parenthood, whose god is the devil.” As for Buckner limiting its involvement to an event stressing abstinence, Boyett said, “I don’t care if Planned Parenthood is teaching hand washing. They have an agenda.”

Boyett recalled Planned Parenthood’s distribution of rulers imprinted with the organization’s toll-free number to kindergartners in the Lubbock area. “They’re getting kids used to going to Planned Parenthood,” she said. “Why else would you give a kindergartner a ruler and tell them to call Planned Parenthood for an appointment?”

While critics may accuse the local office of holding to the convictions espoused by the national organization, Green insists that the Amarillo office is being misrepresented. “Planned Parenthood is always going to have an image. And there’s a group of people [to whom] you can say what you do,” referring to the abstinence message, “and they’re still not going to believe it,” Green said, adding, “We just tell the truth when kids ask questions, and some people don’t like the truth.”

The information was comparable to “a basic health type class,” Green said about the workshop, which seeks to make the environment comfortable for children.

“They asked some questions that maybe they didn’t want to ask their moms,” Green said. An area college professor guided seventh- and eighth-graders through a game of drawing out slips of paper listing various consequences of sexual activity. “A lot of times a kid may hear the term gonorrhea, but doesn’t know what it is and the effects. If it turns into cervical cancer, a girl may not be able to have children,” Green said, explaining that the workshop helped children realize such dangers.

Gregg Simmons, pastor of First Baptist Church, Borger, Texas, said he plans to contact Buckner regarding his objection to its involvement with Planned Parenthood. “That is a pro-death organization,” Simmons declared. “Anytime a young person is connected with Planned Parenthood they are eventually going to be exposed to their perspective on abortion.”

There’s no disputing Buckner’s commitment to demonstrating the sanctity of life. Across Texas, Buckner offers services ranging from parenting classes for incarcerated women to treatment for abused and neglected children. Buckner ElderCare Services is dedicated to fostering independence and quality of life in aging adults. An Austin retirement home provides housing for seniors and an interdenominational summer camp serves seniors, church groups and businesses. A nationwide shoe drive collected more than 50,000 pairs of new shoes and socks that were distributed to orphaned children throughout the world.

Buckner is perhaps best known for its ministry in the area of adoption, encouraging the prevention of teen pregnancy, reaching out to women faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and helping find families for children. Still, Alan Burkhalter, pastor of Chaparral Hills Baptist Church in Amarillo, said he is disappointed that Buckner helped sponsor a platform for Planned Parenthood to speak to children. “They do such a good work and have stood for Christian values for many years. This was a very misguided decision for whatever reason,” Burkhalter said.

Collins strongly disagrees with those who have a problem with Buckner supporting one Planned Parenthood workshop with an abstinence emphasis. “Buckner’s position in working with children, both born and unborn, is evident from our adoptive services program,” he said. “We’re the only Baptist organization of any kind that really puts our money where our mouth is in terms of providing a viable option to abortion.” He said Buckner counsels an average of 350 women a year as they plan for their unborn children, placing many of those children with adoptive parents.

Since abortion was not addressed at the Amarillo event, Collins said such objections are a “guilt by association tactic” intended to hurt Buckner’s good name. “As you talk about the image of Planned Parenthood, without a doubt, people know that Buckner is for children both born and unborn,” he said.

Roy Kornegay, director of missions for Amarillo Baptist Association, serves on the board of the local Crisis Pregnancy Center. Speaking as an individual Southern Baptist and not on behalf of the association, Kornegay said, “I hope that any Baptist group would take a stand for abstinence and be opposed to abortion.”

He added, “Scripture says to avoid all appearances of evil and I imagine that’s the situation here. I would not think they’re trying to condone abortion, but there is a perception of guilt by association, right or wrong,” Kornegay said of Buckner’s participation. “I have, in the past, had no criticism of Buckner,” he said. “But I can’t say I would support alliances with groups that give the appearance of evil.”

Gary Smith, pastor of Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, has long championed pro-life causes. While careful not to “second-guess” Buckner’s decision to sponsor the workshop, Smith said, “It would be troublesome for anyone to join with them on anything,” referring to Planned Parenthood.

“I’m very appreciative of what Buckner does and believe their ministry is good. There isn’t a time that you go out into the public arena looking for partners that you don’t have to make compromises,” he acknowledged. “But there is probably no more pro-abortion advocacy group in America than Planned Parenthood. Oftentimes, they hide behind the smokescreen of saying, ‘We don’t do abortions,’ but clearly recommend people to abortion clinics.” Smith also noted their support of candidates and legislation that would be considered pro-abortion.

Eddie Tubbs, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dumas, Texas, cautioned churches in his town north of Amarillo to avoid their area’s Kids in the Know conference held Sept. 9. Having served as a medical chaplain for the University of Texas, Tubbs has firsthand familiarity with the approach of Planned Parenthood in educating children and youth. In an Aug. 30 letter he circulated in the community, Tubbs described Kids in the Know as the product of both Planned Parenthood and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “Both organizations promote and support sexual lifestyles that are counter to our Christian ethics,” Tubbs stated.

