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SBC calls for cultural engagement; education resolution declined

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–Messengers to the 2004 Southern Baptist Convention called for increased Christian influence on American culture, but stopped short of issuing a declaration against public school education in resolutions adopted June 16.

In the morning session, messengers approved eight resolutions in unanimous or nearly unanimous votes. The resolutions:

— Urged Southern Baptists to repent for their part in the secularization of society and called on Christians to “engage the culture by speaking the truth in love.”

— Encouraged Christians to fulfill their biblical responsibility as American citizens, including voting according to scriptural values.

— Called for ratification of an amendment to the United States Constitution that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

–Thanked the members of the U.S. Armed Forces and urged prayer for their safety.

— Expressed appreciation for the life and presidency of Ronald Reagan, the country’s 40th president who died June 5.

— Gave honor to God for the conservative resurgence that began 25 years before and thanked those who led the return to biblical fidelity.

— Reiterated Southern Baptists’ reliance upon a God-inspired Bible and commended LifeWay Christian Resources for completion of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

— Expressed appreciation to the people of Indianapolis, the Southern Baptists of the area, as well as all others involved in the proceedings of the annual meeting.

The Resolutions Committee chose not to recommend to messengers any of six proposals on education, including one that garnered much pre-convention attention. T.C. Pinckney of Alexandria, Va., and Bruce Shortt of Spring, Texas, had circulated a resolution urging Southern Baptists to “remove their children from … government schools.”

When his resolution was not reported out by the committee, Pinckney, a former SBC second vice president, attempted to address the issue with an amendment from the floor. He proposed an addition to the resolution on secularization of the culture that stopped short of calling for a Christian exodus from public schools but called for Southern Baptists to give their children a “thoroughly Christian education.”

His amendment described a thorough Christian education as “home schooling, truly Christian private schools or some other innovative model of private Christian education.” It also urged churches and pastors to equip parents “to provide their children with a thoroughly Christian education.”

After supporters and opponents addressed Pinckney’s amendment from the floor, messengers voted it down overwhelmingly.

In speaking for his amendment, Pinckney told messengers there is an abundance of evidence “government schools are becoming more and more anti-Christian,” though he acknowledged “many differences from one public school to another.” He commended Christians teaching and working in public schools.

In response, Calvin Wittman, Resolutions Committee chairman, expressed opposition, telling messengers the convention had passed 11 resolutions on education in the last 19 years, pronouncing its support for public, private and home schooling.

In a statement issued later, Wittman said, “Southern Baptists have spoken to this issue sufficiently, and it does not need to be readdressed.”

The committee believes “this is a responsibility that God has given to the parents of each individual child, and we encourage parents to exercise that God-given responsibility over their children,” said Wittman, pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, Colo., to the messengers. “We must be careful as a denomination not to usurp the authority that God has placed firmly in the home.”

He told reporters later: “The real issue here is not whether we are for Christian education or against public education. The real issue is, ‘Where does the responsibility lie?'”

Five of the 10 members of the committee have been involved in home schooling, so the panel’s unanimous opposition to the Pinckney-Shortt resolution was “by no way” opposition to home schooling, Wittman said.

The committee weighed the resolution “in great detail with extensive deliberation and prayer,” he said.

In its statement, the committee also quoted SBC President Jack Graham, whose term ended at this year’s annual meeting, in recent interviews. “Southern Baptists are concerned about the direction of some public schools,” Graham said. “But on the other hand many of our best people — administrators, teachers, coaches — are Southern Baptists working within the public school system all around America.”

After Pinckney’s amendment was defeated, messengers approved the resolution on secularization with few opposing votes. The measure called for Southern Baptists to “cry out in desperation to God” and seek His forgiveness “for our part in the cultural decline that is taking place on our watch.” It also urged them to hold government officials accountable “for their personal conduct and the legislation” they support.

Messengers also endorsed, without any apparent opposition, a resolution on Christian citizenship that encouraged Christians to vote, serve in public office and pray for elected leaders. It also urged churches to hold voter registration and be involved in educating its members.

In supporting a federal amendment on marriage, messengers addressed what could be the nation’s most volatile cultural issue. Homosexual marriage grabbed the spotlight in recent months as different jurisdictions approved licenses for same-sex couples in violation of state laws. Same-sex ceremonies were conducted in San Francisco and other cities. In May, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize homosexual “marriage” under the order of the state’s highest court.

The resolution called not only for ratification of an amendment protecting marriage between a man and a woman, but it urged pastors to lend support for the bill’s passage. One proposal, the Federal Marriage Amendment, has gained the support of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and most other pro-family organizations. The Resolutions Committee said the proposal was intended not only to endorse that version but other versions acceptable to Southern Baptists.

The measure on appreciation for the U.S. military included a clause encouraging churches to find ways to support service members and their families.

The resolution on Reagan included a commitment to pray for his family and a promise to “perpetuate the positive values so faithfully exemplified” by his life.

It was the second year of a new procedure for resolutions approved at the 2002 convention. No messenger was allowed to introduce a resolution during the meeting. All resolutions had to be submitted 15 days before the meeting. Seventeen resolutions were submitted in advance.

In addition to Wittman, other members of the committee were Eric Thomas (vice chairman), pastor of First Baptist Church, Norfolk, Va.; Kelly Boggs, pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.; John Mark Caton, pastor of Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church, Allen, Texas; Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro First Baptist Church, Lawrenceville, Ga.; Penna Dexter, radio talk show host and member of Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas; Mark Dougharty, associate pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn.; Barbara O’Chester, member of Great Hills Baptist Church, Austin, Texas; James Walker, pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church, Arden, N.C.; and Donald Bailey, a member of Merrimon Avenue Baptist Church, Asheville, N.C.