Houston lawyer Bruce Shortt refers to himself as an ordinary guy who “lives in flyover country.” But he has an unusual pastime that has attracted both critics and supporters: He’s working to encourage parents to “leave behind” public schools.
Shortt said if parents take their Christian beliefs seriously, they will do everything possible to ensure their children get a thoroughly Christian education. A growing segment of the faith community is joining Shortt’s call for an exodus, saying the public school system is hostile to their values and unresponsive to their concerns.
They claim to be responsible for most of the 1 million children nationwide now being homeschooled.
“As Christian parents, we have an obligation to provide our children with a Christian education, but unfortunately, Christians have developed a government school habit,” Shortt explained. “The purpose of the resolutions is to force parents and pastors to confront our disobedience in the education of our children and its consequences. Government schools are destroying our children spiritually, morally, and intellectually. We need to create a new public education system–a system that is ‘public’ in that it is open to all, but that is owned and controlled by parents and the church.”
In 2004, 2005, and 2006, Shortt helped introduce at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)–a convention of cooperating Southern Baptist churches–a resolution encouraging parents to remove their children from public schools and provide them with a Christian education at home or in a Christian school.
Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with 17 million members. Though prominent members supported Shortt’s resolution all three years, it has yet to be adopted.
“The courts say no creationism, no prayer in public schools,” Roger Moran, a member of the SBC executive committee who cosponsored the resolution this year, told CNN in early September. “Humanism and evolution can be taught, but everything I believe is disallowed.”
Getting the Message Out
In 2005, Shortt also took his cause to state organizations of Southern Baptist churches, introducing state versions of the resolution he introduced at the national convention in 25 state conventions.
This year, a resolution urging an exodus from public schools was considered in 48 state conventions. It’s a method, Shortt said, that allows him “to get the message to the grassroots” of his denomination. During the time in which he has worked on these resolutions, he said, he “has seen a substantial increase in interest in the issue.”
Shortt, who has a law degree from Harvard and a doctorate in philosophy of science from Stanford University, has written a book, The Harsh Truth about Public Schools (Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2004), which he hopes will encourage Christians of all denominations to take their children out of public schools. The 500-page book has 75 pages of references to studies and reports about public schools.
Shortt might be one of the loudest voices calling for people of faith to boycott public schools, but he’s not the only one.
The Rev. Steven Warhurst, associate pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Kingsport, Tennessee, has taken up a similar cause in his own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). With more than 1,200 churches and 300,000 members, the PCA is the largest of the seven conservative Presbyterian denominations.
At the denomination’s 2005 national meeting, known as the General Assembly, Warhurst introduced a resolution urging parents to remove their children from public schools. The resolution failed to receive a majority of votes.
Since then, the procedure has changed for resolutions to be considered at the General Assembly, so Warhurst is now working through regional bodies of the denomination, known as presbyteries, to have similar resolutions considered. If a presbytery passes a resolution, it will then be considered by the whole denomination.
“I’ve had a lot of calls of support,” Warhurst said. “I think there’s a small movement [that is] supportive of these sentiments.”
Speaking at Churches
Warhurst said he has spoken at many churches in his denomination, urging parents to get serious about Christian education and to teach their children at home or send them to schools that will provide a Christian education.
“[These resolutions] have certainly raised some controversy, but it has started the debate,” Warhurst said.
Like Shortt, Warhurst claims the support of a prominent member of his denomination. The Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables, Florida, whose services are broadcast nationwide on television, has expressed his support for homeschooling and Christian education.
Both Shortt and Warhurst cite the important role of Ray Moore and the organization he leads, Exodus Mandate, in promoting this movement.
A retired military chaplain, pastor, and political activist, Moore has helped draft resolutions and actions in several denominations. He’s also the author of a book, Let the Children Go: Why Children Must be Removed from Public Schools NOW (Ambassador-Emerald International, 2002), and he has produced a video by the same name.
Exodus Mandate maintains a Web site, http://www.exodusmandate.org, with many documents, audio interviews, and links to other sites that promote Christian schools and homeschooling, as well as information about public schools’ shortcomings.
Separating School and State
Founded by Marshall Fritz in 1994, the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, like the Exodus Mandate, actively encourages parents to remove their kids from public schools. Unlike the other groups, the alliance does not limit its work to conservative Protestants. It includes Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, and nonreligious activists among its ranks.
Leaders of the “exodus” movement are not hoping that removing children from public schools will lead those schools to reform themselves.
“We are not urging school reform, because public schools are unreformable,” Shortt explained. “You can’t do Christian education in a public school.”
Rather, Shortt said, the goal is “to create a new ‘normal’ where Christian parents will see Christian education as the norm.”
Michael Coulter ([email protected]) teaches political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.
For more information …
The Harsh Truth About Public Schools, by Bruce Shortt, http://www.amazon.com/Harsh_Truth_About_Public_Schools/dp/1891375237/sr=1_1/qid=1161898392/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002_3773065_9288062?ie=UTF8&s=books
Let My Children Go, by Ray Moore, http://www.amazon.com/Let_Children_Go_Ray_Moore/dp/1931600163/sr=8_1/qid=1161897395/ref=sr_1_1/002_3773065_9288062?ie=UTF8&s=books
Exodus Mandate, http://www.exodusmandate.org
Alliance for the Separation of School and State, http://www.schoolandstate.org/home.htm