While advance literature promoting the Sept. 9 Kids in the Know event promised no discussion would address homosexuality or abortion, Tubbs said presenters disagreed when speaking to parents at a preparatory meeting, noting that such issues would be dealt with if raised by the participating children.

“My concern is that the materials provided by SIECUS and Planned Parenthood can provide an avenue to promote a lifestyle and philosophy that stands in direct conflict with the traditional values of our Christian faith,” Tubbs said. “The logic of the situation is simple in that Kids in the Know could be used as an avenue by both SIECUS and Planned Parenthood to establish a morality that can in no way be accepted by a community whose children are recognized as gifts of God.”

Tubbs said he has no criticism of Buckner’s ministry statewide, praising its work as an advocate of adoption and other pro-life concerns. “I think probably in the case of Buckner, it was benign neglect,” Tubbs said. “It comes down to the fact that we need to better educate ourselves, and our institutions. I don’t think Buckner was trying to do anything underhanded or nefarious. But we need to educate them. Planned Parenthood in Amarillo is just a mirrored reflection of the national organization.”

If abstinence is the message Planned Parenthood wants to get out, Tubbs questioned why the organization took area school districts to court when abstinence-based curriculum was introduced in the early 1990s. Instead of directing children and parents to Kids in the Know curriculum, the Dumas church is promoting a community-based True Love Waits emphasis next February that will incorporate sex education from a Christian perspective.

Gil Lain, pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, said the conservative values of the region impact even community organizations like Planned Parenthood, perhaps making the locally sponsored workshop more abstinence-based than the message presented on a national level. “I don’t agree with all the ways they would try to help,” Lain said of the efforts to reduce teen pregnancy, “but I really think that is the heart of those who are involved.”

While Lain would like to see Buckner put its support behind the local Crisis Pregnancy Center formed through a cooperative effort of several churches, he understands Buckner’s motive. “If it’s a program about abstinence that they’re supporting, then I don’t do the guilt by association. And if Planned Parenthood asked me to help them with an abstinence program, I think I would consider that, not that I would support the national organization,” he said.

Both Collins and Green reiterated that the workshop emphasized abstinence in an age-appropriate manner. However, what Planned Parenthood considers age-appropriate may not match the values of most Southern Baptist parents.

Boyett cited one Planned Parenthood Federation (PPF) brochure advocating that 5-year-olds should understand “the concept that a woman does not have to have a baby unless she wants it.” Six- to 9-year olds should have “a grasp of different types of caring home backgrounds so that no single type is seen as the only one possible,” she quoted from the brochure, which states that such awareness of sexual identity includes sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, straight and bisexual relationships.

PPF advises that 9- to 14-year olds — the age group targeted in the Amarillo workshop — should be aware of abortion and a distinction between sexual activity and reproductive acts, Boyett said.

Buckner is one of the largest private social-care ministries in the United States, serving approximately 40,000 people each year, according to website information (www.buckner.org). Led by CEO Kenneth L. Hall, Buckner is governed by a 27-member board of trustees currently elected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

That arrangement could change next year as BGCT considers a proposal to reduce the portion of BGCT-elected trustees to only one-third of Buckner’s board. With an annual operating budget of approximately $45 million, only 2 percent of funding comes from the BGCT through the Cooperative Program gifts of member churches. Gifts, endowments and payments for services provide the bulk of funding.

The proposed bylaw change will allow Buckner to strengthen its relationship with churches in “the broader Christian family,” Hall told the Texas Baptist Standard newsjournal. “There are a lot of churches that, for whatever reasons, prefer to work directly with agencies like Buckner rather than going through a denominational process.”

One new Buckner partnership involves the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate-led organization formed in opposition to the Southern Baptist Convention. They will join in a rural poverty initiative to expand ministries to at-risk children and families in the Rio Grande Valley.

The rationale offered to justify a BGCT ministry’s cooperation with Planned Parenthood is causing at least one church affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas to re-examine their longstanding partnership. “If we’re God’s people, then we ought to be nice, but very firm that we don’t agree with anything Planned Parenthood does,” stated Leon Green, pastor of Bolton Street Baptist Church in Amarillo. “It’s an ungodly message. If our people are going to be taught about sexuality, it ought to be taught in our churches.”

Green said he’ll express his concern to the BGCT since his church contributes to Buckner through its Cooperative Program gifts to the state convention. “I want us, as Baptists, to back off and ask whether what we believe amounts to anything. Are we willing to tell folks when they’re wrong?” Green asked.

Collins said individuals or churches concerned about Buckner’s participation in the Planned Parenthood event should contact him at the communications office of Buckner, 600 N. Pearl St., Suite 1900, Dallas, TX 75201; phone, (214) 758-8061; or e-mail, [email protected]. After understanding the purpose of the partnership, Collins said he is certain that Baptists will remain supportive of Buckner Benevolences.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter